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Part 2: The online services programme and the organisational strategy

Auckland Council: Working to provide customer-centred services online.

2.1
In this Part, we discuss:

Summary of our findings

2.2
The online services programme aimed to put Council services online and improve processes to create a better experience for Aucklanders.

2.3
The online services programme is well aligned with the Council's organisational strategy, especially in helping to make Council's services more customer-friendly. In our view, the programme should support the Council in achieving the outcomes it has set out in its organisational strategy. Council staff had a consistent understanding of the programme as being about putting services online.

2.4
However, the governance and accountability arrangements for the online services programme and the customer-friendly services focus area had become confused. This creates risks for the Council in:

  • maintaining effective governance and oversight;
  • managing projects within the customer-friendly services focus area in the most effective and efficient way; and
  • appropriately balancing the programme's emphasis on putting services online and the other objectives of the customer-friendly services focus area.

Auckland Council's organisational strategy

2.5
In August 2015, the Council began work on an organisational strategy. It identified areas for improvement, including increasing the number of Council services available online. The Council adopted the organisational strategy in February 2016, describing it as a three-year "roadmap" to a higher-performing Council. The organisational strategy also supports the Council in achieving its goals under its statutory planning documents (see Figure 2).

2.6
The organisational strategy includes six strategic outcomes, each of which has associated performance measures. Figure 3 shows the Council's strategic outcomes and examples of the performance measures.

Figure 2
Relationship between the organisational strategy and Auckland Council's planning documents

Auckland Council's vision
Create the world's most liveable city and deliver value for money to Aucklanders.
Auckland Plan
A 30-year plan for Auckland to deliver the Council's vision. The plan is led by the Mayor, and delivered by the Council, central government, and external stakeholders.
Long-term plan
A 10-year budget for Auckland Council
that is set by the Mayor and Councillors.
It is delivered by the Council and council-
controlled organisations.
Local board plans
3-year plans for each of the Council's
21 local boards.
Organisational strategy
A 3-year plan for the Council outlining its priorities and goals to meet its objectives of being a high-performing council that can deliver the Auckland Plan.

Source: Auckland Council.

Figure 3
The Council's strategic outcomes and examples of the associated performance measures

Strategic outcomeMain performance measureOther performance measures include …
We get the job done faster, more conveniently, and at a lower cost than before for customer, community, and citizens. Customer experience Digitisation of most common transactions
Elected members are better supported to make high quality decisions. Members' overall satisfaction with Council staff advice and support NZIER advice quality rating
Citizens have a strong voice and are key in shaping Auckland. Trust in Council Awareness of Council's services
Our high-performing, safe, and inclusive workforce serves a diverse and changing Auckland. Employee engagement Overall staff well-being
General rates burden decreases as non-rates revenue share of total revenue grows. Total non-rates revenue as percentage of total revenue Percentage growth in non-rates revenue
We do more with less, without compromising service and the customer experience. Maintain Standard & Poor's AA rating

Core operating costs as percentage of revenue
Number of FTE per 1000 residents

Source: Office of the Auditor-General, using information from Auckland Council.

2.7
To support the organisational strategy and its outcomes, the Council set out four focus areas:

  • engaging and enabling communities, with the aim of giving Auckland communities the tools and knowledge to influence decisions and take an active role in shaping their future;
  • customer-friendly services, with the aim of meeting people's changing expectations about how they access services;
  • making our size work, using the Council's size to be innovative and using its resources more effectively to deliver better outcomes for Auckland; and
  • high-performance culture, supporting and developing Council staff and focusing resources where they are needed.

2.8
The online services programme was a prioritised initiative under the customer-friendly services focus area. Other customer-friendly services initiatives included improving the Council's website, improving the Council's management of consents, and providing online booking for Council-managed venues.

2.9
The Council prepared the business case for the online services programme at the same time as it prepared its organisational strategy. The business case recommended setting up the online services programme because the Council:

  • needed to improve people's experience of using Council services;
  • needed more effective ways to deliver services for customers, including through online solutions;
  • had cost pressures and a need to deliver services more efficiently without compromising customer service; and
  • needed to have clear accountability for core processes and improved understanding of the different parts of the process.

2.10
The online services programme has objectives for the Council, its staff, and its customers (see Figure 4). To achieve these outcomes, the programme aimed to deliver a series of projects that focused on putting services online and improving processes and services.

Figure 4
Objectives of the online services programme

For the publicFor the CouncilFor staff
Customers and communities can serve themselves Reduced cost to serve customers Have tools to deliver great service and have better conversations
Easier for customers to deal with Council Maximised efficiency through low cost channel Feel part of a successful, customer-aligned organisation
Trust in Council increased Automate low value work Can lead change on behalf of customers where appropriate
Customer satisfaction increased Eliminate workarounds Focused on assisting the more complex tasks

Source: Auckland Council.

2.11
The online services programme focused on putting services online. The customer-friendly focus area had a broader view on how to improve the customer experience and make it easier for people to interact with the Council (such as friendly and efficient call centres).

2.12
The online services programme and the projects in it contribute to achieving the performance measures of the customer-friendly services focus area of:

  • increasing the "customer experience" score to 80%;
  • improving the Council's "customer effort" score;
  • putting 70% of the most common transactions online;
  • processing consents within the statutory number of days allowed; and
  • decreasing the cost to the Council.

The purpose of the programme is consistently understood

2.13
Council staff had a consistent understanding of what the online services programme was trying to achieve.

2.14
Council staff said that the online services programme's purpose was to achieve the performance measure of "digitising" 70% of the Council's most common transactions by the end of 2019. More broadly, they said that the online services programme would help the Council catch up with Aucklanders' expectation that they should be able to interact with the Council online. One interviewee told us:

There's the target of 70% of transactions online by 2019. We want to move the customer trust measure, and perception of cost-effectiveness. We're always told by customers, why can't we do this online. It would be cheaper and more efficient.

The online services programme is well aligned with the organisational strategy

2.15
The online services programme's focus on putting services online and making them better and easier for customers to use supports the Council's organisational strategy.

2.16
The business case for the online services programme includes analysis about how the programme would support the Council to achieve the organisational strategy's outcomes. The online services programme's objectives are similar to the organisational strategy's outcomes and associated performance measures (see Figures 3 and 4). Some of the common elements between the two include reducing the cost of serving customers, increasing trust in the Council, and making it easier for people to interact with the Council.

2.17
Council staff described the online services programme as well aligned with the organisational strategy. One interviewee said:

I think [the online services programme] is well-aligned because it closely aligns with the Customer Friendly Services [focus area]. From the amount of research we have at Council, we know that customers want it to be easier to deal with us, they want to do it at a time that suits them, they don't want to necessarily talk with us, and they want to access information on their own. The whole digital-led proposition, they strongly lead in.

Governance and accountability arrangements have become confused

2.18
Although the purpose of the online services programme is consistently understood and well aligned with the Council's organisational strategy, the governance and accountability arrangements for the programme and the customer-friendly services focus area have become confused.

2.19
To support the implementation of the organisational strategy, the Council approved new governance arrangements in April 2016. As part of this, the Council formed an Investment Group to assess and approve business cases, prioritise projects, and monitor the achievement of benefits. It also formed four subgroups connected to each of the focus areas.

2.20
These subgroups had responsibility for providing overall governance for the programmes and projects within their focus area. At the time of our audit, there was also a Customer-centric transformation steering committee (the steering committee) under the Customer-friendly services subgroup (the subgroup). The steering committee provided guidance to the overall online services programme.

2.21
The person in charge of the online services programme is also the subgroup lead for the subgroup. At the time of our audit, they were also the chairperson of the steering committee (see Figure 5). The overlap between these governance and management roles is not consistent with good practice.

Figure 5
Single individual with multiple leadership roles

Figure 5 - Single individual with multiple leadership roles.

Source: Office of the Auditor-General, using information from Auckland Council.

2.22
The overlapping roles has also created confusion for staff. Some Council staff were unclear about the difference between the online services programme and the customer-friendly services focus area. One interviewee said:

We tied CCT [online services programme] to Customer-friendly services and put the same person in charge. [Their] passion and [their] strength is CCT. No disrespect to [name] at all. [They have] been asked to do two things, with no clarity. [It] is really [a] question about whether CCT and CFS [Customer-friendly services] are both needed.

2.23
We saw other examples of the lack of clarity about the distinction between the online services programme and the customer-friendly services focus area. The Council appears to use the terms "customer-friendly services pillar" (the Council refers to the focus areas as pillars) and "Customer-centric Transformation programme" interchangeably. For example, we received a document that the Council said was a comprehensive list of projects to be completed under the "customer-friendly services pillar" from 2017 to 2019. However, the document was entitled CCT Indicative Pipeline.

2.24
We also saw a lack of clarity about which projects are part of the online services programme in other documents. For example, projects in the Consenting Made Easy programme are identified as being part of the online services programme and separate from it.

2.25
Project reporting to governance groups reflects the lack of distinction between the customer-friendly services focus area and the online services programme. We compared the project reporting to the steering committee with the project reporting that goes to the subgroup in May 2017. We found that:

  • the steering committee received reports on projects identified as not belonging to the online services programme;
  • the steering committee did not receive reports on some projects that belong to the online services programme;
  • neither the steering committee nor the subgroup received reports on all of the projects in the online services programme; and
  • two projects are not reporting to the subgroup, even though (according to the work plan) they are under way.

2.26
In our review of reports to the subgroup, we did not see any reporting that provides an overall view of the online services programme. Instead, reporting is provided to various governance groups on a project-by-project basis.

2.27
In our view, the lack of distinction between the online services programme and the customer-friendly services focus area has created confusion about governance and accountability arrangements. This creates risks for the Council in:

  • maintaining effective governance and oversight;
  • managing projects within the customer-friendly services focus area in the most effective and efficient way; and
  • appropriately balancing the programme's focus on putting services online and the other objectives of the customer-friendly services focus area.

2.28
The risk to effective governance and oversight over the customer-friendly services focus area and associated projects is heightened by inaccurate project reporting. We discuss the issues with reporting in Part 3.

Recommendation 1
We recommend that Auckland Council review its framework for the governance and accountability of programmes and projects that contribute to achieving customer-friendly services.

2.29
The Council has acknowledged the areas for improvement and is addressing them by:

  • being clearer about the distinction between the "customer-friendly services pillar" and the Customer-centric Transformation programme (since renamed the Digital and Transformation programme);
  • identifying other projects in 2017/18 that contribute to the other non-digital objectives of the customer-friendly services focus area; and
  • incorporating the identified issues with the reporting into future improvements.
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Report details

CoverAuckland Council: Working to provide customer-centred services online

ISBN 978-0-478-44277-9