Since 2009, Gloucester-based digital agency iconnet has supported a Rural Community Council (RCC) with the powerful web applications required to help keep thousands of vulnerable people safer and independent – and demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of their work…
The project, delivered by the RCC, was designed to connect clients with the information and services needed to increase their independence and reduce dependence on centrally funded and delivered services.
Inspired by a similar project, the RCC approached prospective suppliers for design and delivery of a suitable database and referral system. The RCC’s community services manager explains: ‘We spoke to several possible suppliers, including iconnet. Although they didn’t have an off-the-shelf system, we really liked them. We were also impressed by their approach to business, refreshingly fair user-licence policies as we expanded, and their confidence in being able to meet our specification. They were also very keen to work with us. That was back in 2009 and the relationship has grown closer ever since.’
In July 2014, after four successful years, the extended project, run in partnership with other organisations, became Community Agents. That was when further enhancements to the original system became necessary.
The RCC‘s spokesperson again: ‘From the start, as well as delivering the promised solution, iconnet were exceptionally helpful and responsive to our evolving needs and our responsibility to demonstrate the scheme’s cost-effectiveness to the funder’
Now renamed CA Hub, iconnet’s system consists of a sophisticated database and associated reporting capability. The system records details of a growing 8,200-strong client-base across the county as well as what Community Agents does for them.
‘Although appearing simple on the surface, the level of information and number of client interactions is remarkably complex,’ explains the RCC spokesperson.
‘From this mass of data, we have to be able to quickly and easily mine data to show the savings we’ve made. That’s where iconnet’s straightforward, easy-to-use, automatic reporting takes the pain out of extracting data against different parameters and outputting to spreadsheets.’
Has iconnet’s system made a difference? The answer’s a resounding ‘yes’, with clear benefits. The original project indicated enhanced community resilience, with 80% of interventions taking place without any statutory involvement. A further 15% typically require LA funding, but not delivery. That leaves just 5% of interventions requiring statutory funding and delivery. This information significantly influenced the expansion of the project.
Recalling the years working together, the RCC identifies the closeness of the working relationship and strong customer support as iconnet’s main differentiators. ‘Getting the system right was a given,’ he explains. ‘But what’s made everything so easy is how we now regard James and his iconnet colleagues as friends – not just suppliers. Even though we’ve only met face-to-face a few times, we talk on the phone daily.’
Asked whether any standout moments defined the relationship, the RCC’s spokesperson says: ‘There have been many. For example, every time new system enhancements role out and work, on time and to budget. They took our local pilot and added new functionality so it could be successfully extended. Each enhancement on the way to achieving this was, in its way, a standout moment.’
But surely, such a project, evolving over several years, would have spawned numerous glitches? In reality, and counter to popular perception of public sector IT, iconnet’s client struggles to recall more than occasional tiny glitches. ‘Quite honestly, trying to do so would just be nit-picking. A couple of times, we’ve managed to upset the system – but iconnet always fixed this for us in moments.
‘When we’ve identified something the system wouldn’t do, James and his team always designed a solution quickly. Then they tested it offline to prove concept before putting it live. We’re still awaiting a refinement that outputs dates in a filterable format rather than text, but that’s a tiny detail. They’ll do it!’
Six years after the pilot’s launch, the new partnership can celebrate taking a concept, starting with no funding, then proving it and developing it into the current project that benefits thousands of vulnerable or isolated older people each year.
The iconnet-developed system saves the RCC’s team time and enables them to demonstrate their achievements. Functionality, such as convenient website templates, frees the team from costly dependency on an external web developer for regular content changes.
‘Although it’s hard quantifying exactly how much time and money this saves, it undoubtedly takes the strain out of delivering Community Agents. It means we can focus on what we do best for our clients. Without the system we'd never have demonstrated the benefits.’
Asked what colleagues, clients and others think, the RCC spokesperson is equally effusive with praise: ‘Some colleagues feel the system takes a little longer than how we did things before. But it’s all about the bigger picture and the importance of getting surprisingly complicated support – and essential reporting – right. With iconnet’s help, we’ve got the system we need, that works and that provides a solid foundation for future developments.’
Future refinements may mean greater simplicity, but never at the expense of service delivery. For sure, iconnet will be kept busy with more development work, similar to the enhanced reporting (so it's based on service delivery dates rather than initiation dates) that they’ve already completed.
The successful outcome means vulnerable and isolated people are supported better than ever and Community Agents can report on the cost-effectiveness of their work.
So, after six years, would the RCC’s spokesperson recommend iconnet? ‘Definitely,’ he says. ‘We’ve already referred them to other organisations’.
‘iconnet has undoubtedly helped us support vulnerable, isolated and elderly people in our county. Their support, whether in the form of the website, database, hosting or provision of our internal MS Exchange email services, has been delivered pretty-much faultlessly. You couldn’t ask more of a business partner to look after our best interests – they’re a real business friend.’