Local governments are increasingly leveraging digital vouchers to reduce liability, supported by data to provide tailored services to their customers.
Like every other sector, councils across the country are navigating the brave new world of COVID-19 and social distancing.
Delivering essential public health services such as water, sewerage, and waste, many of which are continually evolving to deal with a climate-conscious general public, is no easy task. For some councils, the concern is to continue to do so without delaying or reducing rates, fees and charges.
For example, the Local Government Association of Queensland has laid out a COVID-19 battleplan, highlighting its desire to partner with the Queensland Government to lead communities in recovery.
As reported by Waste Management Review in the May article Supporting business continuity, software provider Mandalay Technologies has been focused on aiding the transition.
With many businesses forced to digitise their operations overnight to meet social distancing requirements, Managing Director Simon Kalinowski sees it as an opportunity for councils to improve their core services.
“Waste is an essential service, and one in which improved service outcomes and revenue are very much intertwined,” he says.
As a result of COVID-19, Simon acknowledges that many councils will be faced with external pressures to support their community, whether it be bad debts, fluctuating commodity prices, or otherwise, which will impact their bottom line.
“The performance of their operations, including the efficiency of those services, is going to come under increasing pressure, so we need to see better performing councils,” he says.
WAVES OF CHANGE
Simon says digital relationships with customers, and their customers, across the entire supply chain are opening up a range of possibilities. It comes as the waste profile, which has seen significant changes over the decade, prepares for another wave of change.
With more people working from home, and many potentially to continue to do so in the future intermittently, more waste is finding itself in the municipal solid waste streams.
Many state governments, including Queensland, NSW and Victoria, are re-setting their long-term waste planning framework.
“Waste services have traditionally called for a set and forget approach. But now we’ve got changing expectations on what to put in each bin, multiple types of services, and changing operating conditions at facilities impacted by COVID-19,” Simon says.
He says that the traditional narrative in waste has been to focus on the average household, but this is a misguided approach, as every end user is different.
“If you think about the community and consumers, we have an expectation that we can do things in real time, and waste is gradually evolving into that dynamic,” Simon says.
Simon remains inspired by the possibilities that digitisation continues to create. Mandalay has been progressively expanding its product offering to track waste data from source to fate.
Taking existing commercial and industrial, and construction and demolition waste data, it is being integrated with municipal solid waste to create a holistic view of waste management within the regions.
“Our underlying belief is that if we can give insights to our councils of increasingly precise behaviour of their customers, then they can use that to develop new or existing services that drive long-lasting behavioural change,” Simon says.
“I was working with a regional facility that services many councils, and they have a few different profiles of customers they have to serve. They had come up with a very limiting program for that community, and so when you educate them about what’s possible, their whole world changes.”
Mandalay is seeing a surge in its existing waste voucher offering for residents and community groups, coupled with detailed waste mapping based on voucher use.
Waste vouchers have traditionally been printed on paper and mailed out to homeowners, or available on request. Often, this can cost thousands of dollars to ensure the vouchers are only used by the intended recipient and not copied or forged.
Mandalay has sought to resolve this, and a number of other issues, by digitising waste services. Simple concepts such as updating terms and conditions, getting a record of receipts read or accepted, or making program specific changes, can be communicated in real-time.
Moreover, waste mapping is creating digital relationships with the people and properties within a community.
Since being released in 2018, its resident voucher program has supported local governments with digital vouchers – which has solved a variety of issues.
“One of the limitations of councils offering vouchers is, previously, they’ve been able to print them all out and send them to the residents when they send out the rates notice every year,” Simon says.
“But as rates notices are moving to electronic/online they couldn’t offer that service, or align that service offering.”
He says the challenge was then to offer an on-demand service, while also being able to ascertain the profile and behaviour of communities in a more targeted way.
These are the considerations Mandalay looked at when it began to digitise these services, aiming to offer councils better data and insights about their communities.
Mandalay’s voucher application can be distributed via rates notices or on-demand requests, while offering cancel, re-issue, and override options where a council decides an exception to the rules is needed.
This aims to resolve several challenges. The first is substantial overheads and the risk of managing multiple systems and data points across multiple locations.
Secondly, reducing the complexities of administering waste systems that extend across several teams, including Waste, IT, Finance, and Customer Service.
Thirdly, this increases the integrity of voucher programmes and reduces opportunities for fraud.
By delivering a faster and more personalised experience for councils, residents and the community, local governments can form stronger community ties while finding operational savings.
Like most digital products, integration is important, and Mandalay’s voucher management application natively links in with its CS Ticketing system. This enables rules set for the voucher program to be enforced at the facility gatehouse when the voucher is redeemed.
Additionally, real-time issuing and redeeming of vouchers is supported by cloud-based data.
Added to integration is the need for collaboration to avoid confusion, with the ability for use by multiple internal users across various teams, whether it be waste or customer service, to administer and manage entitlements.
User access can be managed via permissions and provide access to data while locking down functionality based on an organisation’s internal process requirements.
Multiple voucher programs can be created to suit each type of entitlement offered by councils.
Detailed waste mapping provides councils with unique data insights into their local government area and ultimately helps them service their communities better.
“You need to understand who your customer is before they come to the site and preferably what they’re there to do,” Simon says.
“Councils often think of their ratepayers as this is where their revenue base comes from, so they have an understanding and relationship with all of them. But in over 35 per cent of residents, the occupier and generator of the waste is not actually the ratepayer, it’s either the tenant or the property manager.”
Mandalay’s property database maintains a unique understanding of every property, allowing unique relationships to be built against that property.
Detailed property information is captured in the application, along with a history of voucher use, which provides an auditable system and a means of confidently challenging incidence of fraud.
Importantly, operators can understand where waste is being generated and which facility it is being presented at. The system adheres to international data security standards, including the General Data Protection Regulation – one of the world’s strongest set of data protection rules.
Simon says this allows bespoke services to be introduced at the click of a button.
“The classic one we’re seeing digitised fully is recycling drop-off facilities where operators can track the behaviour of that backfill property, link green waste drop-offs or introduce another more discreet waste related service.”
Additionally, by understanding the relationship between properties, councils can draw on information about the end user and even introduce targeted services. This spans anywhere from multi-unit dwelling pick-ups to targeted waste education campaigns.
“Councils are seeing this as a chance to actually bring essentially new revenue to their sites and we think that’s particularly exciting.”
Bundaberg Regional Council is one of several councils that will be using Mandalay’s waste vouchers, with vouchers currently sent out with rates notices.
Kerry Dalton, Coordinator Waste and Recycling Environmental Compliance at Bundaberg Regional Council, says that council is hoping to see multiple benefits to using the waste vouchers.
She says there are myriad potential benefits in moving to an electronic system, including allowing for council to electronically mail out vouchers to its E-rates customers.
Additionally, the ability to cancel and reissue vouchers if a resident has lost or not received the voucher is another benefit.
“This happens quite regularly, and we have had no way of tracking vouchers to know if they have already been redeemed,” she says.
The vouchers will offer the ability to track usage and start identifying areas with higher uptake and produce more accurate reports from the voucher module.
Kerry anticipates the end of day reconciliation process should be cleaner with the ability to scan the vouchers, with more of the benefits to be better understood by council’s next rates round in July/August.
Simon says that while many councils are understandably focused on present challenges, the future of waste behavioural insights is abound with opportunity.
“There’s a whole raft of data and insights that we’ll be able to generate in the future, as well as being able to benchmark the performance of organisations and all manner of things.”
For more information on Mandalay’s vouchers click here.