Barnsley Council and Dorset Council have been key players among a group of councils working collaboratively with support from specialist public sector digital agency dxw to create a new income management system (IMS).
The IMS is a software application that we use to manage incoming payments and make sure they're allocated to the right accounts.
It is now moving to stage 2 of its beta phase, and the project team have released the open source code publicly. They are now calling on other digitally ambitious councils to participate in the testing.
Through an initial application to the Local Digital Fund, Barnsley Council received funding to explore the value of creating an income management and ePayment system for use across local government. The discovery exercise, facilitated by dxw, involved a series of group workshops, interviews and surveys with six local authorities.
Following discovery, Dorset Council came on board for the alpha stage. Since then, dxw and the group of councils have pooled their knowledge and expertise to create an end-to-end IMS proposition with a wide range of functionality, a clear governance model and defined support models.
Councillor Alan Gardiner at Barnsley Council said: "Our teams quickly discovered a gap in the market for a system like the one they were building. Councils were struggling with the costs and lack of choice in the market and often ended up trapped in long contracts with little alternative.
"The system was initially created for our use at Barnsley, but to make this IMS something that other councils can use, the team decided to build in other functionality to make it open source. That way, we have an IMS created by local government for local government. We hope this is an approach that others can follow with different services."
A launch of an early version of the IMS at Barnsley has already seen staff time freed up to focus on other priorities as they are no longer hindered by an outdated system. It's easy to use without copying information multiple times or travelling to several screens to complete a transaction.
Glen Conroy, ICT Operations Manager at Dorset Council, added: "People only notice an IMS when it's not working. Either payments get taken, or they don't, so our aim is to make this as easy to use as possible and ensure it does what it needs to do.
"Local Gov IMS will help the smooth running of processes in any council, ensuring the flow of payments from citizens and around the council is seamless and efficient.
"Political will is a major factor in implementing a system that works for everyone - collaborating isn't easy, but it's the right thing to do when it comes to public services. We're glad to have worked with dxw, who provided a solid foundation for multiple councils to work together."
The proposition has been presented as part of a further successful bid for funding to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
Isobel Croot, Head of Strategy at dxw, concluded: "We're really pleased to see the release of the open source version of the IMS and to have helped facilitate this collaboration between councils.
"Barnsley and Dorset have been building a community of local authorities that we will now work with to test the platform. By sharing expertise, we'll be able to create a shared resource that will improve service delivery and act as an asset for the public sector's common good."