Digital skills make life better for my parents – and can help government too

Digital skills

By Matthew Lloyd, programme manager, Digital Communities Wales

There is one person I think is really brave, and that is my Mam. She uses technology and benefits from having that skill in her life. My Dad, for the last three years now, has been suffering from vascular dementia. Things in the family have massively changed, in a nice way as well. Dad is very loving at the moment, and has not always been that way. He’s like, “Do you want a cwtch?” – which is very unusual.

Mam wanted to use technology so she could nose on me on Facebook, then realised that WhatsApp was going to be really useful to keep in touch with me and my sister. For Christmas we got her a Google Home, so that my Dad had someone to speak to while my mother wasn’t there. We still need to encourage him to speak, to ask what the weather is going to be like or play some music or where Liverpool are playing next. It’s been really good to listen to my father trying to speak to it, or shout at it when he’s too far away from the speaker.

The point is that if my mother didn’t have these skills, she wouldn’t be able to do a lot of the things she does now. If she didn’t do it online, she would be calling on public services to check symptoms or see what’s going wrong. It’s brought to life for me just how important digital inclusion is.

When we started on digital inclusion, we used to work on desktops and ask people to point the mouse at the screen – and people would lift the mouse up and point it at the screen. I was up in the Rhondda doing a presentation to people who were mostly 60, 65-plus, with half online and half not. One woman said she had no interest in getting online, but unprompted another woman, who had recently suffered a stroke, piped up. She said if I didn’t have technology, I wouldn’t have the independence that I still have. Because she could use technology before the stroke happened, she was still able to message people and look on Marks and Spencer. The first lady started to think, hang on, maybe I need to have a look at this and invest some time.

There are a lot of people who are lonely, and having the ability to connect online through Skype, WhatsApp or Facebook really helps those individuals – and helps us to save money. If they can do some of this stuff, it can hopefully take pressure off other things. But while about 15% of people in Wales are not online, it’s 40% for those who are 75-plus.

As we bring in new digital services, we have to help people to use the systems. An example of this is our health boards. They are currently bringing in new technology for us to take more control of our health where we will be able to view results and appointments, in this instance it is crucial we help people to use that system properly. If this is considered, I feel they will miss out on benefits for the individuals and the NHS.

When we talk about how brave we want to be or how do we put people at the heart of digital reform, I think the key thing is that we can’t afford not to. When we do this, let’s think about the people who are going to use the services, how they are going to use them and put some support in for that. Think of the people you know who are affected by dementia or a stroke – they get an awful lot from being able to use the internet and the resources that it gives us and takes the pressure off them and our public services.

This is based on Matthew Lloyd’s talk at the Socitm Cymru conference in Cardiff on 21 May 2018

Digital skills make life better for my parents – and can help government too

How local Warps contribute to cybersecurity and resilience

Cybersecurity keyboard

By Ajike Alli-Ameh, programme manager and regional co-ordinator, North West Warning, Advice and Reporting Point (North West Warp)

In today’s world, organisations need to defend and protect against many cyber threats whilst remaining open to opportunities presented by new technology.

We have come to expect and want to access services – online and at a time to suit. New technologies such as driverless cars, telemedicine and IoT (internet of things) have created and continue to create great opportunities for the future.

With this increasing digital footprint, organisations need to ensure that their systems are cyber secure and resilient.

This is against a background, particularly noticeable in the last 12 months, of news of cyber-related attacks and incidents. Organisations are waking up to the fact that it is not ‘if’ but ‘when’ they will experience a cyber-related incident.

We set up the North West Warp about nine years ago. The Warp is a community service, designed to support organisations and involve those with lead responsibility for information security. It enables members to collaborate with peers and have access to timely information, guidance and expert advice.

The North West Warp has grown from seven to 40 organisations, with representatives from councils, NHS trusts, police, fire and rescue services and housing with numbers increasing each year. We have agreed ways of working, based on a trust model that we have developed: everyone in the Warp knows who everyone else is; participating organisations have named representatives who sign a non-disclosure agreement and meetings are run observing the Traffic Light Protocol system which sets out how members can use and share information.

This has created a trusted safe space for peers to seek advice and confidently discuss potentially sensitive topics. It is a solution that encourages collaboration and peer support, whether in meetings or online via the collaboration portal. It allows open and frank discussions where real help and support can be offered by others. It creates a forum where members can discuss hot topics, government policy and raise issues. We invite expert speakers and knowledge brokers from government and industry to share their expertise on hot topics.

In addition, members receive timely updates on threats and incidents. The benefit of this was evident during the WannaCry ransomware attack, as we were able to send out alerts quite early on to warn members who were able to take the necessary steps to safeguard their estate. We also take up issues on behalf of members, providing a collective voice when required, in response to policy and guidance.

The North West Warp has been around for almost a decade, but is now coming of age. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is very keen for Warps to form part of the wider local public service resilience picture, and we are looking to see how we can engage with the business continuity, disaster recovery and local resilience communities, as they have skills that could be of real benefit to us in a serious cyber incident or attack.

We also want to increase membership, particularly from NHS organisations, having looked at the recommendations made in the report that followed WannaCry. We are strengthening links with other regional Warps which offers opportunities for even greater collaboration and knowledge sharing. For us, it is about developing the cyber security and resilience capabilities, at the grass roots.

Imagine the positive impact if every local authority, NHS organisation, police and fire and rescue service were involved in a regional Warp. Think of the opportunities for collaboration, knowledge-sharing and co-ordinated defence that we would have across the wider public sector.

Warps use a model based on trust: it’s about helping ourselves within the public sector to strengthen our own resilience and ability to respond should there be a cyber incident or attack.

This is based on Ajike Alli-Ameh’s talk at Socitm’s President’s Conference in Glasgow on 9 May 2018.

North West Warp: 

Traffic Light Protocol:

How local Warps contribute to cybersecurity and resilience

Councils encouraged to respond to cybersecurity stocktake


Former Socitm president and Norfolk head of IT Geoff Connell has encouraged councils in England to respond to ‘stocktake’ research on their cybersecurity this summer.

Speaking at Socitm’s President’s Conference in Glasgow on 9 May 2018, he encouraged councils to respond fully. “This isn’t about trying to say you’re brilliant,” Connell said. “It’s about being honest so we understand what we need to do, where the challenges are and where the priorities are.”

The work is funded by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, which is providing £1.5 million this year to support English councils in cybersecurity work, administered by the Local Government Association. The ministry hopes to allocate further funding in both of the following two financial years.

As well as the stocktaking exercise, local authorities will be able to apply for funding for ‘quick win’ projects, such as to improve technical skills.

The money has partly been organised through the Local Public Services CIO Council, which confirmed a set of changes when it met at the President’s Conference.

The renamed Socitm Local CIO Council will concentrate on digital services, redesign and leadership; health and social care integration; workforce diversity and skills; and cybersecurity, where Connell will act as core spokesperson.

The council, which will become an integral part of Socitm, plans to have two face-to-face meetings a year, supplemented by teleconferences which may focus on the four newly-adopted themes.

Council chair and Leeds chief digital and information officer Dylan Roberts said the council will retain its focus on integrated, place-based delivery of services, under the slogan ‘simplify, standardise, share’.


Councils encouraged to respond to cybersecurity stocktake

Friday roundup: A week in tech


Poor old Kaspersky has announced plans to shift some of its operations abroad (if it has any left) in an attempt to fix its tattered image.

Accused of being a spying lapdog of the Russian state, the firm has decided to up sticks to…Switzerland – on account of its ‘policy of neutrality’ and no doubt ‘stunning mountains, verdant meadows, dubious financial accountability structures’.

The antivirus outfit has been in the digital dustbin since the US’s Homeland Security people demanded that government departments stopped using its software, fearing that precious information was being fed back to Moscow.

Naturally, Kaspersky has always proclaimed its innocence but now even the chilled-out Dutch have had enough, with the government there announcing that it is beginning to dump the company’s software.

According to Holland’s justice and security ministry, ‘Russia has an active offensive cyber programme focusing on the Netherlands and vital Dutch interests’.

So, how will a move to the land of cheese and Roger Federer help repair Kaspersky’s standing? Apparently, moving its servers to Zurich will assuage fears that Mr Putin is watching the flow of data coming in from around the world.

In a statement, the firm said: ‘Our new centre in Switzerland will strengthen the proven integrity of Kaspersky Lab’s products.’

Very reassuring, and how fortunate that here in the West there aren’t any gargantuan software firms that have suspicious and deeply worrying relationships with our data.


Those whose only outlet for discourse, interaction with others or any kind of catharsis is impishly tapping out messages of no more than 280 characters to bewildered strangers could be in trouble – Twitter has announced plans to deflate the remonstrations of ‘trolls’.

In the 12 millionth attempt to control hateful, mad abuse on the platform, the social media network hopes to make the drivel of idiots ‘less visible’.

According to the firm, signallers of ‘trolling’ include a user registering multiple accounts simultaneously; somebody repeatedly messaging someone who doesn’t follow them; and those who fail to confirm their email address.

Henceforth, suspected ‘trolling’ tweets will be ‘less visible’ – unless you click ‘Show more replies’, and why on Earth would you want to do that?

According to Twitter, ‘These [troll] accounts have a disproportionately large – and negative – impact on people’s experience…The challenge for us has been: how can we proactively address these disruptive behaviours that do not violate our policies but negatively impact the health of the conversation.’

And things are going well, apparently, as tests of the anti-trolling system have led to a decrease in reports of abuse.

So, well done there, then.


Papal news now: none less than the person heading-up God’s office on Earth, the Pope, has published ecclesiastical guidance on the way nuns should conduct themselves on social media.

His holiness has prepared a manuscript that calls for ‘sobriety and discretion’ when using digital platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

So, why’s this happened?

Last month, some nuns in Spain posted messages on Facebook about a group of men in Pamplona who were recently cleared of rape, instead being found guilty of the lesser charge of sexual abuse.

The Carmelite Nuns of Hondarribia defended the 18-year-old victim in the case, writing that all women had the right to do the opposite of living in a convent ‘without being judged, raped, intimidated or humiliated’.

The Pope first laid down some digital doctrine in 2016 when he cautioned about the internet’s ‘decisive influence’ on Christendom, and pressed nuns not to let Twitter et al ‘become occasions for wasting time’ – advice that could be applied to everyone everywhere.

Not that the Vatican itself seems to have paid any attention: the hallowed institution has found the time to pump out over 15,000 tweets, while also operating YouTube, Instagram and Facebook and Google+ accounts. Good to hear they’re keeping themselves busy.

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Why AI should mean augmented intelligence

Pepper the Robot

By Maryvonne Hassall, digital strategy manager, Aylesbury Vale District Council

There’s a lot of scaremongering about the idea of artificial intelligence (AI) taking our jobs – but I think we need to consider where it fits well and that there are some things it’s not so good at.

We need to understand the nuances. AI, for some, is being seen as the latest digital solution that will transform everything. The idea that you can just implement AI and the world will be a much better place is not the full picture. Like all things, if your data is poor, your results will be poor; rubbish in, rubbish out.

AI is really good at some things, but less good at others and it absolutely needs to be managed by a person to get the most out of it. We need to understand how it’s working and then tweak and refine it. We need to have transparency, so we understand the decisions it is making and can challenge them. Another consideration is the need to look out for biased data sets, because whatever AI uses as its source data will shape the results on that bias.

AI is everywhere! For example, it is really expensive to launch a new drug into the health market: AI adoption can shorten the time this takes and play a factor in deciding which drugs might be more successful before undertaking expensive trials.

Banks are using it for fraud protection; energy companies use it to monitor customers’ behaviour; Network Rail and others use it for the diagnosis of where faults may occur to enable preventative maintenance, saving staff time.

Olay are using it to help ladies pick the best facial products for them. So, if you take a photo and answer a few questions it will recommend the best product for you. There’s an interesting discussion on how much the marketing team should get involved to shape the results. At present there is no input from marketing. The deciding factors are primarily driven by what you say rather than how you look! AI is also being used by sports teams to monitor how players are moving in training, which can predict injuries and assist talent-spotting.

The key approach used by Aylesbury Vale is more about automation than just AI; I mention this because it is a matter of scale and timing. We’ve been automating and promoting self-service to our customers for a long time, and AI is just the next iteration of that. We are also using AI through Amazon’s Alexa to answer customer queries in their home.

In addition, we use AI software in our call centre: it takes the text of incoming webchat messages, or emails, and helps the agent by suggesting possible responses. It’s not ‘instead of people’ – it’s AI software assisting the agent working alongside them. The benefit is that agents then have more time to manage the more complex enquiries.

AI is great at dealing with lots of data, and much quicker than we are at crunching through that data to find patterns. It does this in a standard way and learns by working alongside our staff.

For me, AI is about augmented intelligence: augmenting humans to make decision-making quicker.

This is based on Maryvonne Hassall’s talk at Socitm’s President’s Conference in Glasgow on 8 May 2018

Why AI should mean augmented intelligence

£1m for digital solutions to social care problems


Those keen on developing digital services for adult social care have received a nice boost – a big pot of money has been pledged for that very purpose.

NHS Digital has earmarked £1 million as part of an intriguing competition: grants of £20,000 will be dished out to 12 winning councils that propose excellent digital solutions to adult social care problems. After the design phase is over, six of the 12 will be awarded a further £80,000 to put towards the delivery of their scheme.

Local authorities have until 1 June at 4pm to apply for the Social Care Digital Innovation Programme, for that is the initiative’s name, and those hoping for a piece of the fiscal pie are being advised to focus on one of three themes: supernatural involvement; cubist art; and comedy value.

Only joking. The three themes actually are: managing marketing & commission; efficiency; and sustainability & integration.

NHS Digital’s James Palmer said: ‘This year, the funding will help to identify and address some key pinch points within local authority services, especially those around the integration of health and social care systems. We are looking forward to seeing the innovative solutions that councils come up with in response to our latest round of funding.’

£1m for digital solutions to social care problems

Robots invade the council


By the Orbis Robotics Team

Timeline: January/February 2018

Ok, so this is probably a tad dramatic considering that here in Orbis, the partnership between Surrey, East Sussex and Brighton and Hove councils, we are building the robots and therefore inviting them into our offices, rather than robots invading them.

However, our story is quite shocking considering this is a massive jump forward from still having paper floating around in a few of our offices. This is why we are documenting our journey and will be sharing this in a monthly robotics series.

In a strategic bid not to get left behind in a technological world, and to power through our more repetitive and mundane work, we have decided to build a family of robots to help us. With no budget to fund the work and various restrictions in place, this is going to be a hell of a challenge – but something needs to change.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) could potentially save Orbis thousands by reducing the time taken to process workload, considering we have 3,000 core processes to choose from. However, it does come with concerns: our employees are concerned that robots will take their jobs from them and our teams are concerned that we don’t have the skills to build the robots. So, how do we tackle these issues?

We decided our first move was to get a project manager – enter Andre – and for him to find a team who would form our RPA experts – enter Information Technology (IT) and various subject matter experts from our existing teams. After having played ‘musical rooms’ with a team that were occupying what we thought might be the perfect ‘Bot Lab’ and us learning the hard way that communicating early helps to reduce hard feeling, the Robot team were ready to start work in their new lab.

So, where do you start when you have an abundance of processes that you can work on? We implemented something called Project Pathfinder to help identify any broken processes and analyse the data collected to help find better ways of working. This enabled us to identify what the robots could potentially be introduced to help with, versus what the teams could improve and deal with themselves, and this information fed back to the lab.

All good so far but now came the real test: how to build a robot with no previous experience in doing so, no budget for training and no manual to follow?? Thank goodness for Google and YouTube because they became our best friend!

In hindsight, we may have been a tad over ambitious in what we wanted to achieve and by when (a lab, a team of ‘experts in training’ and Project Pathfinder giving us insight into our mass of processes) but one thing it did demonstrate is the talent we have and just how determined our people are in finding solutions.

Working excess hours (which we don’t recommend) and refusing to be beaten, incredibly our RPA experts pushed boundaries to attempt their first robot.

Did we succeed? Find out in our coming blogs!

Robots invade the council