How the City of Unley achieved a modern customer experience on its new website.
Alex Gelbak, CEO of OpenCities, sat down with James Roberts, Manager Business Systems & Solutions for the City of Unley to discuss how the City achieved a modern customer experience on its new website, without the heavy lift of a traditional “enterprise” integration effort. Below are some highlights from their conversation.
Alex: City of Unley’s decision to prioritise customer experience meant you would need to go outside your existing internal CRM to deliver, creating more effort for your IT staff. How did you build support for that trade-off?
James: When we committed to a services-led website, our team agreed that we didn’t want our digital front door to be just a façade—forcing customers out of a user-friendly experience and into a legacy system in order to complete a transaction. Whilst we have extremely functional and reliable corporate applications behind the scenes, they’re not usually designed from a customer perspective.
Also, with stability being imperative to our business, we can’t upgrade or adapt those core systems as quickly as we needed. That would impact our agility with the website. Our solution was to build a middle-layer of APIs that connect the internal systems to our modern web platform from OpenCities and the online forms functionality through OpenForms.
This allows us to control the user experience and ensure a seamless transition between accessing content, viewing relevant data and transacting with us. Embedding our services and data into the platform also makes that information highly discoverable and searchable, which makes both customer and staff lives’ easier.
Alex: Many cities are looking to a service bus layer like Big Lift Mulesoft or Dell Boomi to share data in a more standardised way. But that has proven to be a massive lift. How did you minimize the level of effort and still create this connective tissue between internal systems and the public website?
James: As a smaller Council with limited resources, it’s not practical for us to invest in monolithic data platforms and enterprise service buses. We wouldn’t see a return on that investment given the type, diversity and transaction volumes of our services.
Also, given our iterative approach to service redesign, we thought staged development of a microservice-type architecture would best meet our needs. We had specific criteria for our integration solution:
- No-code or low-code to ensure in-house maintainability
- Flexible cost model
- No vendor lock-in (for support and maintenance)
- End-to-end RESTful architecture (little or no legacy components, e.g. SQL scripts) to allow for future cloud migration of corporate systems
We had an existing Azure tenancy and were in the process of rolling out Microsoft Office 365, Teams, PowerBI and PowerAutomate. So Logic Apps seemed like a good fit for us. It allowed us to capitalise on our existing Azure platform investments and in-house skillsets. Because Logic Apps are drag-and-drop and visually mapped out, it’s easy for staff to learn, prototype and troubleshoot. Logic Apps are also modular, so when we build a module to perform a certain function, such as lodging a CRM request, we can re-use that function for future services.
Alex: Can you give some examples of how you’ve used Microsoft Logic Apps in your digital services transformation?
James: We used OpenForms to digitize our OH&S forms. Using a Logic App API, when a form is submitted, we automatically download a PDF copy and attach it to the Work Order system in the background without the worker needing to do anything. It works like this:
- The worker completes the form
- Data Connection is called on Submit button action to trigger a Logic App
- The Logic App makes a call to the OpenForms API to retrieve a copy of the response in PDF format
- The Logic App uploads the PDF to TechnologyOne and attaches it to the Work Order
Alex: Do you have any evidence tying a better CX to an increase in customer self-serve or a downstream savings to the City?
James: Yes. One of our more successful digital service projects has been the redesign of our Parking Expiation Review process. The City of Unley issues around 20,000 parking expiations each year. Around 18% of these are disputed and subject to a request for review. Previously, disputing an expiation required a paper form that had to be either mailed or scanned and submitted.
We integrated OpenForms with our infringement and CRM software via an Azure Logic App API. The new process allows customers to view their expiation details and complete the review process online via a series of questions and answers.
Now, 67% of reviews are initiated online and 63% of users decide to pay their expiation before completing the process. Our average turn-around time on submitted reviews has reduced from 16 business days to 8. We included dollar savings in our report to highlight the tangible cost offsets and savings, as efficiency returns aren’t always immediately visible in our industry, especially for smaller scale services. Our iterative approach has paid off, allowing us to measure the benefits as we go.
Alex: You mentioned using data to improve the website/forms experience and also to measure the impact of your transformation efforts?
James: We use PowerBI extensively at the City of Unley to monitor and measure on corporate performance and services metrics. Within the last 12 months we’ve automated our entire corporate performance reporting processes using PowerBI and Microsoft Teams + Power Automate workflows.
When redesigning services we’re making a sizeable investment, so it’s important we define our metrics up front to measure success and so that we can continue to re-invest in new service design projects. Digital adoption monitoring feeds back into our continuous improvement cycle and ensures that we’re positioning our services correctly.
You can see from the report that we achieved these outcomes and exceeded our original targets in all areas. 50%-60% digital adoption isn’t as high as we’d always like but it’s expected for this type of service. Also people who view their photos are effectively starting the review process, so the rate is much higher than it appears.
By applying and sharing these metrics we’ve been able to garner more support with key stakeholders to adopt digital services. Although it’s inherit that our customers will see efficiency and accessibility improvements, sometimes business stakeholders are wary they will be negatively impacted. These reports help us tell a story about how service redesign can deliver benefits for both customers and the business alike.
The insights also allow us to better predict and model potential future savings for service areas we haven’t targeted yet and develop longer term operational plans.
James’ Top 3 Tips for Resolving CX and Internal System Friction:
- Start small. You don’t have to plan out an end-to-end integration platform. Be iterative and make small improvements without compromising long term architecture. When you are pragmatic and build modularly, you can adapt as needed over time.
- Adapt and evolve. Integration and microservices grow and adapt with your business over time. Let this drive and complement how you continuously improve your website.
- Don’t wait for eService vendors to catch up. Government agencies need to provide the digital experience customers want. Working with traditional vendors is fine, but don’t be afraid to look for the partners focused on providing the best customer experience.