Greater Manchester Combined Authority
Greater Manchester is home to more than 2.8 million people and with an economy bigger than that of Wales or Northern Ireland. The GMCA’s vision is to make Greater Manchester one of the best places in the world to grow up, get on, and grow old. They plan to realise their goals through a combination of economic growth, and the reform of public services.
Greater Manchester Combined Authority is the first region in the UK to launch an innovative Early Years app, which was created to give young children in the area a better start in life. The app was launched as part of the city-region’s Digital Blueprint project which seeks to leverage digital transformation capabilities to better serve citizens.
The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) built a Digital Strategy in 2018 whose goal was to place citizens at the heart of the city-region’s digital transformation efforts. Amongst many other initiatives, they were looking to digitise the region’s paper-based assessments, which were being used to review the development of young children (up to the age of 2.5 years).
To enable this, the GMCA wanted to create a system for data collection and management by digitising ASQ (Ages and Stages Questionnaires) forms, which were being used for the screening of the socio-emotional development of infants, toddlers, and kindergarteners.
The previous child assessment process in place across Greater Manchester, was conducted manually by both parents and health visitors, rendering it time-consuming and inefficient. The parents had to fill out forms by hand, send them to the appropriate city office where, upon their arrival, they were processed manually by regional offices. At times, all this could take up to 2 weeks.
To make matters more inconvenient, the parents would sometimes receive the same form multiple times from different city offices as there was no effective way to synchronise these efforts. Often, it would turn out that parents hadn’t filled out the form and (instead of giving their undivided attention to the child) the health visitor would have to help get the paperwork in order.
Processing and storing the children’s health data in this entirely paper-based manner rendered it quite difficult to fill out on a continuous basis, keep up-to-date, find, share, and properly analyse. The introduction of the Early Years app would aim to change all this for the better.
To create the Early Years web and mobile application, the GMCA partnered with Objectivity in order to best leverage the capabilities of Mendix, the world’s leading low-code platform . Low-code platforms employ visual development instead of traditional code, making them uniquely fast and relatively easy to develop and maintain. Thanks to this, new projects can be developed faster and more efficiently.
The GMCA was looking to add such a solution to their portfolio as they wanted to have the freedom to further develop and maintain the application independently, in-house. This would be done by so-called “citizen developers” – i.e. individuals who have the business knowledge necessary to create useful and functional applications.
The Early Years system was created as a responsive web page and a hybrid mobile application, which works on both iOS and Android. This means that the application doesn’t have to be redeployed to the Apple or the Play store when changes are made, which saves time and increases its availability.
The application’s system infrastructure was divided into microservices, which synchronise between themselves, ensuring high performance and reliability. Deployments are performed in the Azure cloud with the use of containers, which renders the entire system along with its separate microservices easily scalable. Furthermore, the Early Years application was integrated with the external Identity and Access Management (IAM) system. This enables the GMCA to authorise users from different directories such as Azure AD and/or the NHS account.
The Early Years app is being introduced to the market on a county by county basis, which makes it possible to accurately adjust required cloud resources and to provide better cost efficiency. Additionally, Azure services were employed to integrate with the other systems being used by the GMCA (such as the ones used to import and export data).
Furthermore, the entire application was developed to guarantee compliance with WCAG2.1 A (and, where applicable, the more restrictive the WCAG2.1 AA) accessibility standards – which is of great significance for the public sector.
Upon the project’s completion, Objectivity provided the GMCA with a bespoke cloud-based solution, which has all the benefits of low-code and traditional custom software development combined. The development team created the infrastructure in a way that helps to keep costs under control and guarantees reliable performance, while the Mendix platform makes it possible for citizen developers to easily develop and maintain the system in the future.
The Early Years Application will see streamlined systems connect Greater Manchester professionals such as health visitors and school health services, enabling them to work together to better support families. The launch of this application has helped us get one step closer to achieving our digital ambitions for Greater Manchester.
The Early Years app was created to digitally transform a cumbersome paper-based health assessment process. The application has a range of user-friendly optimisation features, which were developed in order to meet the GMCA’s exact requirements.
The application allows health visitors to capture digital data and share it amongst the appropriate Early Years professionals as a given child moves through the different stages of the Early Years DM. It has also made it possible for the Greater Manchester region to analyse transient children’s data, by enabling them to cross local authority boundaries.
Health and Early Years professionals are now able to view the appropriate data from other public sector organisations, which helps to improve operational decision-making and renders the process more efficient. For instance, the app is equipped with domestic violence tags, which have eliminated the need to telephone or conduct meetings with a GMP.
Additionally, the Early Years’ Carer portal enables the children’s caregivers to fill out digital ASQ assessments online from the comfort of their own homes, with the results being automatically made available to health workers.
The digitisation of the ASQ has made it faster and more convenient to fill out the forms, given access to authorised professionals, and enabled them to analyse data. It has also made it easier for them to take the steps necessary to help children i.e. by referring them to a specialist.
The GMCA was able to affect real change in their community thanks to having adopted innovative digital capabilities in their public sector processes and daily operations. Moreover, these digital improvements have made it faster and more convenient for citizens to interact with city offices, thereby, helping to get children the care they need, when they need it.
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