Getting back to the office 

At Hounslow we are starting to get back to to more regular ways of working as part of the hybrid approach. For me 2 days a week in the office is great so hasn’t changed for me too much as I was in at least 2 days throughout the various lockdowns. Some weeks will see more in Hounslow in line with what is needed by the business.  

We have the colleague conference at Hounslow 2nd to 4th November and our Digital Festival starting from 1st November, which for the first time will be a mixture of in person and virtual. This gives us an opportunity to rebuild connections and continue to meet colleagues and partners who we have only met virtually to date.  

Tidy Fridays 

I didn’t come into the office for one of the Tidy Fridays we are having to declutter offices to make the environment tidier for all as we start to reimagine the space we use. As a result Brucie and the Chuckle Brothers have left the building, we got them during lockdown as a light reminder of a serious message. Colleagues used to say find Brucie and you find Digital so we are thinking how best to signpost our area as we don’t put up posters etc in Hounslow House. 

Reflecting on challenges ahead  

I have some time off now – there is so much to do but so important to take a break from work and focus on family and friends and recharge the batteries. So much great work we will be doing before Christmas so need the rest to be able to move stuff on at pace such as contiinuing our device refresh at 800-900 per year, updating our sites away from Hounslow House to bring them up to date and all the work on connectivity. In the day job the team deals with an average 2600 calls per month for both faults and requests.

We have the updated Digital Strategy and Digital Inclusion Commitment going to Cabinet 18th October for approval – more to follow then as well as some exciting news around our broadband rollout with partners but I cant spoil the surprise yet!

It’s Christmas time  

Did the weekly video update in Director’s absence – got the Christmas jumper out and pleased to say the lights still worked though couldn’t capture it in a video still! 

Digital life hacks

Those tricks you love to make life easy

We hope some of the following tips will make your life easier in the digital space

  1. Cut & paste, if find yourself using Ctrl-V (keyboard option) to paste last clipped item, take a look at Win-V instead and be very surprised (scroll up and down to see what is available).
  2. Changing case of a word – toggle between UPPER/lower/Title case using Shift+F3 or Shift+Fn+F3 depending on keyboard.
  3. Scanning – save the hassle of buying a document scanner – use your phone – a number of options available:
    1. Microsoft lens app – capture a range of document including white boards, includes options to straighten and colour correct.
    2. Use Notes app to scan text or document – eg open notes>create new  note>click on camera and choose scan document to get PDF or scan text to OCR your document
  4. Editing text on iPhone – struggle with moving the cursor to correct your text – then press and hold the space bar and slide your finger on space bar and move the cursor so can easily correct your message.
  5. In Google you can type a math question in the search tab like 5 x 5 and it’ll give you the answer and open a calculator for you.
  6. In Google you can convert currency, for example type 50USD to GBP and it’ll do the conversion at the current exchange rate.
  7. At home or on your mobile, if you want to check if a website has any dangerous or malicious content like stealing your credentials, you can search for it here and see a report: https://transparencyreport.google.com/safe-browsing/search
  8. If you receive a scam SMS, forward it to 7726 so your provider can take a look and block the sender’s phone number.  If there’s a website listed in the SMS, don’t visit the site but do copy the website address into a new email and send it to report@phishing.gov.uk.  You’ll protect yourself and probably thousands of others from being defrauded, potentially out of their life savings.

Check back for more tips from the Digital & IT team

Exploring Hounslow in forms of a Scavenger Hunt

There are many ways to do team bonding exercises for your team for example building spaghetti houses, or debates. However one of my colleagues thought outside the box and decided to exercise us all to venture out into the borough and take part in a scavenger hunt.

Myself including my team were kept in the dark about the event until the day and had no idea how the day would pan out. We had a meeting point on the 6th floor to have the rules explained to us and then also split into two teams: team savage (I was in that team) and team ramblers.

We all got handed these mysterious brown envelopes which felt like it includes some sort of top-secret mission inside. Funnily enough, pulled out the piece of paper inside and the scavenger hunt guide was titled ‘WELCOME TO THE FIRST, BEST AND POSSIBLY THE ONLY GREAT HOUNSLOW BOROUGH COUNCIL TEAM DATA SCAVENGER HUNT’

This followed by some instructions which said we had two hours and that some of the clues are relatively straight forward and that we need to take photos with our phones of what we think is in relation to that clue. Bear in mind that we have to put ourselves into our colleagues’ shoes or more like her brain. We all seemed clueless looking at these clues!

Here are the ‘targets’ below:

TARGETS

1. A photo of your team – as original as possible, please!

2. A photo of the other team taking a photo of a target.

3. 100021547143

4. Gules three Seaxes fessewise in pale proper pommelled and hilted Or points to the sinister and cutting edge upwards in chief a Saxon Crown of the last

5. Streetlife

6. They would not listen, they’re not listening still, perhaps they never will.

7. Wildlife

8. HS6

9. A sarsen stone

10. A replacement for a victim of arson

11. Best.froth.anyway

12. Beauty in ugliness

13. A barber / hairdresser

14. Shiny Shiny Sheppard Robson

15. A memorial

16. A pre-2000 phone number

17. 3132071

18. Is it all going for a Burton? Do you need a little Xtra help?

19. It tolls for thee.

20. Write a Hounslow-inspired limerick.

So fair enough there are some simple clues such as barber/hairdresser, but I had no idea what most of these clues meant. Thank goodness I wasn’t on my own and was in a team where we could figure out what these all meant – also, we were allowed to use Google! Hooray! (-:

All the while, our colleague who created the scavenger hunt was walking around Hounslow trying to find us and take photos of us looking absolutely confused… Team Savage below:

At first, we didn’t know the area range of these clues, but most seemed to span out across the Hounslow High Street. We found out that one of the clues ended up at the Air Quality HS6 in Heston which is a half hour walk away – team Ramblers found their way there!

There were some clues in relation to our project work as well (air quality being one of them), such as 3132071 which is Grove Road Primary School. If there was no context to this photo, it would look weird to take it in front of the school’s sign BUT here is a lovely photo of others in the Data Quality and Science team, Team Ramblers:

This day proved to be such a great learning experience. I have lived in the borough for about 13 years now and have learnt more in a day about the history of our borough than the last 13 years! It really opened my eyes and made me appreciate our culture.

I’m hoping this provides some inspiration for other teams to explore Hounslow in another set of eyes and really get to know the borough.

My highlight of the hunt was spending time with my colleagues, visiting the Sarson stone and the painted house of Vincent Van Gogh.

Photos of the answers

Below is the photos of the answers to the scavenger hunt! Have a crack at it and try and pair these photos yourself with the targets.

Thanks all for reading. If you do plan your own scavenger hunt, let me know how it went and even post your own blog post for us to all read about!

My First 3 Months as a Cyber Security Apprentice

Short Background

I’ve been interested in technology my whole life, did ICT for GCSEs and A levels. I then did a level 3 infrastructure technician apprenticeship. I knew I wanted to go into cyber security from the very beginning. It’s worth mentioning that the only experience in the IT industry I ever had was IT support.


Prior to the apprenticeship, I was a Kali Linux user going through a myriad of free YouTube hacking courses, as well as some paid Udemy ones. However, I did not have structure to what I was learning. The main problem with this was I was missing the networking aspect needed to fully comprehend and appreciate hacking for what it is.

The Apprenticeship

Doing an apprenticeship, you have an employer as well as a separate training provider who focuses on your training program giving the whole learning experience structure and organisation.

The apprenticeship is 24 months long and roughly every 3-4 months I will be going to a training facility to complete the following modules. They range between 3-4 consecutive study days where I am off work.

  • CompTIA Network+
  • Cyber Introduction
  • Python Fundamentals
  • CompTIA Security +
  • EC-Council Certified Network Defender

It is worth pointing out that these modules are mandatory to complete the apprenticeship and you do not need to do any exams to gain the Level 4 qualification. 

Exams are not the only thing I need to work towards. I am also provided with certain criteria to pass the apprenticeship. This must be evidenced in the coursework I provide, which will be assessed at the end by an third-party assessor. With that being said, the apprenticeship is structured so that out of the X amount of contracted hours; 20% of them need to be ‘off the job’ time. Time I need to spend revising and doing coursework.

I have 2 mentors, one from Hounslow and one from the training provider. These 2 mentors co-operate to make sure that I meet all the criteria to pass.

Responsibilities

In my current role, I am still slowly gaining access to all the tools I need to do all aspects of my work.  So far I got the responsibility to manage the request queue as well as access to some of the cyber sec tools. I have got the opportunity to shadow people on site, which included getting an inside look at the infrastructure etc. I am also engaging myself with colleagues from other departments as well as senior members of the council. It is a very interesting experience to see how an organisation such as a council works from the inside. I never really thought about how all different sectors need to cooperate in order for the council to be fully functional.

The Team

Before I started working, I thought that the cyber security industry will be very serious and only work-oriented, which I was mentally prepared for. To my surprise, the team knows when to be serious and when to have a laugh, which I really appreciate. On a daily basis I get positive influence from very knowledgeable people about cyber sec, but not only cyber sec.

I tend to ask a lot of questions, as I like to fully understand everything I am involved with. So far there wasn’t a time where anyone asked didn’t have a very good answer to any of them.

Overall Hounslow is a great place to work at. The company is full of nice genuine people that want to do something good for the community. What better personal qualities would anyone rather be around?

Exploring Hounslow’s Air Quality Data

Why Air Quality matters?

It is a known fact that poor air quality is unhealthy to all of us, especially for vulnerable groups such as people with medical conditions such as heart issues or asthma, as well as children or the elderly with breathing difficulties. Air quality is not the same everywhere. In other words: pollution can build up in pockets and we call them “hot spots” and potential reasons for these occurring are that they are close to a busy road or near a commercial or industrial zone. Prevailing weather conditions are another contributory factor that impacts air quality measures. So, it is important to us all to monitor air quality regularly, identify troublesome “hot spots”, and ensure that we are using this information to help guide actions and policies focused on ensuring cleaner air for us all.

What do we know about Air Quality in Hounslow?

London Borough of Hounslow partners with Ricardo Energy & Environment who maintain 6 Air Quality monitoring sites across the borough. As well as these sites, there are also third-party monitoring stations like Breathe London. Live stations provide hourly data which hold key measurements of specific pollutants within the air. The current list of live monitoring stations is as below:

  • Brentford
  • Chiswick
  • Feltham
  • Gunnersbury
  • Hatton Cross
  • Heston

Quick understanding of Air Quality measures (Pollutants)

Do you know that air is mostly gas? Air is actually comprised of a mixture of different gases like Nitrogen (approx. 78%), Oxygen (21%) and the remaining approx. 1% hold lots of other gases in the earth’s atmosphere (NASA). The UK Government has provided a national legislation and standards on air quality that identifies key pollutants in the air, like Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Particulate Matter up to 10 micrometres in size (PM10), Small Particulate Matter under 2.5 micrometre in size (PM2.5), Nitric Oxide (NO), Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) and Ozone (O3).

How can data science support a ‘data-enabled decision making’ process?

The role of data science brings in a deep lens to interpret data with a new dimensions and opportunities. With the use of key data science technologies like Python and R, you can filter out answers in seconds. At the London Borough of Hounslow, the Data Science & Quality Team have been working on air quality data sets generated during the last 10 years, where we have learned and identified valuable insights such as, seasonal changes impacting the hot spots’ live feeds, last 10 years comparison between hot spots and its performance to gather data, correlating pollutants with each other, correlating data with 3rd party monitoring stations, engineering and deploying machine learning models for predictive insights and utilising cloud technologies for rapid outcomes for data-enabled decision making.

During our data science work, we have learned so many facts and picked up patterns based on air quality data insights, do you know that during winter season pollutants concentration within the air stays longer than summer because cold air is denser and moves slower than warm air. The image below explains last 10 years of seasonal recordings within Hounslow.

data visual for Air Quality and its pattern during seasonal changes.
Air Quality Pollutants / Visual covering yearly seasons

What can we do in future?

The Data Science & Quality Team regularly meets Environmental & Public Health colleagues and are working on future initiatives for the cleaner air in Hounslow. One of the future initiatives is to correlate past 10 years of air quality data against the public health’s respiratory datasets. This initiative will bring in new dimensions and thoughts to build on.

If you have an idea / suggestion to share or to correlate Hounslow’s Air Quality data against your datasets, then please do approach us.

Building the foundations for Digital Transformation

At Hounslow we are well on the way with all kinds of exciting work as part of the Digital Strategy. To deliver all these great services there is a lot of work that goes on often 7 days a week by the teams that report to me, and they are the unsung heroes of the work we are doing as the work done provides the foundation for all such work. 

The numbers in terms of transactions on the systems we look after on are huge for example our new online phone system has processed over 160,000 calls since it went live December and with the last phase planned today 13th May this figure will considerably increase after this. Other highlights that show the scale we work on over the last half year: 

  • 12.2 million emails  
  • 2.2 million activities in teams – up by 27% 
  • 5.2 million files in one drive – up by 6.5% 
  • Over 500,000 files on SharePoint – up by 12% 

This is in addition to the 200 plus virtual servers the teams support both on premise and in the cloud and all the work that is needed to allow our 2400 plus colleagues to operate 24/7 including our website. 

Elections 

Since January the team have been preparing for the Elections – this has involved all the planning for the polling day, the postal vote verification at Hounslow House and then the count itself. Then this week we have been ensuring the 22 new Councillors are up and running to make what is a busy time for time as smooth as possible for their Digital access. 

Team work  

There have been a lot of changes over the last 2 years with the Digital Strategy and for me, personally, doing a Digital wide show and tell every 2 weeks with the odd quiz thrown in has pushed me out of my comfort zone but I like to think I am a total natural now! 

In the final changeover today for our phone system, we moved to a new platform to ensure the resident experience can continue to improve and we have transferred over 2500 numbers – we have had 144 queries with no major issues to report. This work has involved teams across the Council collaborating virtually for most of the time but for go live day most of us have been in the building. It has been a reminder of how much (even though the tech works really well) we can get out of doing stuff with a purpose face to face.  And of course we could not have done all this without Brucie.

World Business Relationship Management (BRM) Week

Did you know it’s World BRM Week?

Within Digital and IT, as part of the Digital Transformation Team, you will find the Business Relationship Managers (BRM). There are five BRM’s who support the whole Council – each working alongside with specific directorates and partners.

The BRM’s are:

  • Ellie Lee, Strategic Relationship Lead
  • Liz Laporte, Environment, Culture & Customer Services and Finance & Resources
  • Louise Cotter, Housing, Planning & Communities and ACE
  • Parmjit Ghtoray, Children & Adults Services and Commissioning
  • Richard Holford, Lampton 360, Lampton Community Services and Lampton Leisure
Parmjit Ghtoray

We caught up with Parmjit Ghtoray, who recently joined the BRM Team, to hear more about the role:

“I’m not new to working for the council and therefore was generally familiar with other services but just within my first two weeks I’ve been exposed to so much more. I am amazed at how much I’ve learnt about the council in such a short space of time and the exciting work that is going on. It was a bit scary coming from a non-IT background into Digital and IT but everyone has been welcoming and patient in explaining what they do and the areas they look after.

“If I was asked to explain what a BRM does I would say that the BRM is the person that brings all the pieces of a puzzle together. It’s about supporting service areas with their ideas and issues, bringing the right people together, having the conversations, looking at solutions and ideas that benefit our customers and that are in line with the Council’s strategic direction.

Time to Talk day 2022

I did an article in August 2020 around mental health in Digital teams – Cognitive shade – Hounslow.Digital – at the time we were at the height of demand on our services, and we are now into 2022 with demand continuing to be high. We started this week with a major incident that affected all services and whilst we resolved very quickly, we had over 1000 phone calls in a couple of hours – on a Monday we would expect around 200 normally. 

Time to talk day on 3rd February is so important and is an area wanted to highlight. It is great that Digital transformation has moved on immensely in the public sector during this time, but it has put an enormous strain on resources alongside the need to ensure we all balance work with our personal lives as the two have increasingly blurred with the move to hybrid working. 

2021 was a difficult year for me personally. My Mum passed away during the year and we had another 3 deaths in the family plus my father had a stroke and needed to go into a nursing home. I know a lot of colleagues in the Council have related stories. The support I had from the organisation and colleagues has been fantastic – it has allowed me to talk when needed and I have always known that colleagues are there for me. It has encouraged me to address my mental health in the same way was I do my physical health which isn’t always an easy thing to do. 

For time to talk day we have lots of opportunities for all colleagues to take the time out to do this across the Council both on the day and moving forward. Within the team as Director of Digital has had coffee mornings every Friday for the last year. We are now changing it up a bit using something called icebreakerbot on teams to randomly introduce 2 colleagues to each other to encourage that informal networking. We will continue to introduce other initiatives to give all that opportunity to talk informally and recreate those water cooler moments. 

More information on time to talk day here – Time To Talk Day – Time To Talk Day. 

If you need support with your mental health, please ask – people will help. A good starting point for support is https://www.mind.org.uk/ , https://youngminds.org.uk/ or  https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/ 

It couldn’t happen to me

Did you know that people are more likely to be a victim of fraud or cybercrime than any other type of crime? Can you spot all the different scams? Here we take you through several of the more common scams doing the rounds and provide useful contacts to report them, as necessary.  

  1. Copycat websites – make sure if you are using a search engine that you check that the site you select from the search results is a genuine valid site. Some sites even offer you options to do business with government agencies for a fee when a fee is not actually required. Note: some search results will be shown as Ads (Adverts) – if responding to any of these please check they are genuine. 
  1. Phishing emails/texts/letters, so called as they fish for personal, often banking data. If you receive emails (particularly unsolicited ones) asking you to click a link to update your account/banking/card details, always be VERY suspicious.  Similarly, if someone asks you for your bank/other account details through a chat/community platform, do not supply.  Banks rarely ask for your details in this way. If you receive such requests – do not respond to the details provided in the email/text/letter – but contact your supplier direct by phone or email using the contact details on your usual statements to check the validity of the email/text/letter. These frauds may also encourage you to enter your username/password from other services eg your internet/mobile phone/utilities account. Be very suspicious, and check validity with your providers.   
  1. Online sales sites – eg Facebook Marketplace/ eBay etc – if an offer is too good to be true then it probably is! Carry out some investigation into the seller, do they have positive feedback – do they look to be a genuine person? Do they suddenly ask you to make a payment outside the selling services normal routes – note “friends & family” payment options are not covered by standard payment protection options, designed to protect your purchase? Do they ask you to make a special insurance payment so they can arrange collection by courier?  In these cases you will be encouraged to make a token payment up front which will (in theory) be refunded when they pay – do not be fooled and do not send money after all they are the purchaser not you.  
  1. Problem with your computer/router/broadband etc. If you receive a cold call informing you that there is a problem with your equipment or the broadband etc and you are at risk of a virus or someone hacking into your accounts, simply put the phone down. Microsoft or major phone/internet providers do not ring up their customers to tell them about issues, and anyway they have no way of knowing about the issue remotely. If you are concerned, then contact your phone/internet provider direct using the details they provide in your statement. 
  1. Catfishing – this is where someone creates a fake/fictional identity to compromise another person in some way, this often involves developing an online friendship/relationship (to gain your trust and learn as much about you as possible) with a view to fraudulently obtaining money or simply to create upset. You should be cautious about people reaching out for new friendships, especially if they start to ask for money. 
  1. Scams on Facebook – if you are dealing with a company on Facebook check they are genuine and verified – this is shown by a blue tick after the company name. So, if you find a site offering free £100 shopping vouchers for the first 50 customers – double check that the site/page is a genuine business page by the blue tick. As an extra check there is a Page Transparency section – which will provide more information on who is responsible and the length of time the page has been operational. 
  1. Text messages – asking for payment for parcels to be delivered. These are unlikely to be genuine – again the best advice is to telephone or visit your delivery centre on their published direct number obtained from the company website. Do not contact them using the details provided on the card, as this will simply put you in direct contact with the scammers. 
  1. Fake COVID passes – you will never be required to purchase a COVID pass or booster, so ignore any requests to purchase. 
  1. Fake gift cards – remember if an offer sounds too good to be true then it probably isn’t. If you receive a request to click a link to activate your free gift card – visit the company’s genuine site/telephone to check. 
  1. Insecure sites – one indicator that a site is not genuine is the lack of relevant cyber security – indicated by a padlock icon in the website browser.  If you don’t see this symbol or your browser warns you the site doesn’t have an up-to-date security certificate, that should be a warning to you to exit the site. Never provide any personal details unless the site is secure as a minimum.  But it is still important to check it is a genuine site and not a scam site. 

More information advice and examples are given in the links below: 

Digital Inclusion in Hounslow

During the last 18 months Digital inclusion challenges have been magnified which has given the team a renewed drive and focus to continue work in this area.

For some people it is issue with devices, for some it is connectivity and for some it is the confidence and training needed to use digital services. Only by being able to address all 3 can this be truly addressed .

Internally within the Council we have challenges with ensuring all colleagues have access to the right tools as all internal systems moving online.

We have a new Digital Inclusion Commitment with a new action plan to drive addressing issues internally and externally working with partners such London Office of Technology Innovation (Loti) and our Local Voluntary Services.

So what is Hounslow doing?

Hounslow now has a Digital Inclusion Group which has met regularly over the last 12 months and there continue to be deliverables across all these areas. This work has been alongside national government initiatives.

Earlier this year the Council supplied 750 devices and 150 dongles to school children – information here: Hundreds of extra laptops for Hounslow pupils | London Borough of Hounslow

Connectivity

The council has signed master wayleave agreements with 2 suppliers and this work includes social value elements and contributions towards connectivity challenges including free connections to community spaces. Further information here: Hounslow signs first full-fibre agreement | London Borough of Hounslow.

Based on current rollout schedule the council through this will be able to provide 300 residents broadband connections for a year and half price connections for another 200& – this is alongside free community wifi connections as part of this work.

Devices and training

The council is recycling laptops to residents – the aim is to complete 700 per year and we have completed the initial pilot. We are also continuing to tie this in with skills and training with the local voluntary services training people to perform this work alongside joint work with our Adult Education teams to provide digital skills.

Resident journeys

This is the feedback from two resident journeys which shows the difference this support has made:

  • Resident 1
    • This resident is a member of a support group who provide activities and support to young people with disabilities.
    • He lives independently in sheltered accommodation in the borough.
    • He was using a very old desktop computer and was pleased to receive a refurbished laptop which has allowed him to download and play games online.
    • This has meant that he can still socialise while in lockdown and can access the zoom activities arranged through the club.
    • He has learned how to create youtube videos and uploads regular content for the club.
  • Resident 2
    • A 65 year old resident, described as not being very computer savvy was referred to our Work Hounslow team for help finding work. Previously, having lost his job, he became homeless and was a year before he found accommodation. He wants to learn to use a computer.
    • Work Hounslow arranged to meet with him. Work Hounslow then asked if Learn Hounslow had a laptop he could use as she was aware we do loan them to learners.
    • We enrolled him on a short beginner’s digital skills course, and he borrowed a Chromebook. After this he returned the Chromebook, and the voluntary services were able to gift him a reconditioned laptop to use. He initially had difficulty using this as he didn’t realise where he might be able to access free wifi but the team informed him he can access free wifi in some coffee shops and public spaces such as libraries so he is now able to make full use of his new device.