NI Direct: a digital transformation journey

cover NI Direct is taking online public services to the next level and, in doing so, saving money and improving the quality of service to customers.

BT is the world’s oldest and one of the largest communications companies. Today we are a global innovator making amazing things happen – launching new television channels, delivering one of the fastest fibre broadband roll-outs in the UK, investing in new 4G mobile capabilities, and connecting families, companies and governments around the world.

In Northern Ireland, BT directly employs over 2,400 people, including BT Group’s four centres of excellence, specialising in R&D and customer service, and we are a valued partner of the Northern Ireland Executive. NI Direct forms a key part of this partnership and the transformation programme has been created to improve access to digital government services across local and central government and the wider public sector.

NI Direct is part of the Enterprise Shared Services division within the Department of Finance and Personnel and tasked with transforming our citizen-facing digital service delivery across all Northern Ireland public sector organisations.

The partnership was awarded in October 2012 to BT, which is working with a range of local and global partners – including Deloitte, Asidua, Neueda and Kana – and provides a wide range of solutions, skills and capabilities to support departments and organisations through the digital transformation of citizen services.

Peter Russell, General Manager for BT Business in Northern Ireland, explains: “The NI Direct strategic partnership has proved to be effective and successful in helping the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) to deliver improved customer service and cost savings, as well as prioritise and deliver significant digital transformation change.”

Improved services

The NI Direct programme has made excellent progress over its first two years. It has delivered a wide range of new digital transactional services resulting in a significant increase of more than 200,000 new online transactions and 50,000 new online payments (worth £1.6 million) over the last 12 months, whilst delivering improved service levels and reduced costs.

The key objective is to deliver 16 projects by 2016

At a more strategic level, NI Direct has successfully supported departments in the development of the NICS Citizen Contact Strategy and digital action plans to drive forward the Digital First agenda, including a departmental review of citizen services and identification of 16 prioritised high volume or high impact services for transformation by 2016.

As of 1 September 2014, key digital transformation projects that have been engaged include four projects that are now live, four that are currently in development (Alpha and Beta phases) and six projects that are in the discovery (user journey and conceptual design) phase.

NI Direct is also supporting wider transformational programmes and initiatives within the Northern Ireland Civil Service including the ‘Agile’ development of the electronic single application form for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s CAP reform programme and the development of a Careers Service e-delivery strategy for the Department for Employment and Learning.

The NI Direct contact centre has seen significant successes with the adoption of several new services. These have included improved responses to flooding incidents, the provision of child maintenance support advice and guidance and assisted digital services to support landlord registrations and General Register Office’s birth, death and marriage certificates.

Overall, channel shift has helped in the last year to drive switchboard calls down by 25 per cent and increase higher added value transactional and informational calls by 14 per cent e.g. for the Courts and Tribunals Service and Legal Services Commission.

thumb-large-27 Digital transformation journey

NI Direct has aligned engagement and development approaches to the Cabinet Office’s Government Digital Service (GDS) design manual by utilising Agile methods and tools. This is a significant change for Northern Ireland Civil Service organisations in approaching transformational change from business case development through to service delivery.

NI Direct is helping departments through this new approach which aims to re-design service operations to work more effectively in a digitally connected world for the benefit of citizens and the business area.

Agile citizen-focused developments are typically 25 per cent less expensive to deliver than traditional methods, ensuring value for money and the delivery of easy-to-use citizen-focused services.

The GDS has explained that government needs to learn from teams who are building successful, world class services and needs to place users at the heart of service design, incorporating their feedback at every step of the way.

Digital inclusion

As the trend for government services being delivered online continues to grow, we must ensure that the citizens who stand to benefit the most from digital inclusion are not left behind in terms of skills, access, trust and motivation. BT’s Connected Communities programme, launched in 2011, helps people in communities across Northern Ireland to get online by providing IT equipment and skills training programmes where they’re most needed. BT has recently donated 38 mobile Wi-Fi devices to enable and support community-based internet access and digital inclusion activities.

BT is also involved with the current Go On NI initiative, which aims to bring basic online skills to people who don’t currently have them. BT’s, Paul Murnaghan, says: “We want everyone to experience the benefits of ICT, no matter where they live or work, using technology to build an economically sustainable, educated and socially inclusive society. Initiatives like BT Connected Communities and Go ON NI play a vital role in equipping people with the communication skills they need to get the most out of the world around them.”

The digital transformation journey for the Northern Ireland public sector is making positive progress and has an important role to play in driving cost efficiencies, improved citizen services and easier, more efficient interactions with government.

Departmental landscape reviews of customer services by facilitating the Northern Ireland Executive’s commitment to transform 16 transactional services by 2016 continues to deliver a wide range of exemplar projects that showcase how services can be delivered more effectively digitally and how organisations need to change to support digital delivery.

“Working in partnership with the Digital Transformation Service, BT is committed to driving re-use and value for money across Northern Ireland and where appropriate, utilise UK-wide GDS-led services already delivered or in development for the benefit of Northern Ireland citizens,” Peter Russell says in conclusion.

“Driving effective use of ICT, we are committed to accelerating channel shift to deliver improved citizen services, at lower costs.”


New services being introduced are leading the way in changing how citizens interact with government and how public sector organisations serve their customers.

Project Before After
General Register Office
Family history search and certificate ordering Historic searches were only available in the Belfast public search room. Ordering a certificate previously was paper-based and involved either visiting the office or posting in an application form. Now users can access and search the historic archive online from anywhere on the globe. Birth, death and marriage certificates can now also be ordered and paid for online.
Genealogy blog: “This new platform is an excellent initiative and will help many with Northern Irish ancestors to get under way with their family history research at an affordable price.”
Landlord Registrations Scheme
This will collect and maintain up-to-date and accurate information on landlords and their properties. New legislation introduced means under the law, from 25 February 2014, all private landlords must register within 12 months. Online registration and management of landlord, agent and property details. Online search of the landlord and properties register.
Assisted digital registration services also provided.
Landlord Registration Registrar, Joanne Cartland: “NI Direct has been flexible and reliable in supporting us to develop and deliver the new landlord registration service to both landlords and agents. The NI Direct customer service agents are providing an excellent support service, particularly at times when landlords call with challenging questions.”
Access NI
Disclosure applications for basic and enhanced unspent convictions. The current process requires the citizen to complete an application form, visit a police station for verification of identity, and to post the form with the appropriate payment to Access NI. The new online process allows citizens to complete the form and the payment online. It is planned that a future phase will include online identity assurance.
Programme Manager, Janice McCartney: “The project is three-quarters through development, progressing well and on target. Working with NI Direct, BT and Asidua, we have particularly found the Agile development approach a critical element of the process. ‘Show and Tell’ sessions, facilitated user participation at an early stage and the availability of a demo server enabling feedback and early identification of improvements have been beneficial in driving the right results for citizens and users.”
Northern Ireland Environment Agency Visitor Bookings
School and visitor bookings to events and sites. The existing process is telephone or counter based with tickets and confirmations being issued by post. The new service allows schools and visitors to search, book and pay online for available events and sites, and make specific selections including the numbers of tickets. Tickets and confirmations are issued by email.
Carrickfergus Model Primary School: “It is definitely an excellent, simple and quick method of booking. Being able to see the availability of dates etc. was excellent as was the final screen for confirmation.”

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