UK local authorities process citizens’ forms 80 percent faster, reduce costs with cloud solution

In this case study, you can read about how IEG4 used cloud computing to help local UK governments deliver services faster and minimize costs.


In the United Kingdom, local government authorities strive to stretch limited budgets while continuing to improve citizen services. However, one main barrier to efficiency among the councils is the use of paper-based forms to collect citizen information in application of council services. These forms are expensive to print and time-consuming to process. For instance, Torbay Council spent nearly GBP£1.52 (U.S.$2.50) to print each housing benefits form, and it took Trafford Council an average of 24 days to process a claim.

“Local authorities are under pressure to do more with less,” says Paul Tomlinson, Chief Executive Officer at IEG4, a technology firm that develops online, transactional forms, and a member of the Microsoft Partner Network.

To help Torbay Council increase cost efficiency, IEG4 used Windows Azure to create a cloud-based environment for online forms that allows councils to minimize costs while delivering services faster than before. In this flexible environment, IEG4 meets government requirements and boosts growth and revenues. Torbay Council saves approximately GBP£15,213 (U.S. $25,000) annually because it no longer has to print paper forms.

Situation

In 2006, IEG4 began to digitize these processes, and went on to develop a suite of online citizen services applications. These applications featured intuitive interfaces, which could coalesce complex questionnaires into a series of easy-to-follow web-based screens, and was connected to other systems, such as those maintained according to the National Benefits Project (NPB) schema by public service software providers. “Our forms proved 10 to 100 times cheaper to process than paper, and services were available around the clock,” says Tomlinson.

However, to implement these forms, the councils had to procure hardware and install software on servers in their data centres. As a result, on-premises deployments often took months to complete. “To maximize efficiency and minimize costs, we had to streamline this process,” says Tomlinson.

IEG4 determined that it could speed implementations and reduce costs for local authorities by adopting a hosted-services model. IEG4 bases its forms on Microsoft products and technologies, so it decided to host its applications by using Windows Azure, a cloud-based operating system that resides in Microsoft data centres. “Windows Azure allowed us to easily move our code to the cloud without compromising look-and-feel or functionality,” says Tomlinson.

To apply for benefits such as help with housing costs, citizens use an online calculator, which is hosted in Windows Azure, to determine eligibility. Information from the calculator prepopulates the application form, which is also hosted in Windows Azure. Upon completing the application, the citizen clicks “submit” and the data is sent to a server in a U.K. data centre running the Microsoft SQL Server 2008 data management software. It is also shared with a back-office administration engine provided by a third party. Benefits are calculated and sent to the local authority to begin a verification and distribution process. “In many situations, the data gathered through the form is so complete that the payments are made automatically,” says Tomlinson.

The system also accommodates citizens who don’t have Internet access or are unable to visit a council office. In such cases, council staff members visit the individuals’ residences and gather data in-person. Staff members use laptop or tablet PCs that contain a local version of the form and an encrypted database. Once connected to the network, data is sent to Windows Azure for processing.

Benefits

Helps Local Authorities Minimize Costs

The solution does not require upfront infrastructure investments and automates service management to protect customers from hardware failures and routine maintenance. “By using Windows Azure, councils achieve a return on investment in online forms in less than 12 months,” says Tomlinson.

Speeds Delivery of Service to Citizens

Using electronic forms, Trafford Council reduced the time it takes to process a housing benefits claim from 24 days to 5 days—an 80 percent reduction. By using Windows Azure, IEG4 can deploy forms and help authorities enhance efficiency much faster than before

Meets Government Requirements, Increases Growth and Revenues

The interoperable nature of Windows Azure means that IEG4 can deliver services flexibly to meet government requirements. For instance, U.K. law mandates that confidential citizen information for housing benefits applications be stored in the U.K. “By using Windows Azure, we can create a hybrid environment that operates in the cloud and connects to back-office systems and SQL Server 2008 in U.K. data centres,” explains Tomlinson.

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