Author: Nicholas McCarthy

As Head of Digital Services I am responsible for ensuring we can support Councillors and staff to make best use of all the great services are putting in place to support our residents. Hounslow is a great place to work and the facilities and support for staff are the best I have found in my career. There are lots of opportunities for staff development and all new members of staff get to introduce themselves at the Digital team show and tells - this ensures people feel a member of the team as soon as they join. My twitter feed is https://twitter.com/NickMcC63703911 does include alot of info on tech as well as @BarnetFC!

Fibre broadband in Hounslow

What is fibre broadband to premises?

This is the where the fibre cable is delivered direct into premises and not via the green boxes you may see which then need a copper cable into each individual property.

A fibre optic cable is able to handle a much larger volume of data than a copper cable without degrading. Fibre optic is therefore quicker than standard broadband, as the signal strength is less likely to fail with distance from the exchange, and speeds are maintained over greater distance. Maintenance is also better with fibre broadband and better guarantees of speed can be offered by suppliers.

The work also helps as part of move to fibre from copper by BT Openreach over the coming years with the current final date for disconnection set at 31 December 2025 for equipment connected from exchanges via copper to local “green” boxes.

Fibre broadband in Hounslow

The principles for guiding the roll out of fibre broadband:

  • To maximise the extent and coverage of fibre broadband availability for residents and businesses in the borough.
  • To deliver the rollout of improved fibre infrastructure in a way that minimises the disturbance to residents and businesses in the borough.
  • To ensure delivery of fibre broadband networks at pace.
  • To leverage social, environmental and economic value and secure investment in digital investment that everyone in the borough can benefit from.

The Council has been working in partnership with Harrow and Barnet Councils, so far Community Fibre and Hyperoptic have signed agreements with more expected, with the rollout programmes being developed currently for the Council’s social housing stock. This will help to unlock the investment needed to get fibre broadband into all premises in Hounslow,

As different sites around Hounslow have confirmed dates we will publish here this information in addition to direct communication by the suppliers at each site.

Current schedule

South Road work starting 21st June – Community Fibre

Information sent to residents

Integrated Care Partnership (ICP) Digital workstream exciting developments… view from a Business Relationship Manager

by Hirva Shah hirva.shah@hounslow.gov.uk

I work in the Digital and IT (D&IT) service as Business Relationship Manager and social care service is one of the key accounts that I work very closely within my current role. I work with them to understand their digital requirements and the support needed for delivering services to the residents. During the Covid times, the digital tools and virtual platform available through D&IT has helped them to work in partnership with Health, however, they did not have access to the NHS’s clinical systems which was essential to them to acquire a broader knowledge on the patients and get a holistic view of patient needs for delivering the best care. 

The integrated care partnership  (ICP) initiative is lead by the NHS to bring together the providers and commissioners of NHS services to work with the local authorities and other local partners collectively to plan health and care services to meet the needs of the residents has been very advantageous to the council. This collaborative partnership initiative has led into the Digital ICP workstream which facilitates knowledge and information sharing and partnership working between the council and Health partners such as NWCCGs, Trust, Primary care and GPs on the digital elements linked to high-level ICP strategic objectives. These objectives are in place to promote and encourage healthy choices to reduce health inequality, improve resilience, age well and improved social connection in the community.

This joined-up approach has facilitated discussion and agreements on digital elements such as: having a single and secure WiFi infrastructure; data-sharing and access agreement; digital technologies used between the partners for social prescribing; assistive living independently and remote monitoring. Information gathered through these discussions has helped to draft the guidelines and principles which will be used to develop an operating model against each of these workstreams to deliver coordinated services tailored around the needs of the community. Activities such as service design and mapping out clinical pathway may be carried out to understand the technical requirements, impact and affordability for care technology procurement. 

Through digital collaboration work alongside our health partners, we have succeeded in clarifying the technical and legal requirements needed for the data information-sharing agreement on NHS clinical systems. We have increased our understanding of the different portals being used by Health and Social Care partners within the North West London region to access patient information for delivering care. Information gathered through this collaborative approach has helped us to provide the relevant systems and access details to West London Mental Health Trust and Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. This agreement has now been approved and is in place between the Trust and the Council for the NHS clinical systems, RIO and Cerner. 

The Hospital Discharge Team co-ordinate with various care professionals and support agencies involved in decision making for residents who are admitted to the hospital and agree on the most beneficial way to continue their care following discharge from the hospital. Through the Cerner system, they are now able to see when the residents have been admitted to the hospital and when they are due to be discharged so that a subsequent care support plan can be put in place. The Approved Mental Health Practitioner Team, which is part of the Adult Social care service area, deal with mental health needs by applying various sections of the Mental Health Act. Working in partnership with West London Health Trust, access to the RIO system allows them to screen the referrals and gather assessment information. 

The aim is to enable our residents to have healthier lives and get the care and treatment they need at the right time and in the right location. Providing integrated care through digital technology will deliver better services that can be made available and easily accessible and cost-effectively from home (e.g. via video call/call conferencing for carrying out remote assessments and triage services appropriately). The ongoing collaboration work between the Healthcare partners and the Council has helped develop an in-depth understanding of the needs, challenges and barriers to delivering integrated care service to the wider population. Sharing ideas and experience between the partners will help to build a road map and a plan to deliver the outcomes required for the integrated care service to provide better health outcomes for residents. 

We are planning on more joined-up working through the ICP and our One Hounslow programme of work – with Digital systems being the levers for change to ensure that we transform the services that we can provide. 

I am excited to be continuing to be a part of the joined-up organisations and improving services for the residents. After all, I am also a part of the community who would be benefiting from receiving the highest care through this joined-up partnership.   

Watch this space! 

Green and Digital

At Hounslow there is a strong focus on the green recovery – this across all areas of the Council as part of One Hounslow and the ambition of this can be seen through the roles recently advertised at greenrecoveryjobs.co.uk and the declared climate emergency for Hounslow – Hounslow’s Climate Emergency Action Plan | Climate emergency | London Borough of Hounslow

Within Digital we are always asking what we can do to support this in addition to the traditional ways through enabling remote and flexible working and moving further workload into the cloud to reduce our local datacentre use. 

Inclusion

The work has spanned many areas and links into the work being done around Digital inclusion and the green angle is one that is a key part of the work we do – as IT kit gets increasingly powerful recycling of kit become a more of a reality and not a 2nd class choice and when we needed to supply 750 devices to schools as part of work to address Digital exclusion recently recycled kit was the best choice economically. According to the 2020 Global E-waste Monitor, humans worldwide produced 53.6 million metric tonnes of e-waste in 2019 and only recycled 17.4% of that waste.  

By extending the lifetime of a single laptop from four to seven years, 180 kgCO2e of carbon emissions are avoided. Therefore, this avoided 130,000 kgCO2e equivalent to keeping more than 50 cars off the road. Even considering the energy efficiency of new computers the current benefits of recycling computers and making best use of the carbon invested in their creation far exceeds the benefit from any potential energy efficiency gain from new devices. 

Moving forward as part of the general recovery programme for the Council the continued greening of Digital makes both economic and technical sense – work being done includes: 

  • Widening and improvement of 5G – this fit into the work around Internet of Things in areas such as smart cities and social care needs. 
  • Linking Digital and infrastructure work needed into areas such as electrical vehicle charging to reduce the need for street works and disruption of traffic in the Borough as traffic levels start to go back to levels last seen in February 2020. 
  • Ensuring that green options are at the forefront of all work done within Digital to ensure we continue as a Borough to reduce our carbon emissions where at all possible. 

Customer satisfaction

As part of our dedication to customer excellence, we recently ran our second Socitm user satisfaction survey.  There is an animated version of this here also: https://www.powtoon.com/w/d2WrLdMiXIH/1/m

We first ran this survey in December 2019 when the workload and the needs of our customers and residents were very different.  However, the Council now has a new set of values, which we are keen to embrace.  

Whilst this year we have had slightly less responses, overall, we still had 30% of customers respond, which gives us some great feedback, and insight into the services we provide. 

We believe it is essential to continue to drive the service forwards and regularly listening to our customers is an important part of this. Generally, scores across the board have improved, which is great to hear, but there is always room for improvement.  

Customer satisfaction 

We have improved the overall user satisfaction in LBH and are now performing in the top number of comparable local authorities – The figures show an improvement in performance of over 10% from a high score in 2019, despite the challenging times faced providing a continued service to all customers and supporting the Council’s Covid response.  

There are many comments suggesting changes to improve services: –  

  • As part of the response, we have set up a new portal to get IT problems seen and dealt with more efficiently. This portal will continue to be updated and improved, based on the changing needs of the customer.  
  • All our team members (from front-line to back-line) are completing compulsory customer service training to ensure we can focus on the needs of our customers as a single unit, and to ensure a consistent service, across the board.  

Staff able to work flexibly 

When staff were forced to work from home in March 2020, the Council had just moved into a new building, so all staff were used to working away from the office.  

Nevertheless, this number went up overnight from 500 regularly doing this, to over 1600.  

As the survey shows, Hounslow now ranks as the number one local authority for this area.  

Comments were made around the use of remote working. In response, further improvements are planned to increase capacity.  

We are also rolling out better devices (via our Device Refresh programme) to ensure all council devices are under 4 years old. 

Cyber security  

With so many changes / improvements to our IT systems, we still need to make sure that they are as secure as can be. We must also keep in mind that the external threat is constantly evolving and needs continuous improvement.   

The Council ranks very highly for taking security seriously, with 75% of staff scoring this highly. 

In response to the comments, we have rolled out a new GDPR and Cyber Security training course for all staff, to ensure staff continue to be Cyber-Safety aware and figures for completion are nearing 100%.

Customer service in Digital

Listening to our customer views is so important – the teams have done a fantastic job during the crisis and informal feedback has been great, but it is so valuable to get feedback from all areas of the council so that we can showcase all the work done and continue to improve Digital in all teams. 

We used the Socitm user satisfaction survey as we did last year – this allows us the opportunity to compare where we were in 2019, and with other organisations. It is key given the Digital Strategy for Hounslow was approved in March 2020 so we can show the outcomes for the organisation from this investment. 

We have just started to work on a service improvement plan to follow up on all feedback received – some headline figures so far: 

  • Customer satisfaction has increased by 10% and we compare very well to other similar organisations. 
  • The view of whether Digital provides innovative solutions for the Council has increased by 14%. 
  • Our score on whether we allow staff to work flexibly is in the top 25% now –this is great to see, given the pandemic and there is so much more we can do. 

Next steps

There are many improvements we can make based on feedback and below is our initial list some of which build on existing programmes: 

  • Further accelerate our device refresh programme so more of our colleagues continue to have the best devices to deliver front line services in their role. 
  • Customer service training for all Digital staff to ensure we all continue to improve our skills in this area. 
  • Continued improvement in communications   – we have launched a new self-service portal which we can continue to adapt and improve in response to the organisation needs including more automation of routine work to allow teams to focus on value added work. 

We will publish more information on the work we do in response to the survey as part of our relentless focus on improving services for our residents as we deliver more excellent services as part of the Digital Strategy and our One Hounslow programme approach continues to improve services across the Council. 

Throughout the pandemic we have had help at our main building to ensure we keep our customers safe and bring something different to our customer service “Nice 2 metre, 2 metre nice”

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/