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DM Software Pathfinder project update #3

Covering 17 February to 15 March 2022

Welcome back to the third instalment of our DM Software Pathfinder project updates.

To recap, the eight Pathfinder projects are each led by a different LPA and will be exploring different opportunities within their development management services.

The projects kicked off in February and will wrap up at the end of April. Read Project Update #1 and Project Update #2 to find out what the project teams are setting out to achieve, and what they have worked on so far. You can also watch the most recent Pathfinder Show & Tell.

Our next Show and Tell will be on Tuesday 29 March at 2pm email DigitalPlanningTeam@levellingup.gov.uk if you’d like to be added to the invite list.

Our Pathfinder Projects

Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council: Automating the publication of planning service performance data

Main back-office software provider: Idox

The initial connection to the data is now established and we can see the various data tables and create visualisations.

We now have the necessary PowerBI Pro licences for our project team, and we’ll be testing how the sharing of dashboards and data can take place in our proof of concept Pathfinder design.

We have reviewed what a final design would look like and concluded that the best approach is to use a PowerBI Gateway, which will have several advantages over our original Pathfinder design. This approach will enable us to schedule the data into Power BI, which is not possible without the Gateway. We will be engaging with our Infrastructure team to discuss how this might be achieved for further implementation after the Pathfinder project is complete.

We have also had a workshop with a small team of planning officers to get requirements for an officer level dashboard that will organise, manage and measure their workloads. We are holding a similar workshop with managers next week. We hope to produce a prototype later in the project that will provide the management team with visibility of the teams’ current performance.

We are documenting our design ideas for presentation at the next update, and will be shaping our final report to include these ideas alongside our research and learning.

The Basingstoke and Deane-led project reviewed this example of a final design for the PowerBI System Architecture.

Colchester Borough Council: Automatically checking planning constraints via GIS data

Main back-office software provider: NEC

Since our last update, our team (made up from Colchester Borough Council and NEC Software Solutions) has held two further workshops to discuss opportunities for automating the planning application process based on geospatial data.

We started off by considering whether:

  • there are applications we would always decline, for example, certain types of internally illuminated signage in areas of special advertisement control
  • what decisions could be made with less demands on planning officer time, for example, discharge of conditions, certificates of lawfulness, and so on.

We’ve started to look at what data would be required to support these decisions and acknowledged that a reliance on users completing fields which have caused data ‘gaps’ could hamper simpler decision-making. We also agreed to investigate opportunities for automating information in the first place, rather than expecting users to remember to populate essential fields.

Unsurprisingly with this ambitious team, our thoughts turned to where we’re heading. We discussed Local and Neighbourhood plans and whether the data stored geospatially, as it is at Colchester, provides further opportunities for automation.

Our next piece of work is to document examples to expose any blockers to overcome.

London Borough of Harrow Council: Improving the processing of consultation responses

Main back-office software provider: NEC

We’ve made some good progress following on from our last update. We’ve had two workshops with NEC now: the first covering the Customer Interaction on Consultee comments and the second, conducted recently, covering the back-office planning officer processing of the responses.

These were run against our ‘As Is’ process maps, which were provided along with our overlayed ‘pain points’ that illustrate where we’re currently having delays and issues with our existing solution.

Having the combined expertise from NEC and the Planning Officer and Support teams involved has been hugely effective in clarifying each stage of the process and building a vivid picture of how NEC’s Assure product can help us improve our existing way of working.

We’re now in the process of reviewing the outcomes of the workshop and feeding back to NEC further comments and queries on configuration options and potential enhancements.

In addition to this, we’ve scheduled in some further meetings locally to examine the process areas that sit outside the system, but that will be integral in providing the full end-to-end method for processing and monitoring the consultee traffic.

The NEC Assure solution for neighbour consultations using GIS

London Borough of Havering: Designing a digital pre-application advice service

Main back-office software provider: Ocella

D365 Integrated Customer Form: We have now completed the design of the form and the build of the minimum viable product (MVP). Work is ongoing to integrate the form with Ocella, Civica 360 and Civica Pay. For bookings, Microsoft Dynamics 365 will synchronise with the planning officers’ shared Outlook team calendar.

Ocella (Server Migration): Ocella and Havering ICT have completed the initial migration and 512 SQL errors were automatically identified, and work has begun to identify the manual SQL corrections required.

Training has been provided for planning business support to recode SQL in Ocella to ensure minimal downtime at Phase 2 of the migration, as migration is required to allow Power BI to operate in a SQL server environment as the modern standard.

Power BI: We’ve provided an initial training overview for planning business support, who will own all PowerBI reporting responsibilities after the project has concluded. Several PowerBI prototypes have been produced, and we will cover this in our third Show and Tell on Tuesday 29 March.

Our next steps:

  • Integration builds for all the systems mentioned above.
  • Complete specialist Ocella training for planning business support.
  • Start to rewrite all old Oracle documents in Ocella and start fixing SQL errors in Ocella to prevent broken integrations at Phase 2 migration.
  • Complete PowerBI prototypes for all 100 Ocella performance / management information reports.
  • Start compiling a reusable components library and methodology for other Ocella councils.

North Devon District Council: Improving the quality of planning data

Main back-office software provider: DEF

Our original specification was to develop a new HELAA (Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment) module in DEF MasterGov to support the Local Plan / Section 106 process. Our supplier DEF has taken the time to really understand our needs and to save time and money, and is confident that the development of their Policy Monitoring module will deliver the functionality we need.

This is really timely as we have a soft launch of our People & Place Project (Local Plan Review) on Tuesday 15 March, and part of this is our Call For Sites. The information from this will feed into the Policy Monitoring module.

Alongside this, we continue to make more minor adjustments to the system to meet our Section 106 ‘To Be’ Process.

We are also purchasing Lean & Agile, our new process mapping software.

Our ‘One Team’ approach has really engaged with many of our services. Although we all report to a particular manager, we are very much trying to break down those traditional silos so we can pull on the right people with the right skills to deliver at the right time. We have 6 programmes and anyone can be asked to work on any project, regardless of their role or service area. For example, with this Pathfinder project we’re working across several services: Planning, Planning Policy, Procurement, Legal, and Housing.

Nottingham City Council: Automating the reporting of planning data (PS1/2 returns)

Main back-office software provider: Idox

We are coming to the end of week 6 and our project is making good progress.

Our Uniform Enterprise installation and customisation is progressing well, with some established workflows and reporting having been developed within our test environment. Further customisation is planned for next week.

We held an initial workshop with Idox and our planners to outline the deliverables of the Enterprise development, which looks to extract PS1 and PS2 data and enable the presentation of this data for various audiences — including open data outputs and ward dashboards — and within an online query tool for non-specialists.

Our FME Server is now live. Over the next couple of weeks, we will be working hard alongside 1Spatial to establish our corporate setup to ensure it is effective and efficient to meet our needs, and get a better understanding of the tools now available to us.

This groundwork is needed in preparation for using this environment to generate data models and queries to extract and report on Uniform system data, and prototyping the frontend querying and presentation functionality, such as data exports and dashboards.

It’s certainly going to be a busy few weeks ahead!

Sevenoaks District Council: Enabling better access to Tree Preservation Order information

Main back-office software provider: Idox

Our project will be improving access to information about protected trees and the process for submitting applications for works to trees.

The application process for carrying out works to protected trees is similar across most councils, as customers are directed to using a standard form. However the customer experience of obtaining accurate information about trees is not.

We are working with Idox to publish copies of Tree Preservation Orders which can be downloaded via our own website. We have used a combination of in-house and external expertise to create our own online application form and testing is now in progress.

The application and any accompanying documents will download to our document management system, allowing us to acknowledge and determine the application within the statutory deadlines, whilst keeping applicants updated of progress via text messages.

Once live on our website in the coming weeks, we are confident other councils will want to implement similar improvements for their customers.

The Sevenoaks District Council District Planning Map, displaying Tree Preservation Orders.

Tewkesbury Borough Council: Creating a planning application tracker service for applicants

Main back-office software provider: Idox

In order to facilitate the planning application tracker, it is necessary to extract the data from our Uniform system. To retrieve this data in a way that is accessible, we have purchased a planning connector from Idox which was installed on our system on Tuesday 8 March. This will allow us to pull the data out of the system into a usable format to display in the planning application tracker.

We have identified the necessary data needed to make the planning application tracker useful to applicants and agents. The next steps will be to design how this information should be displayed to make it clear and easy to digest.

The planning application tracker will sit alongside Public Access, complimenting the detailed information available in public access with a simple and easy to digest overview of the planning application through the tracker.

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to follow Local Digital on Medium or on Twitter for more updates from our #DigitalPlanning Pathfinder projects.

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