Online local government bookings: 6 challenges and how to overcome them


Here Scott Burton, Technical Director at Zipporah, outlines six potential challenges you should be aware of when moving bookings online – along with some advice that will help you deal with and capitalise on the hurdles you might face.

An increasing number of organisations across central and local government, and now the NHS, have taken the digital leap concerning their booking practices as they look to relieve their balance sheets of painful costs and their staff of unnecessary workloads.

The good news is over the last 12 months a majority of organisations have seen major success.

And what’s more striking is the change in fortunes hasn’t gone unnoticed by the public, who report faster, more convenient and less burdensome interactions with public sector organisations.

These are truly exciting times for public sector, despite the burdens of austerity.

However – there are considerations that need to be kept in mind and actions that need to be performed, in order for happiness levels to be maintained and for services to continue along this path to success.


Automation in and of itself is a great thing for the public sector. It places less demand on staff, reduces costs, offers a far more consistent delivery of service, performs multiple transactions simultaneously and communicates with the on-the-go users with relative ease. Excellent.

But, just because automation takes the pressure off by delivering key results, it doesn’t offer a free pass to forget about the customer altogether — far from it.

Authorities need to be continually mindful that an automated service does not think outside of its configuration or set up. It cannot adapt or change without being told to do so by you, the monitoring party.

Authorities should therefore make regular efforts to review the various stages of the booking process, ensuring relevance and optimisation and a pleasant journey for the public throughout.

Running tests throughout the lifetime of a booking system is also a necessity to ensure residents are kept safe in the knowledge that problems will be picked up faster and more effectively.

After all, automation gives you the extra man power and time to govern and improve your processes; don’t neglect that responsibility.

Redesign your processes

One thing that is absolutely crucial, and often overlooked, to getting the most from your booking system is process redesign.

Many public sector services, when they take bookings online, simply look to implement digitised versions of pre-digital business processes, and often layer themselves on top of archaic IT systems, some of which are over 30 years old.

Beyond the obvious limitations, a lack of process redesign ensures these environments will stagnate very quickly – and will, in fact, offer very little in the way of data innovation, whether that’s pre-population of information to dynamic users selection response or effective data sharing.

So be prepared to drop certain practices, and to integrate others along the way.

Even the most subtle redesign can have a big impact on transaction speeds, the number of failed transactions and the user journey itself – which can all help contribute towards higher and more reliable revenues and reduced costs.

As well as a business process mapping assessment (to help you understand how efficient, quick and intuitive your service is), you’ll may wish to identify what it is in the offline process that users prefer to retain and what hesitations they have about a digital service – which will help you incorporate the right solutions into your digital platform. You may wish to run user groups or surveys, alongside an assessment of analytics, which can be particularly useful for measuring current customer trends when visiting your current website.

Once you’ve decided on core process inclusions, it’s important to gather information around individual demographic groups and their preferred route of engagement. This will help you to build characteristic profiles which you can measure all future processes against – an important step if your authority aims to be one that practices digital inclusion for all of its resident types.

Process redesign is now available through Government Digital Service. Make the most of it.

Converting customers

This is probably the single biggest factor that determines the success of an online booking system. If you cannot convert your customer base to this new method of transacting bookings, the benefits simply cannot be felt.

Focus on advertising the new booking system via effective, multi-channel, public engagement. It is alarming how many organisations fail to do this well. Make ‘book online’ call to actions clear and visible at every opportunity. Explain steps clearly and continually look to point the public toward the online booking method.

If it helps provide supporting statements that explain the benefits of the online new system and why it’s a better booking method than phone bookings. Explain why it can have a considerable impact on the community, indicate statistics that demonstrate the amount of money saved and what those savings allow the council to do. Residents love transparency; it warms people to public services.

It’s also worth remembering that, whilst converting a majority of residents to your online booking system will be a fairly straight forward task (if advertised proficiently), there are some who will be harder to convert.

An older audience may typically be more reluctant to use online software simply because it is easier for them to pick up the phone than it is to navigate an environment which doesn’t factor into their day as regularly as it does someone of a working age.

Yes, there will be instances where personal care and extra information needs to be conveyed via a phone call, but on the whole authorities can effectively reduce unnecessary contact, one method is simply by providing adequate education of the system.

Seminars and walkthroughs are a helpful medium that can give residents the hands on experience they need to start using the system and its neighbouring environment.

These kinds of initiatives are certainly worth exploring — many successful digital authorities are now running such programmes and efforts on a regular basis as standard. It’s plain to see why.

Managing data

Online bookings result in online data which, although more efficient and secure than paper-based processes, requires a slight change of approach when it comes to organising where it goes and how it is handled.

Say goodbye to the filing cabinets, but look to organise your data just as succinctly.

There will be occasions when you need to contact a group of records en masse, perhaps because a room or event has been cancelled.  Whilst this process will be unquestionably easier with emails transferred from databases to email at the click of a button, make sure you’re prepared for such procedures by choosing a system that caters for reporting and complex query searches, or you will find the process just as laborious and demanding as you would going through a paper management system.

From a back office perspective, it’s also worthwhile archiving data at regular intervals in order to keep data from overwhelming you, but waiting in the wings should you need it.

Familiarising Staff

Much like converting customers, if your team is unable to appreciate the benefits of the system, or struggles to see it is as a platform that helps rather than hinders, the likelihood is that the booking system will never reach its full potential.

Time should be invested in presenting the value of the system to staff. Be prepared to demonstrate how the system can help reduce their workloads and provide greater job security and better morale.

It should come as no surprise that an online booking system requires a bit more knowhow and a bit more savviness than logging data and bookings into an offline diary, so ensure that your staff is up-to-speed with technology.

It’s tempting to use the quieter stages of a project to run a quick round of training as a formality, sometimes weeks or months prior to a systems final sign off. If that approach is taken, staff will inevitably come unstuck when a system goes live since their unpractised knowledge has fallen out of memory.

Insist on proper guides following training, and look to find a supplier that provides quick, effective aftercare on a day-to-day basis.

Make the learning and retention of knowledge as easy as possible for your staff and in return they, as champions of your online booking system, will deliver the very best results – which is ultimately what any implementation hopes to achieve.

Discuss Best Practices

Transparency and discussion between organisations is vitally important for any success the public sector hopes to enjoy from going digital. Booking practices and optimisation around them are, of course, no different.

At Zipporah’s user group each year, we note conversations between neighbouring and sometimes distant authorities, and the benefits of these interactions are plain for us to see.

Not only do these engagements encourage local authorities to tackle issues together, they also prevent organisations from making mistakes. Collective experiences and ideas help to create a more considered and innovative digital space, which is always a faster and more effective path to the best results.

Our last piece of advice, then, is to encourage your staff to become enthused and informational about the way they operate services. Make your views heard, talk about the day-to-day within the public sector. Attend events. Start the conversation. And be open to all manner of responses. That is how progress and evolution in the online booking space is made, and hopefully how the public sector can make a huge step towards its digital transformation.

If you would like to discuss taking your bookings online, feel free to contact a representative from Zipporah on +44 (0) 2920 647048 /

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