The London Borough of Camden covers an area of 22 square kilometres, stretching from Hampstead Heath, one of the largest open spaces in the capital, through Camden Town, Euston, and King's Cross to central London. Parts of central London falling under Camden's jurisdiction, such as Holborn and Covent Garden, are amongst the capital's most developed areas.
Camden Council delivers over 500 services to nearly 250,000 residents and 24,000 businesses, and supports a daily flow of commuters and visitors that increases its population threefold. To ensure utmost quality of service, scrutiny committees carefully measure performance throughout the year. They play an important role in identifying areas that are not successfully meeting standards.
Local or central government bodies strive to deliver services as efficiently and effectively as possible. This is a great challenge – efficient services may not be able to address complex issues, and effective services usually are not easily translated into straightforward online procedures. Previously, Camden provided a limited number of disjointed online services. A lack of cohesion and usability resulted in slow and expensive processes that caused confusion for end users, in many cases requiring multiple contacts at the Council to get one thing done. This situation was represented by a set of siloed ICT systems, reflecting the Council's disparate service offerings.
Camden recognised its services needed to be overhauled into a user-friendly online offering with a single user interface (UI) for end users – one for citizens and one for local businesses. The resulting savings in operational costs were a significant benefit, with an initial target of £300,000 in annual savings year on year attached to the business portal project. The Council's business objective was to move 85% of their transactions online by 2015 using proven and robust software platforms. At this stage there was no preference for either open source or proprietary software.
The Council's priorities – service delivery and end user experience – defined the first step in designing a solution. An in-depth research initiative revealed a variety of requirements expected by Camden's residents and businesses: a single point of contact, viewable status and history of transactions, customised content, and automated messaging and transaction confirmation. The right solution obviously needed to be flexible and customisable. To lower costs and encourage users away from expensive, traditional channels, any online offering must be a better and more convenient experience. Camden therefore designed their solution ‘bottom up' from the end user experience, using an open source portal solution: easy to set up, customisable, interoperable, and flexible. In summary, Alasdair Mangham (Head of Information Systems and Development, Camden Council) said, "We must remember that channel shift is the Council's objective – not the customer's. For our customers it is always about the easiest way to get something done."
Initial in-house testing demonstrated Liferay Portal's ability to meet Camden's requirements in many ways, including multi-level authorisation, standard compliance, and customisation of the user registration process. Camden's Assistant Director of ICT, John Jackson, then commissioned a formal evaluation with Gartner, who recognise Liferay Portal as a leader in their Magic Quadrant for Horizontal Portals. Their expert analysis proved to be a deciding factor into executive buy-in.
Liferay now powers the user interaction end of Camden's two portal solutions: a business portal and a citizen-facing portal. Both portals offer single points of contact where businesses and citizens can access information and transact securely with the council. Businesses and citizens have different needs and frequencies of interaction. Liferay's flexibility, however, meant that most of the code and functionalities used in one portal could be adapted to the other. Other key components of Liferay included:
- High level of configurability without touching the core of the software
- A wealth of out-of-the-box features
- Standards compliance
- Enterprise grade support and UK-based account management
- Interoperability and integration capabilities (including Facebook, Google and Open ID login; legacy line of business application using Camden's integrated business services (SOA) and GIS addressing service; and financial information systems)
- Compatibility with the UK Government's Open Standards agenda
Finally, Liferay's agility allows for extensions of the portals to be taken in stages. From the first installation of Liferay, a working citizen-facing portal was live in just twelve weeks. Within the following 15 months, Camden will have achieved two further releases on the citizen-facing portal, and two on the business portal.
Business Value Added
The ongoing challenge for government continues to be delivering more services for less cost, and Liferay as an open source portal solution enables just that. Camden's portal solutions reduce costly, traditional channels of service delivery by moving them online in a way that is secure, user-friendly and customisable. With no increase in staffing, Camden's ICT team have seen increased productivity, faster time to market, and significant savings for the Council.
Future planned releases include higher-level services for more sensitive layers of data requiring two-factor user authentication, as well as use of Liferay Portal's standard auditing portlet to capture relevant data to be fed into the Council's customer insight and operational management processes. As local and central government evolve to the next phase of web development, moving from delivering simple transactions to a unified online customer service, they will find significant opportunity for innovation and savings offered by Open Standards-based software.
Both Liferay and Camden are committed to continue working together to offer a local government solution on Liferay Marketplace in future. Organisations interested in such a solution are encouraged to contact Liferay.