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Local Authority Report Clearance system based on SharePoint and Nintex workflow

Customer: Redbridge Borough Council
Industry: Local Government
Location: London
Size: Local Authority

"It has been a real pleasure working with the Deltascheme team, and I can happily speak for others when I say that they have been extremely patient with us. Their knowledge and support on the project have been fantastic. Our senior leadership team are impressed with the solution and with the professional nature in which it has been delivered."

Neil Weller, Enablement Project Manager, London Borough Redbridge

Company Bio

Known as the 'leafy suburb' as one quarter of the borough is covered by forest and green, Redbridge Council is in east London and is the authority responsible for supplying local government services to approximately 300,000 people.

Overview

A solution combining SharePoint and Nintex (workflow automation platform) delivers a low-cost, innovative report clearance system, which significantly reduces the management effort for a London Borough Council. The Council now deliver their report clearance process with improved quality, productivity, oversight, and compliance.

Key Benefits

  1. Automatically assign and delegate tasks to report authors and approvers along with automated reminders and escalations upon the deadline approaching and being reached.
  2. Gain granular visibility into the report clearance process to quickly find and solve bottlenecks.
  3. Capture a digital audit trail of report authoring and approvals showing who, what, when, and why.
  4. Automatically calculate deadlines for report clearance tasks to ensure the report is published on time.
  5. Manage a library of report templates and easily update them.

The Challenge

Every Local Authority must author a large quantity of reports for committees and boards, these reports are then, approved, and published to the public domain; this authoring and publishing process is known as "report clearance".

Redbridge Council's Democratic Services team manage report clearance, they are concerned with both the quality of each report and that it is published on time, the team work closely with each report's author, contributors, and approvers from different areas of the Council to help them meet deadlines and move the report through the report clearance process.

The team decided they needed a workflow system to support their cross-departmental collaboration. They had three goals in mind:

Firstly, they wanted to centrally store the report to enable all contributors to work on a single version of the report, instead of everyone working on slightly different versions that were emailed around and stored locally on laptops.

Secondly, they wanted to automate aspects of their daily workload: assigning tasks, communicating deadlines, and chasing people up; this would help them produce higher quality reports in a timelier fashion. In addition, this automation would capture a digital audit trail of who had approved what, and when.

Finally, the team needed greater visibility; they wanted to track each report as it progressed through the process; this would help reduce emails, telephone calls, administrative work, and be more organised.

The Approach

A discussion with the project sponsor revealed they wanted a fixed price for the implementation, so Deltascheme proposed to split the project into two phases: design and implementation. The final output of the design phase would be a fixed price for the implementation. Any further requirements that were discovered after the design would be catered for during an optional, third phase to retrofit the system accordingly.

Deltascheme had recently delivered similar systems to Democratic Services teams in the London Boroughs of Havering and Newham so there was already a body of knowledge to draw from about the report clearance process.

The design phase involved several workshops with stakeholders and diverse groups of end users. One of the main workshops sought to illustrate the report clearance process design, this was helped through a role-playing activity during which staff came into groups and role-played the report clearance process within their group, afterwards each group then acted out their process in front of the other groups. Unsurprisingly each group acted out a slightly different version of the process (one of the common scenarios when trying to transform a manual process into a digital-first process). A rationalisation of all the processes acted out then occurred to deliver a single report clearance process which was drawn up as a flow chart and approved by the senior stakeholders. Notably one of the important aspects of the process design was to make use of a 'state machine' - in this process the state machine would allow collaborators to bounce tasks back and forth between each other to reflect real-world collaboration styles (which are often not linear).

"By working with Redbridge's existing infrastructure and leveraging the power of an integrated low code platform (Nintex) to implement the workflow automation we were able to deliver the solution very fast"

Mike Turnbull, Business Consultant, Deltascheme

The Solution

Having understood the functional requirements Deltascheme set about drawing up a technical design to fulfil them. Redbridge had already adopted SharePoint, so it made good sense to design an information architecture in SharePoint to deliver the document management functionalities such as storing the document centrally, providing templates, co-authoring documents, versioning documents, applying permissions, and grouping the report and its appendices together in a folder tagged with metadata to aid discoverability.

The second aspect to bring automation to their report clearance process, it was important that staff would be able to easily engage with the tasks that the system would deliver, so for these requirements the low-code workflow automation platform Nintex was chosen which integrates deeply with SharePoint and supplies the best set of functionalities for task management around documents in SharePoint.

The Result

Since implementing this solution Redbridge Council has found that there are many benefits, especially with regards to the efficiency, compliance, and oversight of their reports clearance process. Specific benefits that they have realised include:

  • Having a single copy of the document in SharePoint means that there will never be multiple copies of the report to chase down and merge, and users can be confident they are always working on the most recent version.
  • Since each activity in the solution is associated with a workflow task, it means that there is an audit trail of who has done what and when, to each report. This brings transparency to the process and helps prevent bottlenecks.
  • The approval process is separated into multiple stages and the workflow updates the information associated with the document so that users can easily see where any report is in the process. This brings greater visibility and oversight to the entire process.
  • Automatic reminders are sent if a task has not been completed before a set period. Additionally, a dashboard style view of all outstanding tasks is made available to the Democratic Services Officers, so they can easily see who to chase if a task has not been completed in time.
  • The workflow brings structure to any conditional approvals. This delivers flexibility and allows tasks to bounce back and forth between an approver and the report author until the approver is ready to finally approve the report so it can then move on to the next stage. This delivers a balance of both structure and flexibility, helping users to collaborate more efficiently and be empowered rather than hindered by the system.