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Building booking capabilities

As a general rule, legacy lock-in and monolithic IT can stifle innovation and make change harder.

You're tied to the road map of one supplier to deliver a whole service, to which you're just a single customer often amongst hundreds. Sometimes this isn't all bad, particularly for a general function such as as finance or HR where there are many mature products on the market, but not often.

One alternative is to build your own services from the ground up. For example around 10 years ago we created our own fault reporting service in C# .NET through which between 60% and 70% of requests for service about the roads and countryside are now raised. Since then products such as Fix My Street have evolved and we were one of the first councils in the UK to create an Open311 Service.

The problem with building your own service from scratch is it takes time and resource. Just adding a couple new fields can take days of coding, testing and deploying.

So if old-school IT is inflexible, and building your own from scratch is costly, is there a better way?

Over the past couple of years we've been putting together a collection of technical capabilities with which to create new digital services. Our digital armoury now includes a drag and drop forms builder, GIS and Google maps, an API server, a booking platform, a search engine, a payment platform, a workflow engine, an email server, an SMS service, and more.

This approach isn't a new idea, nor is the idea mine. In fact this video from 2013 is probably more relevant now than it was then, as technical capabilities such as the ones I've listed before are more available and easily consumable.

We've already taken this approach this for other services, for example this year we automated thousands of requests which would have been re-keyed by staff, by integrating front-end forms with our back-office waste system, but this week sees the launch of something new.

Across our organisation there are spaces and equipment that can be booked by the public. Rooms, halls, sports pitches and courts, and so on. In all cases the user had to phone or email  to book and pay for them, until today.

Because today we took one of many very small steps forward, as now you can book one room online.

This is hardly revolutionary stuff, but behind the scenes we've been doing the hard work to make the booking easy. We've used our forms builder, workflow engine, booking platform, payment platform and email server to make this scalable.

In three weeks we'll have added two more rooms, in two more weeks three tennis courts, another two weeks and we'll have added an all weather football pitch, and so on. Once we've included everything currently bookable, we'll create digital services to leverage assets where the overhead of manually administering the process has previously precluded them.

Taking this approach will allow us to move forward and upscale at pace, creating better services for our users, saving staff time and generating additional revenue. If you're re-designing public services I suggest you investigate whether it would work for you.

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