To update members of progress on the delivery of the Digital Strategy, which was approved by Cabinet on 15th February 2021.
The Cabinet Member for Corporate Services, Community Safety and Finance introduced the item. Consideration was given to a report providing an update on the progress on the delivery of the Digital Strategy. The strategy was considered by this committee prior to its approval by Cabinet in February 2021.
The report detailed progress against four main strands of the strategy which were as follows:
· Digital Collaboration;
· Digital Customer Services;
· Digital Borough;
· Digital Workforce.
It was noted that the effect of and continued response to the pandemic had impacted on what had achieved. Despite these pressures, the report outlined areas of delivery which included:
a) Full upgrade of the ‘People’s Network’ which had seen the installation of new public access computers in all libraries.
b) Establishment of a digital inclusion programme, working alongside the voluntary and community sector and other partners, including Health.
c) Development of telephony automation to better direct calls made to the general enquiries number.
d) Facilitated the commercial investment and delivery of full fibre connectivity across the Rotherham district over the next two years.
e) Extension of Microsoft Teams to support collaborative working with external partners, other local authorities and suppliers.
f) An agreed installation programme of ‘hybrid meeting’ technology across the Council’s accommodation portfolio.
g) A complete upgrade to the Council’s servers and databases to ensure they were secure, compliant and remain fully supported. It was noted that the Council had been awarded PSN accreditation.
Reference was made to the “People’s Network” and how residents could access services particularly if there was no library in their immediate vicinity. The Assistant Director of Customer, Information and Digital Services outlined the work that was taking place to extend digital inclusion across neighbourhoods, including those areas not covered by libraries and with communities who may have higher levels of digital exclusion. The programme aimed to better understand what digital inclusion ‘looked like’ in Rotherham, the reasons why people experienced digital exclusion and tailor services accordingly to meet identified gaps. The Head of Digital Services highlighted that work was underway with Housing Services to connect Neighbourhood Centres and ensure wider coverage, details of which would be circulated to members of this committee.
Clarification was sought on what progress had been made to ensure that disabled people were not excluded digitally. The digital inclusion programme would look specifically at the needs of certain resident groups, including disabled people. The outcomes of the research and consultation with groups and residents would be fed into the strategy and inform future actions.
Further details were sought of how hybrid meeting would be rolled out and if elected members could participate remotely (for example if they could not attend meetings due to illness). The Democratic Services Manager confirmed that the technology for hybrid meetings was to be rolled out. However, clarification was given that elected members could only participate in decision making meetings by attending in person. It was clarified that external agencies would be able to participate in Council meetings through hybrid technology as their physical attendance was not required as part of the decision-making process. The Democratic Services Manager committed to seeking further details.
It was noted that investments had been made to improve call-handlings and customer services and it was asked what this would mean for customers contacting the Council by telephone. It was outlined that customers who were able to access services digitally were being encouraged to do so. However, it was recognised that some customers would still require face-to-face or telephone contact. More services were being moved online but as processes embed, there was still a need for call-handlers to respond to demand. There had been an analysis of the types of call, length of wait etc, with a view to piloting initiatives to improve the customer experience. This included a call-back facility which had been received positively, reducing the number of people in queues. It was noted that call volume had increased as services re-opened following the pandemic.
It was noted that a greater number of services and appointments would be accessed through online forms. However, an example was given that some booking systems were difficult to navigate and resulted in the customer having to call the service directly. Details were sought on whether this issue was widespread and what were the plans for improving the user experience. It was acknowledged that the system in question was out-of-date and was in need of improvement. Examples were given of developments in other services such as booking bulky waste collection it was anticipated that the learning from this initiative would be applied across the Council.
Options for extending website accessibility were explored including the use of webchat. A major focus of the strategy was supporting those who were unable to access digital services and were reliant on telephone contact. Digital chat would be considered however, the priority was to reduce waiting times for those customers using telephones who were often more vulnerable. A further question was asked about the provision of accessible software (speech-to-text, filters etc) and if this had been considered. Significant work has been undertaken to test the accessibility of the website which had been monitored by external assessors recently, scoring 97% rating on its accessibility scale. Customers with specific access requirements have worked with officers to offer feedback and guidance on website development and it was highlighted that officers were open to receiving suggestions about future improvements and examples of good practice.
Further details were sought on how easy it was to use mobile technologies to access services and if there was a ‘casework’ system for residents to report issues. It was outlined that there was an equivalent ‘casework’ system on the website under “Your Account” which was being developed. It was planned that more services would be accessed using this platform. In respect of mobile technology, it was highlighted that over 80% of the Council’s website traffic was through mobile phones. Apps were being developed and piloted, including those with voice interaction.
1) That the current progress on the delivery of the Digital Strategy is noted.
2) That an update is provided to this committee on the strategy’s progress in twelve months.
3) That clarification is provided by the Democratic Services Manager on the roll-out of hybrid technology for meetings of the Council.