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We’re making some improvements to our infrastructure platform

One of our main priorities for this year has been to make some significant investments in our infrastructure platform to bring about some key improvements. 

After completing a review, a project is currently underway to make some upgrades to the platform and expand our presence into additional locations, which will enable us to provide more flexible capacity and geographical redundancy for services.

This is a significant update to our platform and is intended to underpin the growth and availability of our services over the next three years. 

Currently, we are engaging with suppliers to bring this capability online and will be focussing on applying this to our core services over the rest of 2021. 

In the interim, we have also completed a number of smaller actions to further strengthen our infrastructure.

  • We have redistributed services across our back-end tier to ensure better capacity management and limit the impact of sudden spikes in activity. This is an ongoing activity and we will continue to make adjustments as necessary.
  • We are updating our emergency response procedures to ensure that a clear process is in place for managing spikes in connections that run the risk of overwhelming the back-end.
  • We have already expanded our monitoring to better capture some aspects of the back-end system and make these available to our engineering staff for real-time troubleshooting. This is already helping us find some areas for potential improvement in resource and connection pool management and we are actively working at adding further capabilities.

We are always reviewing our planning and decision making, and have contingency plans in place as we make improvements.

Image: Zeynep Sümer

How FixMyStreet Pro is continuing to improve the user experience for Buckinghamshire Council

The SocietyWorks team has always been very confident in FixMyStreet Pro’s ability to create real, positive change for councils. Better user experience, more intelligent use of data, easier case management for council staff and dramatic savings – and that’s just to name a few.

But of course, the proof is always in the pudding. So we were very pleased to hear recently that, since making the switch to FixMyStreet Pro, Buckinghamshire Council has seen a significant improvement to their customer user journey when it comes to online reporting of highways defects. As a result of this, the Council has been able to create over £32,000 in savings per year.

The story so far

Buckinghamshire Council chose to make the switch to FixMyStreet Pro back in 2018 as a way to improve their street and highways fault reporting customer experience. While residents still have a choice of channels through which they can make highways reports, the Council wanted to be able to offer the most intuitive digital process possible for reports that residents want and are able to make online.

Calls to Buckinghamshire Council’s Customer Service Centre about highways defects have decreased by 49%, which equates to over £32,000 in savings per year

It didn’t take long for FixMyStreet Pro to start delivering against Buckinghamshire’s desired outcomes. Since launching the service, calls to the council about highways defects have decreased by 49% – a clear sign that the online user experience has improved. In fact, for street light defects in particular, calls have decreased by 58%, more than likely helped by the Council’s intelligent use of FixMyStreet Pro’s asset layers, which can display ID numbers for street lights (as well as a number of other assets) to help the user make an accurate selection on the map and reduce duplicate reporting.

The benefits of this improved user experience stretch beyond just the user; for the Council itself the cost per highways report has dropped by up to 98.69%, taking an average report cost down from £7.81 to just 9p. According to Buckinghamshire Council, this equates to over £32,000 in savings per year. So it’s a win for the user and for the Council – and that’s what we love to hear.

What’s next for Buckinghamshire Council and FixMyStreet Pro?

We’re so delighted that FixMyStreet Pro has had such an impact on Buckinghamshire Council already, but we’re not stopping there when it comes to improving things even further.

In light of how successfully FixMyStreet Pro has improved the user experience when it comes to reporting street faults, we’ve been looking into how we could do the same for the process of making claims, too. Buckinghamshire residents can already make claims online to the Council about highways defects, but compared to the defect reporting process, the making a claim process could be much more user-friendly for both residents and council staff. Currently, residents need to provide lots of information up-front, even before it has been established that the claim can be upheld, while staff have to copy information over from the claims form into the Council’s backend management system Confirm, which includes downloading and re-uploading attachments.

After running some service discovery sessions on this, we’ve already made some progress here by improving the connection between Buckinghamshire’s existing claims form and Confirm to drive efficiencies for officers. The next step would be to expand our integration with Confirm and allow users to be able to file an incident report within FixMyStreet itself, as well as reporting the highways defect that caused the incident.

As always, we’ll let you know how the development on this project goes, and hopefully we’ll have some more positive results to share with you in the future!

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If you’d like to find out more about FixMyStreet Pro and have an informal discussion about how the service could work for you, book a short demo here.

Image: Samantha Borges on Unsplash

Measuring the savings brought by FixMyStreet Pro

Buckinghamshire County Council have revealed the cost savings brought to them by FixMyStreet Pro.

The authority switched over to FixMyStreet Pro as their official fault reporting system in April 2018. They’re now able to assess a year’s worth of data and compare it to the year previous. The findings are gratifying, to say the least — and set out a real case for councils who are considering opting for the service themselves.

Saving staff time and resources

The council reports that they’ve seen a 13% decrease in calls and a 40% reduction in emails about street faults since FixMyStreet Pro was introduced.

In case you’re wondering how that translates into monetary savings, well, on average they reckon that a single call costs £5.88 in staff time, while a report made by email, with its potential for back and forth communication to pin down the precise details, chalks up £7.81.

In comparison, because FixMyStreet Pro places reports directly into the system, and little staff time is required to administer them, the perceived cost is just 9p per report.

Additionally, Buckinghamshire has seen a 29% drop in calls where residents are chasing progress: report makers no longer need to get on the phone to check whether their issue is being seen to, because updates are pushed directly back to them as the report progresses through the system.

And there’s been a 59% decrease in unnecessary clarification, that is, when the council need to go back to the report-maker to check the exact location or nature of an issue. FixMyStreet can be set up to the council’s exact specifications to ensure that the user is prompted to provide all the information they’ll need, which accounts for this impressive drop.

Avoiding unnecessary reports

It can be a frustrating waste of time and resources when a council receives reports about issues which are not their responsibility: with the UK’s two tier system, it’s almost inevitable that citizens get confused about which authority deals with which category of street fault — and on top of that, there are the reports that are dealt with by other bodies such as TfL or Highways England.

FixMyStreet has always done a good job of routing reports to the right council, though, and the improvements we’ve made to the service over the last few years mean we can also make sure the relevant reports go through to TfL and Highways England too. Bucks say that since introducing FixMyStreet Pro, they’ve seen a 19% decrease in misrouted reports that have to be forwarded elsewhere.

Finally, they can see a 30% decrease in street light reports. Since Bucks are one of the councils who display all their streetlights on FixMyStreet it’s now very easy for a resident to check online whether an issue has already been reported for any specific lamp post. If it has, they can also see its progress towards resolution — so there’s no need for them to open a new report.

These figures illustrate very clearly what is meant by channel shift: real, tangible results that save money for councils, and thus ultimately, for residents too. It’s great to have this confirmation that FixMyStreet Pro brings results — and we’re still in a continual process of development in consultation with councils, to keep making more improvements wherever we can.

Image: Peter O’Connor (CC by-sa/2.0)

How to use the FixMyStreet Pro dashboard to get insights on your service levels

Anyone in Highways Maintenance management will know the importance of tracking their team’s performance. It’s only by looking at the stats that you can clearly understand where improvements can be made.

That’s why client councils get access to a useful dashboard as part of FixMyStreet Pro’s fully-featured admin back-end, showing all reports within your chosen timeframe. These can then be further filtered by ward, status (in progress, fixed, et cetera), and category. You can even check to see how many reports were made through the website, and how many on the app, giving you a good feel of your residents’ uptake of mobile.

As you’d expect, everything can be exported as a .csv file, to add to your own reporting spreadsheets.

You can see how it looks — and have a play around — on our demo site, at https://demo.fixmystreet.com/dashboard. If you have your own installation, you’ll be able to access it if logged in as a staff member with the right permissions, at your own installation URL followed by /dashboard. Then just click on ‘Stats’.

Got questions? Why not drop in to one of our regular Friday webinars?

Peak performance

At mySociety we believe in an open, inclusive web and such we try to build web apps that are accessible in the broadest sense. So while we do care deeply about things like WAI and the Equality Act this post isn’t about that — this is about making a site that works if you have a weak connection or an ageing device. I’m talking about performance.

Graph showing total transfer data for mobile webpages in last year.Now while it isn’t a great metric to track, the fact that the average size of a web page is now over three megabytes (and pages served for mobile devices reaching an average of 2.9mb!) demonstrates that this is an age of bloat that assumes good broadband or 4G connectivity and we don’t think that’s right.

As an example here are some numbers about the FixMyStreet site as it displays on mobile after some recent improvements.

To load a working and styled front page on your phone takes around 9KB of HTML/inlined CSS/inlined images (that isn’t a typo – nine kilobytes). How do we pull that off? Well, the site logo and menu are both inlined so we don’t have to wait for them to load, as is the CSS needed to show the top part of the front page. 5KB of JavaScript is loaded (which amongst other things enables the geolocation) and in the background an additional massive 14 kilobytes of CSS (the main mobile stylesheet) and the remaining 20 kilobytes of images (the example report photos and footer links) are being pulled in. The page also uses prefetch to start fetching the remaining JavaScript while the user is entering a postcode or address to actually get started on FMS.

On a desktop there’s a little bit more to add to the mix (more like 66KB of images, 19KB of CSS, plus a webfont taking 77KB) but it’s still lightning quick.
The team haven’t reinvented the wheel to achieve this – they’ve just been ruthless and absolutely focused on only using the minimum amount of code to meet the user need. When the FixMyStreet site is deployed, the JavaScript and CSS is automatically minimised, and at that point we run penthouse> to work out the critical CSS to be inlined on the front page. And whilst our main JavaScript does use jQuery, we dropped it from the front page to save yet more up-front time (jQuery is far larger alone than our current front page).

If you are interested in more details of how this was achieved, here’s a post Matthew prepared earlier on many of the same techniques, which he used on his own project traintimes.org.uk.

There are of course still improvements to be made – I imagine many front page viewers of FixMyStreet never need or want to scroll down as far as the images in the footer, so ideally we wouldn’t load them unless they do. Due to Windows Lumia users, which we support for a specific client use case, we’re using Appcache for offline support, but adding some form of more modern service worker would also be nice. And most of this work is for the front page (though it helped other pages too); our main JavaScript could be split up more than it is. It’s a continual process, but here is a good place to pause.

Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

FixMyStreet version 2.0

The FixMyStreet codebase is used all over the world by people running versions of the site for their own country or jurisdiction. This week, we’re proud to announce the release of FixMyStreet version 2.0.

This version contains a wide array of new features that benefit FixMyStreet sites’ users, administrators, and the officials who receive reports. They include elements that the UK FixMyStreet was the first to trial, such as nicer-looking HTML emails for users and authorities, the ability to filter reports by multiple states and categories, a new admin user system with graduated permissions, and various bugfixes and development improvements.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing a series of blog posts over on fixmystreet.org/blog/, examining the changes in detail. If you run a FixMyStreet site, or you’re just interested in coding and technical issues, you may find them of interest. Meanwhile, here’s the broad overview.

Image by Romana Klee

New front-end feature

HTML email

There is now the option for all emails sent by FixMyStreet to be HTML formatted where previously they were plain text only. This includes confirmation and questionnaire emails to the user, and report emails to the public body. These emails include any image added to the report, plus a small static map of the problem’s location.

State/category filtering and sorting of list pages

When viewing a list of reports, you can now filter and sort them in pretty much any way you choose, including sorting by most- or least-recently updated, newest or oldest, or most commented. You can also select multiple categories or states (e.g. “fixed”).

 Pretty area highlighting on body pages

The highlighting of areas on a body page has been inverted, so that the unimportant parts of the map are shaded and you can interact more easily with reports on the page.

Users can now update their own email address

This was a frequent request from users and we’re glad to report that they can now do it themselves on their account page.

Performance improvements

When looking at reports from a list page, the other report pins stay visible so that it is easier to switch between them. The report itself is being pulled in behind the scenes, meaning the whole page does not need to reload. The map no longer extends underneath the sidebar and header, which makes things easier, and a scroll wheel can now zoom the map in and out.

Making privacy options clearer

The reporting form has been separated into public and private sections, to make it clearer which parts of what you provide will be made visible on the site.

Showing the relevant recipient

If you live in an area where there’s more than one body, the category you pick normally dictates which body we send your report to. Now, when you select the category we update the name of the body given at the top of the report page, if we know that the report will be sent there.

 

New admin user system

Admin users can now use the same log-in right across the site – whether they’re making a report like a standard user, or logging in to make edits and moderate the site.

In the past, the distinction between admin and other users was black and white. As an admin user, you had access to every part of the site, but users can now be given individual permissions for various layers of access. These include:

  • Proxy users This layer grants the ability to create a report or update on behalf of a body, or as another user. We envisage this being useful in a body’s contact centre, where they receive a report over a phone and enter it into FixMyStreet as that user;
  • Report editors Giving the power to edit a report’s category, state, or location. If the admin user changes the category, and that change means that a different body is now responsible for the report, it will be re-sent;
  • List makers, who can compile their own shortlist of reports they wish to go and inspect. This may be useful for a contractor or team who wishes to compile the day’s tasks;
  • Quick responders These users have access to response templates, allowing them to edit and publish templated updates;
  • Prioritisers These users may set different priorities on reports;
  • Trusted users A simple reputation system, which e.g. potentially lets reports from trusted users be actioned more quickly.

The admin report edit form has also been greatly improved, including a map to update a report’s location (and re-sending the report if the body changes), and much tidier layout.

Bugfixes and development changes

Bugfixes include updating the top-level domain (TLD) list for email validation, hiding authorities which don’t exist any more on the all reports page, and fixing the previously-broken photo preview display after form submission. We have dropped support for Internet Explorer 6.

If you’re a re-user of the codebase, there are a number of changes that will hopefully help you out. See the extended version of this blog post on fixmystreet.org for more details.

If you have any questions, please do get in touch.

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