MCA Management Awards 2010: Most Innovative Firm

Category winner

by
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Digital Public

This is one of two new award categories this year, introduced to highlight the growing value placed on innovation by client firms. The winner is Digital Public, a firm that sets out to blend the rigour of a consultancy with the creativity of an agency - as likely to recruit someone who has, say, put satellites into orbit as someone who has worked with young drug users and offenders.

Over the past 18 months, Digital Public has worked with NHS Direct to transform its service offer from one dominated by telephony to one that serves users through multiple channels, including webchat and online. This programme of innovation helped it cope with the flood of enquiries received during the swine flu outbreak of early 2009.

As part of the transformation process, Digital Public harnessed ideas from NHS Direct's 16,000-strong member base, who posted thoughts about services that they would like to see developed on an online 'ideas tree', and rated ideas that others had put forward.

The consultancy then fed these ideas into the development of a suite of online tools that patients could use to check their symptoms.

It led a cross-disciplinary team of clinicians, content writers and developers in developing these tools, which represent a significant innovation for the health service.

The result? Massive savings for the health service, with a cost of just 12p per patient contact compared with a telephone contact cost of ú13.81 per patient.

'Digital Public is able to deliver sustainable innovation through working with our team,' says Ronnette Lucraft, commercial director, NHS Direct, and operations director, National Pandemic Flu Service. 'Their work is not about producing reports or strategies about what you should do; it's about getting their hands dirty and getting it delivered in partnership with us.

'Digital Public's work meant we were able to respond very quickly when swine flu emerged in April 2009. At peak, tens of thousands of people were using the symptom-checker each day. Had it not been available, our phone service would have been overwhelmed.'

Since May 2009, Digital Public has been working with the digital communications team at the Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), leading a team of developers, designers, consultants and civil servants to create a government data warehouse (the first of its kind) that allows third-party developers to use DCSF data to create new products and services.

Examples include a prototype online service that helps parents assess prospective schools for their children, by combining Ofsted data on school ratings, DCSF data on attainment, and user-generated content such as blog posts relating to the school; and monitoring dashboards that provide ministers with a personalised online point of access to both traditional and social media content relevant to their policy areas.

Digital Public's work with the Families Unit at the DCSF includes managing Parent Know How, a ú60m scheme to transform information and support services for parents in England.

The consultancy has also created an innovation fund to help third-sector specialist providers improve their effectiveness and efficiency. Designed particularly to improve use of digital media, the fund aims to boost capacity by enabling helplines to direct some callers to online information, thereby freeing up capacity for others whose needs can only be met on the phone. The fund also seeks to engage with target audiences who have not been in the habit of calling the helplines - for example, fathers, who are more likely to look online for support than use the phone.

For the DCSF, Digital Public's innovation has driven down the cost per parent helped from ú32 in 2008 to ú9.15 in 2009, while driving up the number of parents reached from 90,000 to an impressive 2.185 million.

'I've worked with many consultancies, but Digital Public is unique,' enthuses Darren Leafe, head of the digital communications unit at the DCSF. 'They are very responsive and can produce solutions to complex problems rapidly. In several instances, I've brought them urgent problems with only days to respond and they have never failed to deliver.'

TAKE-HOME TIPS

Digital Public transformed NHS Direct's contact capability from telephony to multi-media channels, tapping feedback from Direct's 16,000 member base in doing so. Per-patient contact costs fell from ú13.81 to just 12p. For the DCSF, Digital has been working on a unique data warehouse from which third parties can create online services, and managing a ú60m scheme to provide support services for parents. Cost per parent helped is down by a third, while parent numbers reached have grown exponentially.

- Use prototyping for rapid, low-cost innovation and to identify potential points of failure at an earlier stage.

- Crowd-source ideas by holding frequent labs and open innovation sessions.

- Put all ideas into a virtual sandbox - as the range of applications and information in the sandbox grows, development of future concepts becomes faster and cheaper.

Award sponsored by Ashridge Business School

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