Case study

Helping South Tyneside Council strengthen its software delivery


South Tyneside Council – a North East England local authority serving 150,000 citizens – has been looking at ways to improve operations and efficiency through better use of technology. 

The council knew it needed to improve – but before making firm decisions and commitment to invest in change, the council’s leadership decided to take a strategic approach to understand how it could move forward. In late 2022, it asked Opencast to support it with a ‘maturity assessment’.

  • Improved efficiency and productivity

  • Better resource optimisation and resilience

  • Ability to handle future challenges

Our collaboration with Opencast wasn’t a simple vendor-client relationship – it was a true partnership. Their commitment to knowledge transfer and real-world training enabled us to embrace best practices with remarkable speed and effectiveness. This has propelled us to new levels of efficiency and productivity.

Scott Lawson, Solution, Design and Data Manager

South Tyneside Council


Understanding the council’s ‘digital maturity’

South Tyneside Council’s software delivery capability had been through multiple large transitions over the past couple of decades. Once a large development team covering all the council’s projects, its work was outsourced to an external provider for many years before being brought back in house again under a reduced software development department.

When big changes combine with a reduction in staff, the result is often high workload and precious little time to ensure that the organisation is approaching how it deploys and delivers software in the right way – the focus moves to delivering what’s needed at the time.

So, South Tyneside’s software development team were busy ‘doing the doing’ – facing a common local government challenge of being so busy working on specific projects that there was little capacity or opportunity to work on making improvements.

Recognising this inherent challenge, South Tyneside leadership wanted expert professional support to provide perspective and help it understand how best it could make improvements. The council approached Opencast to partner with it to understand its position and to map out how it could improve.

Opencast’s experience over many years of successful software delivery gives it a clear understanding of what ‘good’ looks like – as well as how to deliver software in the right way. This has given Opencast a strong baseline for the right approach to software delivery - subject to constant iteration as new ideas, technologies and patterns come into its day-to-day work.

The commitment of South Tyneside to engage outside help in this process demonstrated both ambition and maturity – and a firm commitment to improve.

Person with glasses and headphones round neck gestures with hands.


A pragmatic partnership approach to technology decisions

For Opencast, the key element of a successful maturity assessment lies in comprehending how a particular team or organisation functions and the reasons underpinning its methods.

This isn’t about enforcing a specific mode of operation. Rather, it’s about grasping the environment and context within which a team functions. This understanding, when merged with Opencast’s industry expertise and best practices, paves the way for delivering maximum value.

In conducting the South Tyneside maturity assessment, Opencast employed its deep knowledge of industry best practices, tailoring this expertise to fit the council’s unique context.

An Opencast team, spearheaded by its software practice lead, initiated a collaborative venture in December 2022. This effort, involving members of South Tyneside Council, focused on a discovery project aimed at evaluating the strategies employed in the development and deployment of software projects.

The collaboration was structured to discern areas where Opencast could inject value and establish priorities, in conjunction with the council’s software delivery team.

A fundamental aspect of this collaboration was its pragmatism, acknowledging the reality that the organisation was contending with challenges that were commonplace in local authorities. These included restricted resources and the daunting task of recruiting skilled professionals in a competitive job market.

Opencast’s advice would help the council define its technology strategy and prioritise and develop a roadmap to drive improvements. The partners used a business strategy-focused Wardley Map to visualise a value chain – anchored on the people who use the council’s services – to help it build an understanding of the business context, then prioritise change.

Wardley Map

The Wardley Map (shown) created a visual interpretation to help South Tyneside understand its digital maturity and prioritise the work it would need to do.

The map presented a visualisation of where the council’s progress was emerging, and good or best practice. It would show a cluster of work that could be prioritised for future change. High-level areas explored with the South Tyneside development team covered everything from testing to deployment.

A final maturity assessment focused on key technical aspects of software delivery, as well as high-level delivery aspects, including:

  • Workflows
  • Tech stacks
  • Team collaboration
  • Approach to software development
  • Knowledge transfer
  • Team structure.

The maturity assessment document showed clearly where South Tyneside Council sat within its software delivery journey – and highlighted a proposal together with objectives and a defined approach from Opencast to help it focus on the areas highlighted by the assessment going forward.

The key to the success of the assessment was the honest, hands-on partnership between the council and Opencast, working closely with the in-house team to understand the challenges and what needed to happen next.

After reviewing the outputs of the maturity assessment, South Tyneside Council decided to deepen its work with Opencast. One of our software development lead consultants began to work hands-on alongside the council development team in a coach/advisory capacity to help the team implement the highest-impact areas of the maturity assessment.

The Opencast consultant worked side by side with the council development team to establish best practices and modern software development techniques. This was done by observing, advising and coaching the development team through a real live project. This project and the best practices established could be used as a reference for all future work.

Opencast did not come in and dictate best practice to the local authority. Rather, we sought throughout to understand the challenges the authority faced and look pragmatically at realistic solutions.


Before and after

Previous practices:

  • Reactive development
  • Heavy manual processes
  • Resource-intensive
  • Difficult to maintain in a small team.

Opencast’s intervention:

  • Streamlined processes around: agile design and delivery, automation testing, paired programming
  • Best practices in source code management
  • Real-world project-based training
  • Consultant expertise and collaboration
Person in pink top with long dark hair sits at computer


Implementing best practice and agile processes

As a result of the maturity assessment, Opencast set out on a software delivery transformation journey with the council, helping it to action the outputs of the assessment –and equipping officers with the knowledge about what good looks like. They would then be able to manage that transformation and growth by themselves.

Opencast was able to provide the council team with tangible practical recommendations to move forward. Our contribution was not simply advisory work that would become a report that gathered dust on a shelf.

Opencast worked with the council to agree to reallocate budget from its initial consultancy project to prioritise the software development best practice work.

This would deliver immediate value to the council, while at the same time identifying longer-term improvements that would be more strategic and focused on helping the organisation future-proof itself with its technology decisions.

The work that Opencast provided – delivered on a part-time basis – came in well within budget and scope, not least because the partnership allowed early recognition of where the council could prioritise and make improvements.

One of the critical challenges the council had previously faced was that it lacked the support and expertise to understand the context and to make specific improvements. Without that expert support, no amount of training courses or learning about best practice could put into place tangible, practical changes.

  • Tangible, practical recommendations

  • Immediate value and future improvements

  • Increased team empowerment

  • Enabling future growth in-house

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