Aylesbury Vale District Council transforms service with Salesforce Community Cloud

Salesforce sign on its headquarters

Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC) achieved savings of £14 million after modernising its services and partnering with Salesforce for its Right Here Right Now digital transformation program.

Andrew Grant, CEO of AVDC, attributes around £7 million of those savings to the extensive digital transformation undergone between 2010-2015. Starting with ambitions as simple as a standard website refresh, the project - Right Here Right Now - has ended with the council completely overhauling the way is does business for 78,000 households in Buckinghamshire.

One massive inspiration for the change, Grant told Cloud Pro, was the prospect of further budget cuts on top of those already putting pressure on the council to do more with much less.

"Like all authorities, we were facing the prospect of a massive reduction in our funding," he said. "So you're looking at the coalition government forward to today, where they predicted lots of the grants that we were getting to run services would be ... quite dramatically cut back."

"We needed a new business model to be able to continue to provide services to people who needed them ... [that] wasn't based just on waiting for more subsidies from the government. Not only did we need to be more efficient, we needed to find a different way of earning income."

Government funding was due to be cut by approximately 60% back in 2010, and the council was left only with funds they could raise from local taxation. This was only enough to cover around a third of the costs of services, so a new strategy had to be devised quickly and put in place.

Grant continued: "It's like a business losing some of its key clients or product lines, and trying to reimagine the organisation."

He attributes the success of the transformation at least partially to Alan Evans, head of the IT team at the time. While Evans and the team had been fulfilling traditional tasks such as "keeping the screens from going blue", they quickly had to adapt to the changing situation along with the rest of AVDC.

"[We] thought about if we could move into what was then an emerging idea of cloud, then we could reduce all of our infrastructure costs by not having servers in the building or even shared with someone else," Grant added.

"In the last five years we've been using that massive step into something that was then quite unknown, but now is more commonplace, to then work through all the back office and front office systems into the cloud and trying to get our proprietary systems and legacy systems burnt off so that we could be much more agile. The two come good in that being far less infrastructure-reliant gives you much more agility, and you pay for what you're using in terms of software."

The council took a proactive approach to dealing with their customers from the start, arguing that although residents can't necessarily 'take their business elsewhere', bad service can result in even worse publicity and reputational damage that's potentially worse than any operational costs.

Because of this, AVDC doesn't have traditional departments and instead spreads employees across two teams - customer fulfillment and community fulfillment. This meant that the often 'rigid and inflexible' structure that makes digital transformation such as this more difficult or time-consuming wasn't there.

Now, the cost of employees spending their time on face-to-face interaction with customers instead of more commercial pursuits has been cut significantly through the introduction of My Account - the council's online community for residents and local businesses, based on Salesforce's Community Cloud.

It's estimated that My Account saved more than 900 hours of officer time in the first six months.

Launched in November 2015, services such as council tax payments are automated through the platform, and the need for face-to-face interaction has been decreased, cutting down costs in the process.

Grant said: "We've had a massive switch to My Account because it works for a lot of people, and the rate of growth is very steady. Thirty thousand, which is over 35% of the area, are on My Account already after a year. With more promotion, particularly if you put things in there that help people save time in their day, [they] will be attracted to it or find out how they can use it even if they're not first-time users.

"We haven't found the digital divide a particular problem - we've got a 91-year-old and two 95-year-olds on it."

Following this extensive digital transformation, the council has been taken from approximately a £28 million net business down to £17 million one, saving a projected £5 million due to the cloud and digital strategy alone. In light of increasing cuts to council services across the country, the success of this modernised strategy proves that cloud migration can save money in ever-more vital and pressurised areas.

Caroline Preece

Caroline has been writing about technology for more than a decade, switching between consumer smart home news and reviews and in-depth B2B industry coverage. In addition to her work for IT Pro and Cloud Pro, she has contributed to a number of titles including Expert Reviews, TechRadar, The Week and many more. She is currently the smart home editor across Future Publishing's homes titles.

You can get in touch with Caroline via email at caroline.preece@futurenet.com.