Where did it all start?

Mike Connell explains how the waste project came about.

It’s often said that necessity is the mother of invention, and although it might appear to be a lazy way to start a blog post with a proverb, in this case it’s completely accurate. I arrived at Rugby Borough Council some four and a half years ago as a senior IT officer, intent on making some transformational changes and bringing some innovation into local government. Full of energy and enthusiasm, that was exactly the remit that was given to me, and my first challenge would be waste services.

Photo of Mike Connell.
Previously procured, our Waste Management System (WMS) had thousands of pounds of savings identified and no development team to fully integrate into our existing systems. Over the following years, the functionality of the WMS was investigated and integrated piece by piece, little by little, until we had a fully integrated WMS with the kind of complicated, multi platform integration which gives development teams nightmares.

Our integrated services did what was needed, but even the simple ones had so many links in the chain to achieve success that failure was an almost daily occurrence. Customer or CSA team member raising an assisted waste bin request for a resident? Not a problem in theory, but behind the scenes it was a complicated series of requests and responses:

  1. Resident or CSA (Customer Service Agent) begins filling the form out to request an assisted waste bin;
  2. Form connects to our local SQL server through a secure channel to request the resident’s UPRN (unique property number) from our local LLPG system;
    1. which resided in a neighbouring authority infrastructure,
    2. so, the request is passed to their infrastructure for a response,
    3. which is passed back through our local infrastructure,
    4. then the response is sent back to the form;
  3. The form then records the UPRN and fills out the address information for the resident;
  4. Which then sends a request via API to our WMS to check whether the property already has a recorded assisted waste bin record, ready to report to the resident;
  5. The resident then ticks the box to let the form know they are requesting the service for a different property, their father or auntie as an example;
  6. So the form then completes another UPRN and property request using the same process in step 2;
  7. The form then sends a request to the WMS with the updated UPRN to check whether the property already has a recorded assisted waste bin request record;
  8. If there is already an assisted waste bin request which doesn’t expire within 30 days, the resident is informed they cannot complete the service request;
  9. Finally, if there is no recorded assisted waste bin request, or the current assisted waste bin request expires within 30 days then the form is submitted;
  10. The process records the assisted waste bin request on the relevant UPRN;
  11. If the resident has put their mobile number into the form, they receive notification via SMS of the successful request, sent via Gov Notify. The mobile number is not attached to their CRM account;
  12. The resident is informed via the email on their CRM account of the successful request.

And each one of these steps needed full coding to achieve of course. Bearing in mind this is absolutely the simplest service request which uses the WMS, it gives an example of the kind of process deconstruction and resources required.

Early in 2021 we moved our platform to PlaceCube and once again we began replicating the processes, but this time of course we had the previous experience of how the delivery could be undertaken. As we replicated code structures and integrations, I reflected on how universal the processes struck me across other LAs and how these processes could be applied to other Waste Management Services, and how our learning could assist others. Not only that, but how much easier this whole development could be using low code and how a whole multitude of barriers could be overcome to allow councils to engage and achieve the efficiencies we were gaining, knowing the privileged position we were in by having two officers (one being myself!) who had the associated skills to be able to undertake the full code approach we were forced into.

Which leads us to where we are now, I suppose! I’ve always been keen on innovation, making the most of the resources we have, sharing information, and generally collaborating so that we get best value for our residents. Having completed a long alpha, now was the time to drive digital waste forwards in a collaborative, accessible way and to exploring the use of an open source low code digital platform to develop user centred digital services for Waste Services.

Mike Connell
Chief Officer, Digital and Communications
Rugby Borough Council