Author: Nicholas McCarthy

Head of Digital Services

Hounslow Digital Apprenticeships by Shiza Touqeer

Around this time last year, I had just graduated from university and I was very uncertain about my career. Certainly, many fresh graduates have fears that they will not find a stable job due to their lack of experience and minimal professional knowledge. I wasn’t any different and the anxiety of staying at home was taking over me to the point that I was thinking, I might not be good enough to get a job. That is when a family friend suggested me to apply for the position of an apprentice at London Borough of Hounslow as an ICT Client Support Officer working as part of the servicedesk team. 

I was reluctant to take up the position of an apprentice because many people had suggested that I have a degree and I should just apply for permanent positions instead. Regardless of the uncountable suggestions, I decided to apply and successfully got the job, which boosted my confidence. I started to work on the apprenticeship in November 2019 and I would definitely say that this has been one of the best decisions I have made.  

Prior to being an apprentice, I had many misconceptions about not being equal to the rest of the team or having to complete jobs that nobody wants to do however, once I began to work in my current position, I was positively surprised. Apprenticeships not only prepare you to face the professional world heads on but they also help to build up knowledge. Thankfully, I have been in a team of people and managers that have never made me feel like I was an apprentice and gave me equal amount of responsibilities with my other colleagues which made me feel very confident.

AWS Challenge with Loti team 

I have also had the opportunity to participate in an AWS challenge as part of an apprentice day with Loti, which me and my team managed to win due to our team effort. Me and my fellow apprentices worked on an idea to develop the “Test & Trace”, application where we made sure that our targeted customers’ needs were met. That day, I realised that there are many doors that can open up for us and participating in such activities actually helped me understand that no opinion or idea is a bad one, which led us to victory.  

Apprenticeship course 

I have been part of the Firebrand Infrastructure Technician course and that involved meeting up tight deadlines and be part of group projects and trainings. I can argue that this has been anything but easy so I would recommend not to take apprenticeships easily. Being part of the servicedesk and working on my portfolio have been a challenge however, I have made sure that  I request enough “off the job” time from my manager and let my colleagues know whenever I need to juggle between the two.  

Reflections 

I would recommend people to take up apprenticeships because they are a great way to enhance skills and allow you to connect with likeminded people. It has been a very positive experience for me so far and I look forward to completing my apprenticeship in the upcoming months.  

Designing our digitally-optimised future services

Designing our digitally-optimised future services

It has been an intense but exciting six months since Hounslow’s new Digital Strategy, a central plank in how we will achieve our transformational ‘One Hounslow’ vision, was agreed by Cabinet.

We have designed and implemented an innovative, lean governance to support the implementation of the strategy and embed service design thinking into all digital projects.

In the first six months, five major projects have been shaped and agreed through our Design Authority covering a diversity of areas such as Children’s Safeguarding, Regulatory Services, Planning and Building Control, and Educational services.

This has all been achieved through remote working – something which none of us imagined when we were developing the strategy!

The Digital Design Authority is designed to give a rounded view and agreement from a wide range of disciplines that reflect the council’s broader needs. So, in addition to the core IT capabilities you’d expect in a Design Authority (such as technical architecture, security, information governance), we also have professionals from Communications, Procurement, Finance, HR and Organisation Design and two senior representatives from Services.

The power of commitment from a Service Owner

Our Design Authority works by inviting a ‘Service Owner’ to sponsor and lead the presentation of an outline business case on the proposed digital project to the group, supported by Digital and IT. Service Design works with the Service Owner and others to develop the business case – in a genuine collaborative, co-design effort.

Some other things that we believe also help are that we use concise PowerPoint slides rather than long word documents. Over time and with some internal coaching, our Business Relationship Managers will take on this role. Also, we have focused on ‘Futures’ priorities project where service design has the most potential benefits.

This approach has been very well received and has been instrumental in helping to build in service design thinking and moving forward at pace on a number of key projects.

“This (Design Authority) is a breath of fresh air and an absolutely sound approach”  Sarah Scannell, Assistant Director Planning

Where next?

Last month we held a retrospective on our first six months of Design Authority. We used a retro tool to do this online, asking the group what they liked, learnt or thought was lacking.

The feedback was brilliant – highlighting the positives that the group sees but also being very open about what could be improved or changed. For example, some members of the group felt we need to provide more detail on full costs and outputs, even if only estimates. We were challenged whether there was more we could do to quantify outcomes at the outset. And the need to identify efficiency savings (as well as user benefits) was reinforced – no prize for guessing which department that came from!

Service owner Martin Forshaw, Assistant Director Children’s Safeguarding led the case to our first Design Authority back in March. The proposal was strongly backed and some very useful steers and inputs given. He told us afterwards:

“The thought of being the first to do this was terrifying! But it went well judging from people’s response and comments in the meeting. We have a great opportunity to take a fresh look at how we design our services and I’m looking forward to seeing this as we work through it together.”

Following agreement on Children’s Safeguarding at the Design Authority, we brought in a partner to deliver a discovery phase, working with a ‘blended team’ drawn from the Service, Digital & IT and service design specialist skills. We are coming to the end of that discovery – and it has been done completely remotely. But that is a story for another week…

Keep in touch

If you would like to contribute to, or talk about any of the work, you can get in touch with Franco Degan, Andrew Connor or Barbara Munden in the Digital and IT Team

Cognitive shade

As Head of Digital Services at Hounslow, continuing to look after our colleague’s mental health has been critical. The Digital and IT teams were amongst the first to be sent home a week before the official lockdown whilst seeing a doubling in our service demand and most members of the team have not been to our main building since that time. As the crisis continued, the working environment has been become ever tougher with the team maintaining an onsite presence throughout this time alongside the pressures we all have in our personal lives currently. 

For IT teams the pressures are unique.  In normal times working in IT is a stressful job , surveys have shown over 70% of staff find it stressful  – in the public sector we are helping  people who deliver critical services and sometimes it is hard for staff not to take criticism personally. 

During this time a member of our ServiceDesk team Aman passed away suddenly at 22 from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy which had a huge impact on the team (https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/johal-family).  We raised money for this cause through  a 19 challenge  such as to Do any exercise for 19 minutes every day for a week, Do 19 minutes meditation every day for a week or finish every meal with a piece of fruit for 19 meals and had great participation across all teams. 

The pressure on mental health has been immense for all staff. The support the council has provided has been fantastic with resilience webinars, continued support from the paid for Employee Assistance Programme from Validium, regular updates from senior managers using Microsoft teams.   

All staff are being encouraged to take their holidays on a continued effort to achieve work/life balance. In addition, within our teams we have had quizzes, some virtual pub nights, show and tells for all teams every 2 weeks. We have encouraged people to stay in contact with each other as they would do if they were in the office and call people just to catchup as you would do over coffee or at the desk in more normal times. 

We have had a couple major system issues to deal with, which has been even more ‘fun’ with the number of staff at home across the organisation having increased 5-fold.  All this alongside supporting Council meetings going virtual out of hours – the work has frequently meant late night working and weekend working.  

I have been engaging with our Organisational Development teams on setting up specific seminars for Digital & IT staff through MIND as Hounslow as an organisation is likely to be working remotely for the foreseeable future  This will help to ensure we continue to offer support over the extend period of time alongside regular communications to ensure we all remain in touch with each other. 

Support

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/