Reflections on the Firmstep London and South East user group

I attended Firmstep South East and London User Group last week. It was a bit of a trek to get to Gravesham Borough Council from West London but it was a worthwhile and productive day. 

David Herrington, Web Manager at Gravesham Borough Council begun the introductory session with slides on their Firmstep journey.  Their digital team is made up of a web manager, 2 technical support officers and a 1-year placement apprentice.  With support from senior management who get what they are doing and see the value of it, the whole team gets stuck into all aspects of process and form building.  This is from gathering initial requirements to integration with the back office and everything in between.

Customer experience and enabling real transformation session

Hilary Jones, Firmstep Customer Ambassador, ran a session on improving customer experience and getting us to consider where we are as organisations on the Digital Transformation Journey. She suggested a 3 step journey. 

The first step is having some forms and processes in live. Step 2 is automation with some back office systems. An advanced step 3 had much more automation and use of technologies like AI. 

As a council, I think we are somewhere between steps 1 and 2. 

Hilary was also very keen to get as many of us as possible to share learning of what we have done on the Customer Network and used the presentation to encourage and plug this.

Firmstep cupcakes and innovations

After coffee and cupcakes (with a Firmstep logo on top of each one – and gluten free ones) it was time for session 3.

Mark Ramus, Head of Product Experience on Firmstep innovations, demonstrated Business and Councillor portals, a Firmstep Blue Badge form and kiosks. 

I don’t know much about where we are at with our Blue Badge process but the Firmstep form looked pretty good.  I never realised how detailed and lengthy the process can potentially be with loads of tabs opening up depending on what you selected. The form integrates on submission with a GDS Blue Badge portal, similar to the Transactions portal we will be using for GOV.UK Pay. It also has a dashboard and listing, with photos and uploaded documents for use of back office Blue Badge teams.

Firmstep roadmap and future innovations discussion

Bryony Harrower, Product Manager presented the Firmstep roadmap and future innovations. 

Changes coming to the platform include Government Digital Service (GDS) style forms. This will possibly mean a re-branding exercise coming up for us, but hopefully not too big of one if the templates are GDS based out of the box! There was also mention of faster loading of forms and no longer having a loading progress bar when a form first loads. 

On the horizon is also a tab that shows a list of our processes, integrations for each process and users who have access to edit the form. As a team we already record some of these things on a shared spreadsheet but this may be worth looking at. If not as an alternative, but as a compliment to that.

Using Firmstep to tackle the Homelessness Reduction Act

The afternoon began with a session by Marie Gerald from Dartford Borough Council who shared working with Firmstep to tackle the Homelessness Reduction Act (a relatively recent change for Housing teams). They paid about £30K for the solution but are much happier with it than the national system they were using previously.

‘Improving reporting’ session

The final session of the day were breakout sessions. I went to the one on improving reporting. 

Brentwood Council kicked off the session with how they reference the SQL data dump nightly export using a very cleaver API implementation.

Firmstep wanted to know how we use Firmstep data including the nightly export of the day’s transactions. 

One of the frustrations mentioned was not being able to easily find how users were filling in processes, from Dash, Self and other avenues,  in order to compare time periods. 

Google Analytics (GA) and the limits of referencing GA data came up. The GA script can be blocked, for example by users blocking the cookie code required for analytics data to be sent, which leads to inaccurate analytics data.

Firmstep took away our suggestions and will feed back to make changes to reporting. This may take the form of further, more in-depth, meetings that  just look at reporting.

Concluding remarks

Overall it was a very useful day that was well worth the long trip. The demonstration sessions were varied and the user group size was about right to be able to network and establish contacts with other Firmstep users. The Annual National User group does not easily allow that, simply due to the sheer number of people.

Thank you Gravesham Borough Council for hosting everyone.

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