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DM Software Pathfinder project update number 4, covering 16 March to 11 April 2022

DM Software Pathfinder project update #4

Welcome back to the fourth and final instalment of our Development Management Software Pathfinder project updates.

Since February the eight Pathfinder projects — which are each led by a different LPA — have been exploring different opportunities within their development management services.

Read Project Update #1, Project Update #2 and Project Update #3 or watch the final Project Showcase Event on our YouTube channel to find out what the project teams set out to achieve and what they have worked on so far.

The projects are currently working on their final reports which will be published in early June on the Local Digital Medium publication.

Our Pathfinder Projects

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

Main back-office software provider: Idox

We have proved the sharing of a dashboard within our technical team, using our Pathfinder design and PowerBI Pro. We have held preliminary discussions with IT regarding the provision of PowerBI Gateway for the improved deployment architecture.

A proof of concept prototype dashboard has been created that can show performance of the team in the key areas and gives the ability to drill down to officer workloads. Within this, an innovative countdown visualisation shows applications approaching the target date for completion and shows the potential for similar visualisations to provide information and help with day-to-day management of caseloads.

We have established some future requirements with both officer and manager teams but feel that even more innovation will occur once we start using this as an ongoing tool.

Whilst the focus of the learning and development has been on PowerBI, it has emerged that this could also be achieved using alternative packages, as our colleagues in Nottingham City Council are proving. This is the first PowerBI deployment at Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council and we will need to agree our future strategy for this work and BI generally.

During the final Show and Tell we will demonstrate the prototype dashboard we have developed. Our expectation is that this will be handed over to our Planning team at the end of the project for ongoing use.

Colchester Borough Council: Automatically checking planning constraints via GIS data

Main back-office software provider: NEC

As we enter Week Ten of the project, our joint team is starting to think about how our outputs can turn into reality for both Colchester and the wider Planning community.

In our final report, we will detail some ‘quick wins’ for Colchester, thereby promoting innovation in the wider market. Using GIS within the planning process is already well established, for example for:

  • spatial searching for data
  • showing constraints and policies on the map
  • selecting consultees and neighbours using the map and data layers
  • seeing consultation results in one simple map view — enabling the user to drill down on results.

We will also have areas of ongoing work, including:

  • Showing policies and constraints to applicants through ASSURE’s online application capability (capability is available, but additional work is required around managing volume/scope of search before it can be implemented)
  • Show statutory consultations on a map through ASSURE’s online Local Consultation module (currently this is text-based)
  • Automating decisions based on type/known facts (established from GIS and other data sources)
  • Integrations with tools like CBC’s chatbot and 3D models
  • How the applicant can start their journey from a map and then selecting options available to them to find out if they need planning permission (such as Plan X) or to apply based on what we have established from the properties geolocation.
  • We will provide a wireframe to demonstrate the user journey.

So we have a busy final two week’s planned to ensure we can share our learning with the wider community!

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

Main back-office software provider: NEC

Following the last NEC workshop, we completed the back-office mapping of how the system functionality can improve and overcome the issues with our current way of working.

As part of this, we’ve also been working on the improvements to the non-system processes and how we can merge these together to give us the full end-to-end process.

The challenge has been to look at the negative feedback loops that have been causing the most disruption and time constraint issues for our officers. We’ve fed these back to NEC who have provided us with constructive advice and useful guidance on how to resolve these issues.

One example of this is a problem we were having resolving incorrect addresses being fed into the back-office system. Considerable time was being spent amending and updating addresses in the database. To resolve this, the new system will offer a drop-down selection from the address gazetteer. This will also include the option to put in neighbouring borough addresses. Only where a particular user address is not available will a free text field be offered. Once in place this will reduce the amount of officer time spent on manual resolution.

The final phase of the work we aim to achieve will be to line up our internal teams for a run through of the end-to-end ‘To Be’ processes.

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

Main back-office software provider: Ocella

D365 Integrated Customer Form: The Ocella specification to integrate e-form data and files with Ocella and Civica 360 is ready for sign-off. This build is expected to take two to four weeks. The internal project team is working on the integration of the e-form, Civica pay and Outlook. That build is expected to take at least three weeks.

Ocella (Server Migration): The 512 known SQL errors automatically identified are in the process of being fixed. Work to identify manual SQL corrections is required but is on hold due to capacity. Training is ongoing for planning business support to recode SQL in Ocella to ensure minimal downtime at Phase 2 of migration (migration required to allow Power BI to operate in a SQL server environment as the modern standard).

Power BI: We are holding regular demos of our PowerBI specialist’s work on rebuilding the Ocella performance and checking reports to engage the service and gather feedback. An initial training overview has been provided for planning business support, who will own all PowerBI reporting responsibilities post-project. Several PowerBI prototypes have been produced.

Next steps:

  • Complete integration builds for all the systems above.
  • Technology Design Authority presentation of detailed technicals to gain Council approval to UAT built solution and go live.
  • Complete specialist Ocella training for planning business support.
  • Start to re-write 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

We have undertaken separate ‘As Is’ and ‘To Be’ HELAA process maps, to help inform our detailed needs for the amendments / additions to the existing ‘Policy Monitoring’ module. We agreed this made more sense, in terms of time and money, than starting a new module from scratch. We have shared these with DEF, our ICT software supplier, in a comprehensive and detailed specification. They will deliver this as phase two of the project.

An HELAA process map from the North Devon District Council project.

We have all agreed the details and timings of the three phases of the project with:

  1. S106 changes into existing modules, to meet our ‘To Be’ processes.
  2. HELAA into ‘Policy Monitoring’ module.
  3. Purchase of the ‘Project’ module.

We have also incorporated an opportunity for a fourth phase for possible additional development, fully linked to our S106 ‘To Be’ aspirations, being the purchase and development of the ‘Street Naming and Numbering’ and ‘Building Control’ modules . This has come from our in-depth discussions with DEF, where, excitingly, they highlighted an opportunity for them to link plot information across several modules / work streams.

Our ‘One Team’ approach means that, with this Pathfinder project, we’re working across several services: Planning, Planning Policy, Procurement, Legal, and Housing. The possibility of linking plots across modules means we could add the ICT, Council Tax and Building Control services into using MasterGov, all sharing just one system, live information and great reporting functionality.

DEF are equally enthused by the plot development work coming out of our S106 ‘To Be’ processes, which have given them an opportunity to enhance their product to existing and new service users, sharing best practice and saving their valuable resources too.

Finally, we have had sign-off by our Procurement Team and are in the early stages of purchasing Lean & Agile, our new process mapping software, to help with the new modules in phases three and (possibly) four.

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

Main back-office software provider: Idox

As we come towards the end of the Pathfinder project we are progressing well but time is tight, so we took the decision to dual run a number of elements.

Our Uniform Enterprise customisation is progressing well. The Enterprise reporting module is completely new to us. We have spent time customising the module for our needs in terms of workflows, tasks and graphs to support our day-to-day case and performance management and to provide further data quality assurance. We have pushed our new graphing elements into our live system, and intend to imminently publish some tasks to support the application process. Our planning managers are very excited about how this tool will support them with better use of data to manage performance.

IDOX have been developing additional functionality within Enterprise for us to enable users to extract and visualise data from the planning system. The new functionality includes the presentation of PS1 and PS2 case-level data in the Enterprise environment, the ability to extract this data in various formats including the extraction of the spatial element which will support wider publication and use of planning data outside of Uniform. We have also asked them to draw performance information into dashboard visualisation tools, to again make the interaction with planning performance data more intuitive and effective.

Finally our FME server deployment is progressing well. This element looks to utilise ETL technology to extract and translate our planning data to be fed into tools and applications outside of our planning system. We have created an internal online tool that allows a user to select a number of parameters, dates, wards, officers, and extracts the PS1 data into a clear Excel spreadsheet.

Nottingham City Council’s FME Server that allows the user to select a number of parameters, dates, wards, officers, and extracts the PS1 data into a clear Excel spreadsheet.

Over the final weeks of the project we will be expanding on the self-serve online form to include PS2 data, and refining it further to automatically email our planning managers with performance outputs in line with the statutory reporting schedule.

We will also be working hard to create online dashboards to showcase our planning performance information, and producing an open data feed to enhance transparency of our planning information.

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

Main back-office software provider: Idox

We are creating a one-stop-shop for applicants who wish to carry out work to protected trees.

The first step has involved Idox completing work that will allow us to publish copies of over 1100 Tree Preservation Orders. We are quality-checking these before making them available. These can then be downloaded via our own online constraints map.

Our in-house developers have created an intuitive and user-friendly online application form and extensive testing of this is nearing completion. 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.

We’re currently working on the process of integrating facilities for fetching and submitting data using the Idox MyUniform site to develop our forms.

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

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

Main back-office software provider: Idox

On 8 March a planning connector was installed on our Idox system. Testing has taken place to ensure that the data needed can be extracted using the planning connector and that it is formatted in a way that can be displayed on the planning application tracker. We have identified extra pieces of information the planning connector doesn’t provide and have built a mechanism to extract this data. An open API will allow anyone from software developers to parish councils to integrate in with our open planning data.

It is important the information on the tracker is displayed in a clear and concise way making it easy to see at-a-glance. We have worked with the planning team to create a mock-up design of the planning application tracker to make sure that the layout met their requirements and that it will answer the questions most commonly raised by customers.

We will build the planning application tracker in our Liberty Create digital platform, which will allow access to our open planning data. Additional information will be displayed on the page containing the tracker, including a summary paragraph detailing what happens at the current stage and a map showing the planning application area outlined in red. As well as this, there will be an option to sign up for updates, so interested parties can receive alerts either by text message or email when the application moves to another stage. All updates will contain links to relevant information on the application tracker, public access or on our website.

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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