The Income Management is dead! Long live the Income Management System! Yes, I know it’s not very imaginatively named, but when anyone talks about it you’ll know exactly what it is and exactly what it does.
The big deal here is that for over 10 years, our incumbent supplier have provided the same system that the council uses to manage every penny of its income, taking payments from customers in our offices, on the phone and on our websites, through card, cash and cheques. But in September, when seeking to renew their contract, negotiations over terms and pricing broke down.
The difficult decision had to be taken that from March 2018, the contract would be terminated and an alternative solution had to be found, acknowledging that should we fail, our ability to process any income would be severely impacted if not stopped altogether.
The countdown was on and the pressure was real! Within days, my team of specialist software developers had risen to the challenge and created a working proof of concept that confirmed not only could a replacement solution be found, but it could be developed in-house, within the available timeframe and with only a small capital investment that would immediately prove a return on itself, saving around £50K per year.
And so using an iterative agile approach the team began work on October 9th, in fortnightly sprints to deliver a potentially shippable product each and every fortnight. By the end of week two, the test system was capable of taking card payments for the ordering of new and replacement bins and by week four that had been extended to include all test services on the council website. Week 5 saw an initial live soft-launch just of the waste part of that which took over £11,000 in its first 24 hours of operation. Week six then saw the ability to process refunds for those transactions and to journal monies between council accounts. By the end of week eight they’d launched the system for all live online services. This happened without any downtime for either customers or Financial Services. The transition was seamless and staff using the system claimed it was so intuitive that training wasn’t even necessary!
Various integrations with other third party services followed over the next few weeks and at the end of February it was even possible to make automated telephone payments with it too. It took its first ATP within 35 minutes of that feature being launched. By the end of March, the vast majority of the system was live and operational with the exeption of cash / cheque returns – a facility to allow departments to process physical cash and cheque payments that they’d received in the course of providing their services. Together with Finance colleagues, the team agreed to hold off launching that element until the financial year end had passed – a very busy time in the world of income management – and so today they finally shipped it out along with a migration of some 6.5 million income records dating back over the last 6½ years.
Over the next 2 weeks they’ll monitor, poke and prod at the whole system making minor tweaks here and there to provide a little polish to how it looks and works. They’ll keep an eye on its performance and tie up loose ends that they parked earlier to make sure they’d hit their deadlines.
Throughout, the new system uses single sign on technologies to ensure staff need never enter a username or password to access it. It uses their network credentials to automatically identify them and their rights to specific screens and pieces of functionality. Several key improvements have been made over the capabilities of the previous system including:
- Being able to search all historical transactions quickly from the last 6 years plus current – no need to run complicated reports or access separate systems
- Being able to build up a record of face to face payments as they happen for submission later – no need to maintain paper records or submit through separate systems
- Being able to re-issue compliant VAT receipts to customers whenever required – something that is often requested but until now has required manual effort to achieve
- Having seamlessly branded, accessible and mobile friendly payment pages online for customers to use on their computers, tablets or mobile devices – which previously was only possible on computers and was branded in an unfamiliar way
- Single Sign On access to administrative interfaces meaning no more need to maintain separate user credentials to login
- Automation of suspense items reducing the amount of manual effort needed in the finance team to process ‘stuck’ payments
- Working in the agile way they did, the team took the opportunity to hold retrospective reviews of their work over each fortnight – asking themselves what worked well, what could have been done better and what they should change to improve during the next fortnight. Over the 30 weeks, productivity and output steadily increased as they adjusted and improved their working practices. Morale in the team rose as they worked ever more closely together and positively critiqued one another throughout. What we’ve seen here is an upward spiral of positivity and supported wellbeing amongst the team that we’ll be looking to build on further during future projects under the Digital First initiative.
The whole process has highlighted the fantastic opportunities available when we adopt agile ways of working and how they can bring together colleagues from disparate teams, departments and directorates as one-council. Financial Services colleagues (Mark Goldsborough, Phil Danforth, Natalia Govorukhina and Ruth Handley) acting as the Project Board, have been extremely supportive and it was commented at the last board meeting that the whole thing has felt inclusive, responsive and attentive to their needs.
All in all this represents:
- A fantastic example of colleagues coming together to form an excellent team
- A significant saving of over £50K per annum from here on in
- Excellent use of internal resources to avoid significant expenditure in times of austerity
- The creation of an innovative, intuitive product that can potentially be traded commercially
- Solid process improvements and the realisation of efficiencies
- Beneficial improvements for all council services taking monies across the organisation
- The introduction of a seamless, mobile friendly online payment facility for customers
- A team proud of what they have achieved and a management tier more aware of the in-house capabilities that they have at their disposal
- A team with new and improved skills, better working practices and ready to tackle whatever comes next
I can’t thank everyone who has worked on this and supported it enough. It’s an absolutely incredible achievement. Everyone involved has been put forward for an Employee Excellence Award and I for one think they thoroughly deserve it.
Well done everyone! You can breathe again now… until we start the next project ;-)