Local Government

Better services for citizens

Carmel O’Hare, Director of Corporate Services and Innovation, Monaghan County Council, tells eolas Magazine about the rollout of a new one-stop-shop for digital public services.

MyCoCo is a secure online portal that citizens can use to access local authority services. It is a transformative cloud hosted solution that will help bring many of the 1,100 services online. Services range from enabling a local authority tenant to pay their rent online to booking a pre-planning clinic to applying for a street furniture licence. The project was first rolled out by Monaghan County Council and has since been adopted by eight other local authorities – Cavan, Clare, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Galway, Kildare, Laois, Sligo, and Westmeath County Councils. Additional local authorities will be on-boarded over the coming months. O’Hare hopes to see leadership at government level which will allow local authorities to synchronise their work and avoid working in intra-authority siloes.

Currently, with the Connecting Government 2030 strategy being spearheaded by the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform (DPENDPDR), local authorities are required to work towards having 90 per cent of their services available online by 2030.

Adding to this challenge, O’Hare says, is the delivery of 24/7 online services, which she outlines “require not only an online platform, but AI to help with the automation side of things”.

She adds: “We are looking at ensuring that the ‘once only’ principle is eminent in all of our designs, and MyGovID is one of the top means of ensuring that and it serves as the authentication method of MyCoCo.”

Cloud first solutions

O’Hare states that with MyCoCo “individuals are equipped with better access to their data. Until now, we have relied largely on manual systems which does not serve people as well as it could. With the manual system, the customer may submit an application and not know if it is being processed or how long it is going to take. With MyCoCo, a citizen can log in and they can track their request. It is very much based on some of the most successful private sector examples of being able to track the progress of your service, so we have used models that work in the private sector as a model for what we can build.”

In order to achieve this, O’Hare tells of how the MyCoCo project board is currently focused on improving its current structures to deliver better use of data “capturing the data once and re-using it across service applications,” she explains.

“MyCoCo is a prime example of a build-to-share programme, it is delivering security and economies of scale. Connecting Government 2030 and the Digital Framework Strategy enhance and build on what was achieved during the Build to Share programme.”

This “cloud first solution” of which O’Hare speaks “provides not only the customer facing service but it also has back-office functionality to help local authority staff process requests, it is a true end-to-end solution”. The platform also facilitates online customer payments. The project board are considering offering open banking as a further payment option. O’Hare comments: “As a sector we need to keep on eye on what innovative technologies we can integrate into MyCoCo, innovation is a key motivating factor for all involved in the project.

“MyCoCo is a prime example of a build-to-share programme, it is delivering security and economies of scale.”

“First class digital services cannot just be a case of filling in a form online and then everyone else still doing manual work. We are addressing the problem end to end with MyCoCo. It supports experimentation of new and emerging technologies.

“We are using AI to do the document recognition which will help automate the process. For example, if you are applying for a resident parking permit, when you upload your document, the AI will recognise your insurance certificate and that your car is kept at that residence, the entire journey is automated.”

The future of MyCoCo

With MyCoCo recognised as a building block of reform in the Better Public Services strategy, O’Hare hopes to see the MyCoCo portal expanded right through all of the State’s 31 local authorities.

The optimised version of the digital payments portal O’Hare hopes will be fully rolled out in the latter part of 2023, with the Monaghan woman explaining that “we have continued to work with the customers on digitalised services”.

Citizens will be able to login to MyCoCo using their MyGovID digital identity following approval having been granted by the Department of Social Welfare earlier in 2023. There will be further development of new dashboards for analytics and reporting services.

“A user-friendly dashboard and strong use of analytics will be highly beneficial; it will provide us with key performance indicators which will mean continuous improvement. Efficiency of service delivery has been difficult to measure previously in the local authority sector, we hope to change that.

“We are continuing to reform using artificial intelligence and we are also implementing multilingual services and voice recognition is one to do in the future. One possible idea is using Alexa so that people with sight issues can still use our services. We have done a lot of work with interoperability, and I am hoping that we will continue to learn and be led with our governance.”

Concluding, O’Hare emphasises the importance of being “agile and ready to pivot”, highlighting how MyCoCo took time to be developed properly but is now respected as a pioneering project which can be the inspiration towards the digitalisation of public services throughout the State.

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