Birmingham City Council Selects Sostenuto - Sunrise Software

News Release

How Birmingham City Council implemented a Sunrise software solution to centralise IT Support

See How Birmingham City Council:

  • Is consolidating 10 helpdesks into 1
  • Is conducting a business driven ICT strategy for local govt
  • Has maintained support from staff during the transition
  • Has gone from a call abandonment rate of 43% to 6%
  • Is expecting to save 500,000 in the first year

The challenge

Birmingham City Council is the largest local authority in Europe and its size means that historically managing IT has been a difficult proposition. Back in 2003, the Council decided that it would align the goals of IT with the overall goals of the business, but found that the huge array of separate elements made it extremely difficult to create any centralised approach.

There were numerous LANs and local networks, and server estates in more than 80 locations. In terms of supporting this infrastructure, there were ten different helpdesks staffed by 87 people. The Council decided to consolidate all but one of these desks (the one looking after 500 schools was left separate) into one service desk that would support up to 200,000 calls per year.

The centralisation of support was part of a larger project to improve the way in which IT operates within the Council. A new division was created – Infrastructure and Support Services which combined the support of not just desktops, but also networks and other pieces of the IT infrastructure. Headed by Peter Evans, this division would support around 8,000 customers but on project completion over 16,000.

Reporting directly to Peter Evans, managers were assigned with responsibilities for desktop, infrastructure, first line support, second line support and customer service. By keeping managers with specific responsibility for specific functions, the Council ensured that each function would be fully represented. In Evans there would be an overall leader to look at the bigger picture. He would also ensure that function leaders not only impart the correct information to their staff regarding their particular area of expertise, but they also pass down relevant information involving the other functions and the overall corporate objectives.

Aside from the efficiency gains and clarity of objectives that would result from the consolidation, the move meant that the Council could concentrate on its primary aim of serving the customers better with a single point of contact. Because there is no commercial pressure to service customers, the Council realised that it was easy to lose sight of the customer needs. By creating the new structure, the Council hoped to create a clear line of understanding running through the organisation which would be focusing at all levels on the customer. To further precipitate this approach, the Council instilled a policy of starting any project backwards; namely looking at the customer requirements first then working up the chain to ensure that all changes and actions reflect this aim.

We have created a whole new ICT strategy, which is totally business driven. Of the 60 pages, only four are about technology. We don’t have technology projects anymore, we have business projects, said Bob Carter, head of service delivery for Birmingham City Council.

The project

For the Infrastructure and Support Services division, the biggest challenge within the overhaul of the Council’s IT was the consolidation of the 10 helpdesks, with both technical and cultural hurdles to overcome.

One advantage was that each of the helpdesks standardised on the same support product – Sunrise’s Enterprise back in 2000.

As well as a greatly expanded volume of issues to cope with, Enterprise had to deal with added complexity thanks to the integration of incoming mail processing, implementation of the HTML interface, and integration with Centennial Discovery asset management software.

While Enterprise is designed to suit a range of business sizes, the volume of records in this case was extreme and so a number of measures were introduced to safeguard the situation. Sunrise supplied expertise to minimise the size and volume of data packets by providing alternative interfaces such as mail processor (e-mail) and internet desk (HTML/asp). Sunrise was on-site throughout the project performing system health checks, and supplying advice on creating automated maintenance and archiving via SQL server procedures thereby optimising server performance and stability.

At the beginning of the project, there were concerns that even these safeguards were not sufficient because the system began to slow down significantly. The problem was quickly found to be that while working on a core filter, someone had set it to run a scan through the whole core. Once this was addressed, the system returned to normal.

The support team was overstaffed with temps throughout the transition and Sunrise created an extranet where all documents relating to the project were kept, allowing for easy reference during what was a hectic period. Unsurprisingly for a project of this magnitude there were challenges. The project implementation actually proceeded more slowly than planned, said Evans. This was because the team was over optimistic during the planning stage. Once we began looking more closely at the factors involved, it was discovered that many figures were worse than expected. The overall workload being handled was found to be 40 per cent higher than anticipated and overall call abandonment rates were sometimes as high as 40 per cent.

The Council was also guilty of trying to put each of the ten helpdesks into separate boxes with a view to transferring them into a bigger box. Standards varied across each desk far more than anticipated. During the implementation, the council had a team of 12 people who travelled around the city helping each desk to standardise the desktop as much as possible to ease the transition. This team was disbanded during the consolidation process but Evans said that once the project began to slow down, it became apparent how important that team was in aiding the project. It was brought back and the process sped up.

Despite the issues, Sunrise Enterprise stood up throughout the transition. Its influence was critical in ensuring the consolidation was a success, said Evans. Having a common system in Enterprise helped smooth some of the complexities involved in tidying up the myriad of directories and databases.

Evans team was wary of the cultural impact of the consolidation on each helpdesk. The desktop project manager assigned to create commonality across all desktops asked each helpdesk to contribute ideas. By including each desk in the overhaul of the processes when we consolidated, we ensured that each desk often supporting very unique requirements had a say in the overall structure. Each desk lost autonomy because of the consolidation, but because it meant that we could provide service from eight until eight every day, each desk felt it was worth making the sacrifice because the customer ultimately benefits. I believe that selfless acts like this show a truly ingrained team ethos, says Peter Evans.

This consu ltative approach continues today, with staff invited to a monthly meeting with the heads of the division where they are encouraged to air any concerns without fear of retribution. There is also a service standards management team that assesses quality issues manned entirely by staff – not managers – who are voted to take the role by their peers. By employing staff and allowing them to elect a representative body, the Council believes that it is raising morale as well as any key issues that could help improve the customer experience.

These actions are validated by the staff turnover rate of the helpdesk, which is below the national rate of eight per cent. That this figure could be maintained on such a large helpdesk staff attrition grows in proportion to the number of staff for all call handling facilities and in the face of such dramatic change is testament to how well the ideas were communicated and how skilfully the consolidation was handled.

The first phase of the project was finished in July 2004 under budget.

The benefits

Of the two main drivers cost savings and customer satisfaction only the former can be supported by figures that show improvement because the single helpdesk is so new. The division was immediately able to shed 20 helpdesk staff because of the centralisation of resources and aligned with other rationalisation of resources, the Council expects to save 500,000 in the first year. Despite the size and complexity of the operation, Birmingham City Council is in the top quarter of UK local authorities in terms of cost control. An independent review confirmed that in most cost-related categories, Birmingham is among the national leaders. Before the consolidation, the Council did receive complaints from customers not getting through, with an abandonment rate as high as 43 per cent. Post consolidation, this figure has stabilised around six per cent.

The IVR system has also been improved, with customers calling for password re-sets passed through the IVR to a dedicated password team or given the option to use an automated process to fix the password issues themselves. This leads to improved customer satisfaction (a rapid fix, more staff available to fix complex problems), improved staff satisfaction (a reduction in repetitive tasks) and overall improved efficiencies. Because the password team is staffed mainly by new starts and less experienced members of the team, they are given vital on-the-job training as to how the operation works and how to handle rudimentary incidents.

A centralised IT and support offering also means a smoother service to both groups of customers (citizens and internal users). For example, if someone calls the bin collection line, the refuse team logs and deals with the call. But because the council uses an integrated system, the central helpdesk also logs each incident within 15 minutes of it being received and tracks its progress. By having this back-up, if the refuse team are in danger of breeching the SLA the central helpdesk will be able to put in a reminder.

Another benefit for customers concerns application development. For example if a user wants a Lotus Notes application written, they log into the helpdesk and it is passed onto the development specialist where the job can be scheduled into their day. This contrasts with the usual situation in which the request is made to the helpdesk, where it must then be manually passed onto a development person, with no ownership of the issue and no SLA for the customer.

The future

By May of this year, the project to create commonality across all of the Council desktops was complete. The knowledge and self-help capabilities are part of an on-going project with the goal of raising service quality both directly via customer self-service and by releasing capacity so that other problem avoidance initiatives can be planned.

The Council is also confident that by overhauling its staff training it can improve its first call resolution rate to as much as 80 per cent. By improving the first time rate through training and self help, Bob Carter says that the service desk is becoming a more proactive business enabler.

To further increase the flexibility, the Council is also set to upgrade to Sunrise’s Sostenuto product. The web-based nature of Sostenuto will allow the Council to add new users, access the system from anywhere and integrate with other web services. Problem, contract and procurement management are among the functions being brought into the mix and this will further strengthen the single service desk approach.

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