Public services for a tech savvy generation

The use of tablets and smart devices within all areas of government is reported to experience double-digit growth through 2016. There has been an explosion in the amount of bespoke mobile applications that can revolutionise the way that council services are delivered, saving councils money in the process.
   
The innovative development of ‘apps’ to help deliver council services could also have massive cost saving implications, as well as their use in the field, or when council employees are working in remote areas, and even ‘hot-desking’.
   
Here we look at how tablets, apps and the smart use of technology can be used to improve transport, education, and the planning process.

APPS FOR BETTER TRANSPORT
A new guide by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) has highlighted how local authorities can make use of new technologies, such as big data analytics and cloud computing, to revolutionise their local transport systems while also reducing costs.
   
In the current political and financial environment, where local authorities are increasingly strapped for cash, the guide illustrates how some local authorities have used technology to improve their transport systems while managing, and in some cases reducing, costs.
   
The guide sets out some of the advantages new technologies can bring in solving existing and future transport problems. Examples range from smartphone apps to determine road and cycle path conditions, to Bluetooth systems that allow transport operators and planners to analyse journeys across multiple transport modes in near real-time. It also discusses some of the important issues when implementing these new solutions, including open standards, security and privacy issues.
 
Highlighted in the guide are some local authorities who are already embracing new technologies. These include Dublin City Council who is using smartphones and tablets to better manage traffic technology and Sunderland City Council who works with the Met Office to run a transport and weather information pilot to improve traffic and travel throughout the region.
   
Miles Elsden, Acting Chief Scientist, Department for Transport, says: “Given today’s challenging financial environment, local authorities are finding it increasingly difficult to deliver the transport systems that people need. This new guide gives a comprehensive overview of the potentially cost-saving new technologies available for local transport, which will hopefully encourage more local authorities to take a fresh approach to the way the plan and procure for transport in the future.”

SCHOOL TABLETS
Tablet use in schools has surged. A British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) survey has found that the use of tablets in schools across the UK has increased. The trade organisation represents over 300 educational suppliers in Britain, including manufacturers, and distributors of digital equipment. In its annual survey, ‘Tablets and Connectivity’, the usage rates of tablets and apps in educational settings were analysed. It looked at 636 schools across the country, of which 334 were primary level, and 302 were secondary.

Participants predicted that by 2015 a total of 24 per cent of computers in educational settings would be tablets. Respondents believes by 2016 the rate of usage will be 37 per cent, and by 2020, 56 per cent of hardware in classrooms will be tablets. If usage grows at the projected rate, the pupil-to-tablet ratio would be 11:4 in primaries and 6:4 in secondaries. Last year’s results expected to see one tablet for every 14 students by 2015.
   
Director of BESA Caroline Wright said: “It is heartening that schools continue to invest in this mobile technology to put the power of learning back into students’ hands. However, schools must continue to collaborate and share best practice use of tablets and apps if the technology’s adoption is to continue to contribute positively to educational standards.”
   
The survey also found that 90 per cent of schools said funding and budget allocation were barriers to procuring tablets. Other barriers included security, training, and the availability of a wi-fi connection.

PLANNING PROGRESS
Reigate and Banstead Borough Council has recently utilised tablets in order to move towards a paperless operation of the planning function when a relocation and refit of the RBBC town hall office space meant the number of available desk spaces were reduced by 20 per cent. RBBC development quality manager Kelvin Hinton introduced paperless practices to casework and consultation processes. All incoming planning applications are now validated electronically on screen. Planning officers were equipped with large 27-inch monitors to view application drawings and other supporting documentation.
   
Officers use software measuring tools that are also available to external users of their online public register. Planning officers do have the option to print out their own copies of drawings if required but this is by exception and avoided whenever possible. Planning officers have remote access to back-office planning system, meaning they can access application information from home, saving travelling time and improving hot-desk availability in the office.

However, the real quantum leap followed the introduction of tablet devices for site inspections. RBBC projects and change officer Kenton Reader shadowed planning officer site inspections to assess appropriate technology and usage requirements.
   
The practical trials identified that screen brightness is an important consideration, as was robust shockproof protection. Given broadband black spots in some rural areas, it was decided that in most cases the whole case file should be downloaded onto the tablet for site inspections using Civica Briefcase software.
   
For those applications with multiple documents, only the most relevant plans and drawings are downloaded. The working case file can then be viewed and annotated, with photographs and report notes recorded on-site, then uploaded back in the office or from home.
   
RBBC selected the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 tablet to view drawings and documents on-site. The device’s 10.6-inch screen permits folder navigation and viewing of documents in a sizeable split-screen format.
   
The development management service bought an initial bank of eight devices held on full battery charge and ready for officers to take on-site. Adoption has been mixed, with some officers taking up the new technology faster than others. However, print requests have now fallen significantly to an ‘acceptable’ level.

This technology has also led to wider adoption by building control departments.

BYOD CONCERNS
A new research paper, produced by UK think tank Parliament Street has examined the extent to which Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies operate in London Borough Councils. The report, written by Steven George-Hilley, calls on public sector decision‑makers to invest more in BYOD research and implementation. It concluded that there should be “calls for a bolder, more proactive approach from IT decision-makers to push through personal device schemes in the workplace wherever possible.”
   
George-Hilley explained the barriers of adoption for local governments include security concerns, who will manage the process and implement it and whether employees are aware they can use their own devices for work.

Additionally, if local governments do decide to roll out a BYOD strategy, they must ensure the necessary protocols, procedures and training is in place to make it an effective scheme, George-Hilley said. Councils should “factor in planned reduction in personal IT devices such as tablets and laptops and shift the onus onto employees to provide preferred devices where possible,” he said.

FURTHER INFORMATION
Parliament Steet’s report into BYOD:
tinyurl.com/o687a6d

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