Case studies published on this website have been archived, and some information and links may be out of date. This follows the acquisition of Albany Software by Bottomline Technologies in September 2012.

Colchester Borough Council


With the trend for paying by Direct Debit increasing every year, Borough Councils are looking for ever more inventive ways to improve DD sign-up for customers whilst reducing the manual workload of staff. In order to address this need, Colchester Borough Council recently implemented an integrated software solution developed in partnership by Albany Software and Business Web Software.

The ability to complete Direct Debit sign-up over the phone and immediately validate bank account and sort code details has allowed the Council to achieve greater internal efficiency whilst also improving customer experience.

Colchester Borough Council

Colchester Borough Council is the sixth largest Borough council in England and Wales, with over 156,000 residents. First referenced by a Roman writer in AD77, Colchester is Britain's oldest recorded town, with both a fascinating history and a dynamic 21st Century culture.

Today the council is leading the way in customer service and innovation, being the first council to implement automated Direct Debit set-up with Paperless Direct Debit (PDD), transforming the quality of service to residents and businesses alike.

Customer Service Culture

At the heart of the Council's culture is a strong customer service ethos, with a commitment to providing residents and businesses in the Borough as much choice and flexibility as possible. As part of this commitment to customer service, the Council offer the option for customers to pay for a number of services via Direct Debit (DD), the most convenient way for people to make regular or occasional payments, whilst saving time and offering greater control of finances.

In 2005, a drive to improve the DD sign-up process was initiated, with the aim of implementing a fast, efficient solution that would not only appeal to customers from an ease of use perspective, but also streamline and automate internal processes. Vital to this project and a mandatory requirement of the Paperless Direct Debit (PDD) process, was the need to validate bank details at point of entry, reducing costly and time-consuming errors at a later date.

Phil Pettit, Corporate ICT Programme Manager, Colchester Borough Council, says, "Our primary goal in developing a new DD sign up process was to offer better service to customers, improving the experience they have when signing up to pay by Direct Debit. The requirement of validating bank details at point of entry was not just mandatory from a DD perspective, but also from a customer service one, speeding up the process for them".

Integrated Solution

Whilst a number of solutions were considered, the final choice was made to integrate two solutions - AchieveForms from Business Web Software and ALBANYverify API from Albany Software - to capture DD sign-up details and validate bank details at point of entry.

Situated at the heart of the Cambridge technology community, Business Web Software is at the forefront of delivering solutions for business in today's e-society. AchieveForms is a flexible forms designer that enables organisations to interact with customers, partners and employees through validated data capture. An eForm is developed to provide the data capture required, dramatically improving service standards and increasing efficiency.

Pettit says, "We were impressed by what AchieveForms could offer us and felt the attitude and service of Business Web Solutions as a company was excellent. As a forward thinking organisation they were very keen to work with us to develop a solution that met our exact requirements and by integrating ALBANYverify API provided a product which does exactly what it needed to."

Integrated within the eForm was Albany Software's ALBANYverify API solution, built-in to perform immediate validation of bank details on entry. The ALBANYverify API solution, once programmed, works 'behind the scenes' to perform a series of validation checks on sort codes and account numbers, including checking the existence of the sort code against the ISCD (Industry Sort Code Directory), which is regularly updated.

Albany Software, based in Hampshire, is a leading authority in the e-business market and specialises in developing software to transform the delivery of documents, data and funds. "We have been a customer of Albany Software for many years and have always received excellent service and high quality solutions. We know what to expect in terms of customer care and products and we wouldn't have looked elsewhere," he says.

Improved Service

The new DD sign-up process has significantly improved processing within the Council, bringing substantial savings in time, money and resources. Using the new system, residents and businesses can now call the customer service centre to sign-up over the phone to make DD payments for council tax, business rates, rents and repaying benefit overpayments in instalments.

Pettit says, "Prior to the implementation of eForms, the customer service centre would note bank details on a piece of paper and collate these at the end of the day to send to a central team for processing. Validation of the bank details given would be done separately which was more time-consuming."

Now, with eForms and ALBANYverify API in place, the customer service representative can validate bank details whilst the customer is still on the phone and immediately send a PDF of the DD instruction to the central payments and collections team for processing. Not only does this significantly speed up the collection process, ensuring funds are collected quickly by the council, it also enhances the customer experience, allowing the council to quickly and efficiently deal with customer DD sign up.

Pettit continues, "The new system has delivered exactly the efficiency and quality of service that we required. It has brought a fast, accurate and efficient channel for DD sign-up and ensures the bank account information is accurate first time. By eliminating failures and speeding up the DD creation and collection process we have improved both our cash flow and the customer experience."

Future Plans

As a dynamic and innovative Council, Colchester are continually looking to the future and how services can be further improved. Looking to develop the eForms and ALBANYverify API solution into an online facility, the council hopes to eventually provide customers with a self service, 'out of hours' tool. Not only will this offer customers more flexibility and accessibility to services, it will also further reduce staff time and expenses.

Pettit concludes, "We are keen to implement more efficiency enhancing solutions in the near future and certainly look forward to continuing to do business with both companies in the future. We have been really impressed by the functionality of the solution provided and the service that we have received from both parties."

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