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.
Louise Cotter, Housing, Planning & Communities and ACE
Parmjit Ghtoray, Children & Adults Services and Commissioning
Richard Holford, Lampton 360, Lampton Community Services and Lampton Leisure
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.
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.
As the new Strategic Relationship and Programmes Manager at Hounslow, I have had a fantastic time in my first three months and have really got a good flavour of how we connect our communities in order to design consistent services across the authority. Currently, I manage the strategic and support teams within Digital & IT and as part of that work I lead the teams delivering the range of different programmes ensuring that everything we do aligns with the overall Digital Strategy and the portfolio roadmap.
Joining the family
Starting a new role during a world pandemic is never easy as I didn’t have the opportunity to meet my colleagues face-to-face and especially when we look around the world and notice that so many organisations are down-sizing, making redundancies and even shutting multi-billion pound companies down as they are not able to survive, but Hounslow has done quite the opposite actually. I have been made to feel extremely welcomed by Simon Klee (Head of Digital Transformation) and furthermore, he has made it seamlessly possible in getting me really involved across all the teams in their delivery of work and to drive change in order to better the lives of Hounslow residents. Simon was absolutely right when he told me on my first day that he will ensure I fit into the Digital & IT family and that is exactly how I feel, a part of the family.
Building my team
I have had the opportunity to really influence the recruitment drive across the Digital & IT team and have worked closely with my colleagues to make this happen. Hannah Rixon (Programme Lead) and Shireen Green (PMO Team Lead) have been a pleasure to work with and have really supported me in decision making processes and across the organisation with the day to day activities that I have been tasked with during my first three months here. This has really assisted me in focussing on what needs to be delivered as part of the overall Digital Strategy. So far, I have managed to recruit a handful of Project Delivery Managers, a PMO Team Lead, a Programme Lead and also a Strategic Lead who will be responsible for line managing the Business Relationship Managers (who form such a fundamental part of my overall team). I am continuing the recruitment drive with Alison Venning (Digital Transformation Consultant) and Alison Bellamy (Digital Consultant) who have been vital in making sure we follow the correct processes in our campaigns.
The One Hounslow approach
As part of the One Hounslow Framework that forms part of the Digital Strategy, I have worked closely with Claire Brookes-Daniels (One Hounslow Programme Director) in determining the processes of how the workstream should operate and although I have been in the role for only three months, I have had the opportunity to help shape the process-flow from an early stage. This really showcases how the Digital and IT team like to have new, fresh and innovative ideas to help map a process going forward and really engage staff across the whole team when communicating changes.
Local Government Strategy Forum
As we see the government guidelines towards lockdown and social distancing easing and events opening up, it was an absolute delight to meet Mark Lumley (Director of Digital and IT) in person at the Local Government Strategy Forum that took place at the stunning venue of Heythrop Park and Resorts Hotel in Oxfordshire.
Mark was a guest speaker and spoke about how we engage with our communities to understand our user needs and journeys. He delivered a presentation on how we have evolved the Community Hub into our Community Solutions model, aiming to be more preventative in our approach that is delivered by us alongside the voluntary sector, local charities, and public sector partners.
I personally learnt a lot from having the chance to attend this event and it was a great networking opportunity for me at such an early stage of my role, which additionally demonstrates the upskilling of the workforce that makes Hounslow proud.
Exciting times ahead for Hounslow
At Hounslow, we all thrive to discuss solutions rather than the problems. If this has been my experience working remotely, I can’t wait to work with my whole team in person. It will be phenomenal and I look forward to ensuring that I embrace and lead on the responsibilities involved in driving the change in order to put the residents at the heart of all the decisions I make for the exciting time ahead.
Wow, what an incredible month November was. What started as an idea at the beginning of September turned into a 4-week reality and now it is hard to believe that our first ever Digital Festival Hounslow is over already. The Festival was a resounding success and the figures speak for themselves:
Digital Festival Hounslow ran over 20 days
We held 62 events of which 16 were open to the community
7 events in partnership with local businesses including Chimni, See.Sense and our Community & Voluntary partners
Ran 3 events with two of our key digital partners, LOTI and SOCITM
16 events in partnership with global business including Microsoft, Amazon and Google
6 events in partnership with Organisational Development
3 events in partnership with Public Health
26 events delivered by D&IT
2 Councillor led sessions
We had 80 different speakers
We delivered over 55 hours of live content
18.5 hours which was recorded and is available to watch back on our SharePoint site
10:30 has been uploaded to our YouTube channel for the public to view
Finally: ……. we had 2700 sign up requests!
We delivered events on Wellbeing and Technology, Assistive Technology in Social Care, Social Prescribing, Employment, LinkedIn and CV writing, smart cycle lights, digital inclusion and so much more. We have archived the recordings these sessions on the council’s YouTube channel.
Feedback on the Digital Festival Hounslow has been overwhelmingly positive and whilst we can’t include them all here are a couple that really sum the month up for us:
‘This has been a great initiative, and I’m proud to work in an organisation that continuously prides itself in new initiatives and involving colleagues in doing so too. I feel very connected and not isolated (considering when I work remotely (I have no other interactions) which isn’t how it’d be if we were at Hounslow House.’
‘There have been some really great events and the well-being session have had a positive impact, we should have more of these’
This would not have been a success without the work of our partners and the engagement of our community, so we extend a huge thank you from us all to everyone who took part in one way or another. We will take all we have learned to make next year’s even bigger and better.
Thank you from all of us in the Digital Festival Hounslow team
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
We’ve been very fortunate in being well prepared for the whole organisation working remotely, catering for a new normal of over 1500 staff members using VPN on a regular basis. That’s an increase from the usual 500 or so. On occasions some things have been a little slower than normal for some applications but workable.
However, we’ve also seen a huge transition to Microsoft Teams as the conferencing and collaboration tool of choice for the organisation. Teams use has exploded from two hundred to well over a thousand concurrent users every day, this introduced a few challenges. And we like a challenge.
We saw that that as VPN use increased along with increased used of Teams video conferencing, we began reaching the limits of the VPN solution. The impact of that was a reduction in video quality on Teams, sometimes to the point that video cut out altogether.
This was because the video and audio network traffic is sensitive to delay and other traffic was holding things up, a bit like an ambulance trying to get through a traffic jam at 8am (if you remember what that was like).
We decided that, given the importance of collaboration and face to face communication, we didn’t want to ask anyone to stop using video to reduce the problem. So, the team looked elsewhere and instead decided to implement split-tunnelling on our VPN for our Microsoft collaboration traffic, specifically Teams, Skype, SharePoint and Outlook. We found some excellent information pulled together by Microsoft and several various VPN providers which detailed exactly the split tunnelling solution we were looking for (links below).
Doing this has eliminated the quality issues we were seeing on video conferencing and so far we are seeing reduced utilisation on the VPN in the region of 15% – 22%. From the initial idea to going into full production for all colleagues took us five days.
In the image above from Microsoft, all the traffic from the VPN client is going to the VPN Gateway.
This image from Microsoft shows some traffic going direct to Office 365, and the rest forced to continue through the VPN.
Hounslow Leadership Group (HLG) consists of the most senior 100 managers from across Hounslow Council. The group meets every month to discuss the Hounslow hot topics and input and shape the strategic direction of the council.
As with the rest of local government the council is adapting to new ways of working as part of it’s response to the coronavirus. With much of the council working at home and a large number directly involved in the immediate response we were unsure whether the April HLG meeting was going to go ahead.
What started as a conversation around should we hold the meeting at all soon, turned into realising that it was essential that it took place.
Conversations had started to turn to recovery and it was important to engage the wider leadership group in the recovery stage of the pandemic. This approach is an important part of the #1Hounslow internal transformation programme and essential to ensure we are operating according to our values.
Digital has been at the centre of the response phase, with massive increases of staff working at home, spinning up a new contact centre, creating digital processes for the Community Hub and using data in more strategic ways. But the question – can we do all this using our digital tools, making it interactive and engaging – we then had a week to pull it together.
A team from Digital & IT, Organisational Development and Corporate Transformation worked together to make the magic happen.
We had used MS Teams for a number of other events in the Council, such as the weekly live Q&A with the Chief Executive to all staff, so it was a natural progression to use Teams for HLG.
What we did
In terms of planning, whilst the meeting had been in the diary for a while, we needed to ensure that we knew who was now able to attend and to enable us to allocate colleagues in the workshop groups.
Colleagues were put into groups of about 10 people, with a facilitator of each group volunteered to then feedback during the main session.
We used Microsoft Teams live to stream the main event, with individual Teams meetings for the workshop sessions. Staff were invited to the workshop groups the day before so they had two Teams meetings in their diary (main live Teams event and the workshop normal teams meeting).
Workshop facilitators and all the Directors who were presenting or hosting were made presenters of Teams live event. There were two producers.
On the Day
We opened the session with a quiz – we wanted to have something informal whilst people were finding their virtual seats. Colleagues messaged the answers to Mark, (Director of Digital & IT), and he read some of them out, so we had some interaction. He then introduced the session, explained how things were going to run and work, with some ‘ground rules’. Embrace the Digital – Be in the virtual room!
We then wanted to ensure that we were able to get a sense check of how people were feeling at the time, especially important as we were not able to see everyone. We used www.slido.com for some interaction and got colleagues to answer the question – How are you feeling at the moment?
The results of this gave the Chief Executive an understanding of the thinking in the virtual room to frame some of the discussions.
Niall (Chief Executive) welcomed and thanked everyone for all the amazing work and for taking the time to attend, Kelly (Director of Public Health), Clive (Executive Director of Finance and Resources) and Mandy (Assistant Chief Executive) gave updates on our response to the pandemic. Mandy then introduced the workshop session.
The workshops asked colleagues to focus on the future, from response to recovery and thinking about what we want to retain, restore and reinvent for the communities of Hounslow. During the workshop they were all asked to complete a template that everyone was able to collaborate on – attached at the end of this post.
The main session, continued to run empty (with just the two producers and a couple of other presenters), while they joined the workshop Teams meetings. Workshop facilitators led the discussions and captured info into the template.
Thirty mins later everyone re-joined the main Teams live event where Steve, Director of HR and OD led the feedback from the workshop facilitators and discussion. We prepared the order that they would feedback in beforehand so that everyone was clear what was going to happen when.
The main producer used the slide deck to produce the event, cutting between slides and presenters etc as appropriate – it was important we had some structure to the event.
It all went really well. Staff were really engaged and we got some great feedback. It was a bold idea to run the session as a virtual session with so much packed into it. But it worked!! Its essential to get colleagues engaged in the discussions, especially at this time and perhaps worked a bit too well, we have another one in a few weeks. We are happy to have any further discussions if anyone is interested as part of our working in the open for our Digital Strategy.
London Borough of Hounslow, Digital & IT
What we’ll do differently next time?
We would think about how we invite people to the main event so that we could use the Teams meeting chat function. We used an ICS file that colleagues individually downloaded into their calendar but it would have been good to have the chat functionality with everyone
Having a host really worked to provide some continuity through the sessions – we’d formalise this for next time
More guidance for the presenters in advance on the fact that there is a delay when slides move and they need to be in order/followed
Make it run to time more
Two producers works and provides some resilience
The slide deck gave a running order for the producer of the event to know what was happening when
Feedback from Colleagues:
We sent out a questionnaire after the session to ask for feedback from everyone that attended.
What was good:
“Loved the warm up round “
“The format worked well for such a large group and the ICT held up well”
What can be improved for next time.
“A ten minute break half way through “
“More interaction “
“a longer small group session – not everyone in my group had a opportunity to contribute as the time was not long enough”
“The small group session was not long enough and was hindered by comms issues eg not being able to hear other people due to poor connectivity”
What is the most significant thing you learned from the meeting?
“We can’t go back to how it was before. “
“How we are starting to think about recovery and how we might work in the future”
“I appreciated the opportunity to hear about how services were being delivered differently during the small group session”
We have shared the resources that we used to make the event such a success, below you will find the agenda, the slide deck, instructions and the template we used to during the workshop.