Embracing digital – Improving services

IN YOUR HANDS: Residents will soon to be able to engage with many of our services online at the Oldham Council website.  Oldham Council's website
IN YOUR HANDS: Residents will soon to be able to engage with more of our services online 24/7.

TECHNOLOGICAL advances in recent times, and particularly in the last decade, have transformed every aspect of our day-to-day lives.

Statistically 86 per cent of adults in the UK have now used the Internet – and why not? There’s more reason to do so now than ever before.

We can manage our money, order groceries and takeaways, download music, books, games and films, book a holiday, compare insurance prices and even find a date online. If you need something, there’s almost certainly a way to do it or find out how to on the internet.

The rise of ‘apps’ (software for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets) and wireless technologies like 3G, 4G, 5G (and probably several other Gs by the time you’ve finished reading this blog) mean we’re all able to do a bewildering array of tasks online and can also do them ‘on the go’.

More than half of UK adults now own a ‘smartphone’ and take-up of mobile internet was up to 49 per cent in 2013, which has more than doubled since 2009.

You’ll also have noticed that most of the innovations in what we can do have so far been driven by the private sector. For all the examples just cited it’s easy to name a brand or company associated with them be that the likes of Barclays, Tesco, iTunes, Amazon or LoveFilm.

Businesses of all sizes have now recognised they simply must offer services online through simple apps that allow customers to engage with them around the clock from any location.

The public sector, however, has a fair bit of catching up to do to match the kind of digital advancements that people have come to see as the standard in almost every other area of their lives.

Online services in local and central government are pretty patchy at present: available for some services, or in some areas and not others, and of varying quality and usability depending on where you live and what you need.

Wanting to be on the front foot and not left behind we’ve been looking at how we can transform residents’ experiences of interacting with us here at Oldham Council – and in ways that don’t merely treat people as consumers but in a way that fits our ambitions to be a co-operative borough.

That’s why we’ve been hard at work for many months now developing our own online customer service platform, called MyAccount.

Within weeks a phased launch will begin and once the full roll-out of components is completed, residents will be able to engage with many of our services online including Environmental Health and Environmental Services, Pest Control, Revenues and Benefits.

This means tasks like paying your Council Tax, organising Housing Benefits, reporting graffiti or litter – many of the most common interactions with us – will be possible anytime and anywhere.

MyAccount will allow you to securely store all your personal details, such as your address, Council Tax account, direct debit instructions, previous and current interactions with us, and check the status of them.

This can be done from the comfort of your own home, out and about using a mobile device, at the council’s Access Oldham contact centre, any of our 13 libraries, or at 15 other locations with free public access computers across the borough.

The beauty of the technology is that it will help to make tasks less complicated.

As an example, if you’re out and spot fly-tipping that you want to report to us then you can do so and – using a mobile device – enable GPS mapping to pinpoint your location. You can also upload a photo which helps us by giving us more exact information so we can deal with the problem more effectively.

In time not only should your experience of our services be more convenient, but it will also help to save money in a time of greater need as local authority faces unprecedented change.

It’s estimated that MyAccount will save us around £800,000 a year as it will cost an average of 15p per interaction compared with traditional methods like face-to-face (£8.62) and telephone (£2.63).

Whilst those savings aren’t to be sniffed at, this isn’t about just money.

This represents a fantastic opportunity to improve our services and target particular help to those who need it – and it is about your council better reflecting the needs of the communities it serves.

People want convenience, ease of use, and open access to information 24/7. We can give them that and also map data and service requests to target issues quickly.

As each service prepares to go online we will publicise the details fully, so keep your eyes on our website, local press and our Social Media accounts for more details in the coming months.

Digital offers huge potential benefits and it can be used to make a real difference to people’s lives.

As a local authority we must embrace it and use it as a tool that drives service innovation, changes the way we engage with you and explores how we can all better achieve the outcomes we seek.

Digital also perfectly complements our co-operative ambitions by looking at how we deliver your services in a more holistic way and with a focus not just on convenience, but also on how residents themselves can contribute and ‘do their bit’.

When you consider how quickly digital has transformed our lives and expectations it’s clear that we simply must move with the times – and the future possibilities are very exciting.

You may start off using MyAccount to pay your Council Tax and report a pothole on your street in 2014, but a few years hence who knows what might be possible?

Thanks for listening,

Jim

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