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Building an app in a week: local councils turbocharge environmental health inspection processes with low-code

17 members across Ashfield District Council, Clackmannanshire Council, Croydon Council, Harborough District Council and Merthyr Valleys Homes have joined forces with Netcall, a provider of intelligent automation and customer engagement solutions, to design and build an environmental health inspections application. This platform would be vital in enabling pubs, restaurants and other establishments that provide food to prepare for reopening after lockdown – in turn helping to rejuvenate the high street and hospitality sector. It would also help schools, nurseries and care homes keep the public safe when preparing food privately.

COVID restrictions have made the process of carrying out physical inspections more difficult – and with just 28 days to complete both remote and physical inspections, local authorities have struggled to effectively prioritise cases and meet these SLAs. An efficient application that could be integrated with existing systems was therefore essential.

Using Netcall’s local government low-code solution, Citizen Hub, the team was challenged to build the application in just five days – from initial development through to completion and demonstration. Day one of the process began with planning. The local authorities collaborated virtually to find out exactly what was needed from the application, from both an internal and external perspective. This required discussion around the current pain points with existing processes, and how these could be improved to optimise the inspection booking experience for both the authority and user. From this initial planning stage, the Netcall team was able to derive a key set of requirements for the app. These included:

  • A dedicated Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) interface, designed for food hygiene officers
  • Simple, pre-populating virtual and physical inspection forms
  • Easy access to case documents and messages
  • Automated notifications, emails and SMS messages to keep businesses updated
  • An automated schedule builder, including a timer and SLAs
  • Programmed inspection imports and the ability to add multiple cases automatically.

After a successful day of collaboration, the insights captured were used to write up the process flow and serve as the basis for the application. From there, Netcall’s build team got straight to work, using a design sprint methodology to build out the process for the application. Due to the ease-of-use and drag-and-drop functionality of the low-code platform, the speed of development was vastly accelerated, taking a matter of days compared to usual process development time of weeks or months.

Now completed, the new module provides hospitality businesses with the ability to request inspections, whilst councils can schedule, confirm progress and arrange follow-up visits. The user-friendly interface, which is now used by food hygiene officers, means all case files can be accessed from one place, alongside relevant documentation, inspection history, notes and correspondence. Officers can now easily track the status of an inspection and mark the case as complete once concluded. Confirmation and correspondence emails are automated, helping to lessen the administrative pressures on officers and enabling cases to be dealt with faster and more efficiently – whilst keeping businesses informed throughout the whole process.

Simon Pike, Market Solution Specialist at Netcall, comments, “Local authorities are facing increasing pressure across the board, and the need for them to respond to change quicker has never been more pressing. Improving the process of environmental health inspections is just one area that low-code can help with, in terms of driving greater efficiency through rapid development of software applications. We are proud to have been part of this project and to have helped local authorities build an application that can really make a difference – not only in terms of improving internal processes, but also in enabling hospitality businesses to get back up and running after an extremely challenging year.” The app will shortly be available in the Netcall AppShare community so that other users can also benefit from it.