Ireland, Northern Ireland HR, workforce and communications, Technology

Digitising Local Government- Build to Share in Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown County Council

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Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown (DLR) County Council  is the authority responsible for Local Government in the county of Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown, Ireland. The council is responsible for housing and community, roads and transportation, urban planning and development, amenity and culture, and environment. 

From online planning portals, to digital libraries and customer services, there is a widespread recognition of the potential for digitising Local Governments public service delivery.

However, with the pandemic accelerating Local Governments push towards digitisation, translating this motivation into practical processes and applications presents a challenge for many Local Governments.

Compounding this, as all ICT solutions evolve and change and technology and requirements change, ‘sharing’ over the lifespan of a solution can be complex. For example, Fixyourstreet.ie, a website created by South Dublin County Council and used across the country ceased operating last summer because,

“Unfortunately the technical infrastructure on which the service was built is now past its end of life, resulting in operational and security challenges in delivering the service.” Source: Independent.ie. 

Therefore, in Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown County Council, the recent Build to Share (Bts) project aims to establish an approach to the development of digital systems, ongoing governance structures and a means to showcase solutions so that Local Governments can adopt them if they wish. The goal is to publicise the 7 digital BtS systems that have already been developed, and to encourage the further development and sharing of new solutions.

Background

Recognising the importance of BtS dates back to 2015, when the Public Service ICT strategy identifies BtS as the first of five strategic directions identified by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The Public Service ICT Strategy in 2015 outlines the imperative of BtS as,

“Creating ICT shared services to support integration across the wider Public Service to drive efficiency, standardisation, consolidation, reduction in duplication and control cost.”

However, translating BtS from a principle into a process has been challenging. In some cases, Local Governments have developed systems internally and then on request, shared copies with other Local Governments. But the drawback for the Local Governments developing the initial scheme is that they invested in developing and maintaining a system for themselves, as well as the other Local Governments who took a copy because they didn’t have the required internal resources. Over time, this burdens to the original Local Government who are unlikely to possess the resources to support and enhance multiple instances of the application.

Build to Share in Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown County Council

DLR had a number of business challenges where new applications were required, but there were no suitable off-the-shelf systems available. In addition, other Local Governments are in a similar position and needing similar solutions, so the project began with two goals in mind.

  1. First to create systems we had a need for,
  2. Second, to build them in a configurable way so that instead of hard coding something, there would be a parameter to allow for others to configure the system for their requirements.

A key example of building systems in a configurable way is the MeetingPoint system. In October 2020, DLR established Meeting Point, a new meetings system for Staff, Elected Members and the Public. In DLR we allow Councillors to submit 2 questions and 2 motions. However that limit isn’t hard coded which means that if Kildare County Council adopt this system, and they allow 3 questions and 5 motions, the MeetingPoint system can be configured for that without rewriting the system.

Once DLR developed systems (LA Docs – a document management system based on Sharepoint online, MeetingPoint – a series of linked PowerApps for running Council meetings), we launched LA BTS – Local Authority Build to Share. We offered our systems to other Local Governments along with a governance and finding model which could be applied to systems they in turn develop.

The projects principles are,

  1. Develop a system for local requirements but in a configurable way,
  2. Own the IP,
  3. Have procured a partner for support and deployment
  4. Submit it as a Build to Share application.

The cost of development is calculated and then anyone who signs up for the system agrees to pay a charge for 3-5 years which is a small percentage of the capital cost. In addition, all Local Governments using the system contribute to a shared development fund for enhancing the application and there is an agreement that there is one version of the application (common code base) with the possibility to turn options on and off and changes to the system are discussed and agreed on together. So once a Local Government takes on an application, they become partners with the developing authority.

Looking forward

At the moment DLR, Fingal and South Dublin have created BTS applications including: document management, CE orders, Blended Work Application Management, Meeting Point with a Performance management system due to go live in January.

11 Local Governments have taken on at least one of the applications so far and Stephen Brady, the Director of Corporate Affairs in DLR, has been the main driver behind the project in his previous role as Head of Information Systems, along with Dominic Byrne previously of Fingal’s IS department, but latterly of the LGMA.

LGiU Ireland is grateful for Theresa Cloonan, Head of Information Services at DLR, for information on the Build to Share project. For more on digitising Local Government services, check out this presentation from Dominic Byrne, at the Local Government Management Agency. 



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