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Camden Council Digital Strategy: Delivering Online, Text and a Mobile App Solution for Booking ePermits/Visitors Parking Sessions

Gov Digital Solutions LGEO Research

Councils have been working towards ‘Digital by Default‘ for a few years now. The Government Digital Strategy committed the government to ensuring all new or redesigned digital services meet this standard from April 2014. It’s all about understanding user needs, their user stories and determining how best to deliver user needs digitally. Sometimes it’s easy to talk about the big picture, but what about does it really take to deliver a ‘Digital by Default’ service? What sort of implementations are best to follow? What are the benefits for residents and the council itself?

I have recently been working with Camden Council on creating videos for their new ePermits solution. These videos will help residents to learn how to use the ePermits solution online, using SMS and via the smartphone app. I was interested to know more about their efforts in helping residents get digital and wondered if there were any lessons that other councils might be able to learn from them. So, I conducted an interview with Camden to find out more. Here’s what I found out.

Development of the ePermit Solution

The ePermits solution was developed by our external permit system provider ParkMobile. There was a close collaboration between Camden and Parkmobile to ensure the final product released to our customers was fit for purpose and met the high standards that the Council and their customers expect. The whole process from concept to launch of the ePermits solution has taken over 12 months. This might sound like a long time but Camden had to ensure the system was as user friendly as possible for our customers. This is extremely important when introducing a new system that relies heavily on customer interaction.

Benefits for Residents

The new ePermits system provides greater flexibility for customers in regards to applying, renewing and managing their parking permits.  Parking sessions can now be booked on the go via a smartphone app or sitting at home via your computer. Parking sessions are also more flexible as you can now book them in 15 minute slots (as opposed to the old scratch card system that meant each session was 30 minutes minimum.) This provides more value for money to the customer which is especially important in these hard economic times. Residents have wanted the option to use ‘online services’ and ePermits allow this. Camden does understand however that not all residents will want to use ‘online services’ and with this in mind Camden have retained the scratch card option for those residents who prefer to use the service.

Benefits for Camden Council

By moving to a virtual permit Camden has been able to reduce the need to manually process each permit application. This has brought about greater efficiencies in the back office that allows officers to carry out other duties. The move to a virtual permit also has ‘green’ benefits as Camden have been able to decrease the amount of paper they use. Camden no longer has to produce as many scratch cards and can also confirm a customer’s purchase via email as opposed to sending out letters. The move to ePermits/eVisitor permits helps us to move away from issuing expensive RFID cards/scratch cards for each permit that is approved.  This allows those permit holders who have multiple vehicles, to be able to instantly manage their active vehicle, using new Mobile App and SMS channel, not previously available.

Rolling out the service

Camden introduced eVisitor Permits with a ‘soft’ roll out strategy, this meant that it introduced eVisitor Permits to one of our controlled parking zones as a test before a full roll out was implemented. This ‘soft’ launch allowed residents to inform us of any issues they found with the system which helped us improve the eVisitor Permits product. The eVisitor Permits system is now fully functioning and has received excellent feedback from residents since going live.

Future of Camden’s Online Parking Services

Camden parking services is currently undertaking a website review as part of improving the customer experience. The parking web pages will be checked for accuracy and to ensure the  wording is customer friendly and not service specific. To help with this process Camden is conducting user testing involving local residents; this feedback from the user groups will be essential in helping us to optimize the web content ensuring it is fit for purpose. Camden has also recently created parking guides (available on the parking home page) to give customers information on parking and also produced eVisitor permit videos that will help customers use the new products that are available to them.

If you are interested in getting in touch with Camden regarding their ePermit Solution, kindly drop me an email at liz@lgeoresearch.com and I shall forward your contact details and enquiries to them.

I hope this was useful.

Liz

About Liz Azyan

Liz is a CREATIVE digital professional dedicated to helping individuals, governments and businesses realize their digital goals. She offers digital consultancy services on her website LizAzyan.com Liz is also a Google Fellowship Recipient (individuals selected based on their work and initiative in the arenas of technology, politics and social entrepreneurship), an invited expert panel on the Guardian’s Public Leader Network and has spoken at many public events and conferences on the subject of digital engagement.

3 comments

  1. I work for the Government Digital Service and I’m also a Camden resident. I’ve just had the painful of experience of trying to use the Camden e-permit system. This is not a system that meets user needs and I would love to be able to do a service assessment and understand how elements of the user interface came to be built in such an unfriendly way. As is typical for poorly designed services, I will be picking up the phone tomorrow to talk to parking services as the system does not meed my user needs. It also has some terrible bugs that suggest the UI was not properly tested. You only have to try activating an e-permit when you haven’t actually got any e-permits on your account, to see the problems. Very poor. I wonder how much parkmobile were paid for this service?

    • Hi Stephen,

      First of all, thank you for your interest in the article.

      I can sympathize with your experience. Of course, I’m sure Camden’s parking services will appreciate any constructive advice that they receive on the system. I wasn’t involved in the entire project, only the video. So it’s quite hard for me to judge how user friendly it is, given that I ran the product countless times in the video production that the system became so familiar and easy to me in the end :)

      I can however really appreciate your views as someone who works at GDS and also a Camden resident. It’s important to make the issues known to Camden parking services to improve them and make them aware. Having worked at Camden in the past and worked alongside the parking services team on the video recently, I can safely say that they are a great bunch to work with and are really interested and dedicated in putting the users needs first. I shall put you in touch with the team in an email if you haven’t gotten in touch with them already.

      Unfortunately I do not know how much ParkMobile were paid for this service. But I’m an FOI will be able to tell you, if needed.

      Liz

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