Optimising the process for Disabled Facilities Grants

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Amanda Hodgkinson, Business Systems Officer, in her own words describes a significant piece of process improvement work she recently has undertaken.

I have wanted to drastically change the way disabled facilities grant (DFG - www.gov.uk/disabled-facilities-grants) applications were processed for such a long time, that when I was invited to be part of the improvement project, I was excited. The project was initiated following a digital services review. My first thoughts were ‘at last’!

The DFG administration involves 4 teams within 3 departments across 3 locations. The old way was to keep the administration paper based so that records (folders with paper in) could be passed to the various teams at the various locations with all necessary documents enclosed.

‘Face palm’ I know, is it 1984?

There is an element of the process which can only be processed using APP (Flare) as a result only one of the 4 teams used APP for any aspect of the DFG applications process. I knew APP could accommodate more of the process, in fact, I knew it could accommodate the whole process.

Having had no success over the past few years in selling a more digital approach to the service, the digital service review was a welcome activity. I was sceptical at first, I have had experience of previous reviews where the outcome is a more complicated and time intensive process. But, I put on my best smile and embraced the involvement I had been offered.

A lot of work had already been put into this prior to me being involved, and Jo  Grime (Business Analyst) had a clear understanding of what she wanted to achieve. Jo was the driver and I was the engineer, making mechanical tweaks to the APP system along the way.

  • At last – paper records would become a thing of the past!
  • At last – travel and mileage claims would be eliminated!
  • At last – workflow would be incorporated to the APP records!
  • At last – document templates could start to be used, bring uniformity!
  • At last – visibility of progress for all applications would be apparent!
  • At last – reports would be available for performance measures and volumes!

How could it be possible to move such an archaic process so much closer to the digital way of life?

Regular meetings were held with all key players. The key players had been selected either for their expertise in the day to day processing or their role as a decision maker for the new process. Attendance at the meeting was prioritised (well, more compulsory!!) and the meetings involved candid discussions surrounding each element of the workflow resulting in instant decisions without needing further approval from team leaders/managers.

Demonstrations of what APP could do to solve the issues arising were shown in the big screen and hands on testing in the APP training environment was arranged, so that all key players could get a feel for the new digital way of life.

Once we were all happy with the basic version of Digital DFG a training plan was agreed and a live date set.

At last the Digital DFG process was launched and slowly but surely DFG applications started their journey through the workflow within the action diary of the APP record. These applications and their associated documentation were all logged electronically with APP and as and when required the records were transported, using the APP dashboard, to the various team members in their various teams, across the various locations.

Initial findings, 3 months after live, are very positive:

  • the number of days between various stages of the process has reduced by a significant percentage
  • the system users are finding that their familiarity with the system and understanding of the system’s functions is helping them challenge the way applications are processed
  • the information available within a record is a real timesaver especially if you are on a call to an applicant and have the answers in front of you
  • elements of the process which no longer bring value are being removed
  • document templates are increasing week after week
  • performance reports are available to managers for various audiences

At last, the inevitable snowball effect is emerging with the teams affected and continuous improvement is now being realised within the Digital DFG process.

By Laura Hodkinson on 23rd Dec 2019
Laura is the Head of Digital Transformation at Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council