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The IT Crowd are keeping us all working

Working from home is now a familiar experience to many, but the people who enable it to take place are often invisible heroes.

They may have become a little more visible in these unusual times, but IT experts still carry out a host of jobs that we never see and probably seldom think about.

The council’s IT service, for example, has been covering as diverse tasks as enabling care homes to reopen and coronavirus-related ‘shielding’ to take place as well as their normal work in ensuring that the council can still operate in old ways and new.

However, while so many parts of our life are now either easier online, or only able to be carried out online, it is important to remember that not everyone is able to carry out tasks digitally.

To help those who do not have access to the internet or who do not feel comfortable doing so, South Lanarkshire Council has now launched its Digital Inclusion Strategy for 2020-23.

So much of our work – and even our lives – revolves around technology these days that sometimes we only remember the people who keep it working when something goes wrong.

Of course, IT professionals work constantly on installing and maintaining technology to ensure as much as possible that our devices let us carry out the tasks we want them to do, from sending emails and joining online meetings to organising information and even just making phone calls.

Working in the background, council IT staff have been working since the start of the pandemic to support resources across the council as well as providing services to the area’s residents. 

Brian Teaz, the council’s Head of Information Technology, said: “Like everyone else, we have had to adapt very quickly to what has been needed since the lockdown started.

“As well as the work that many people would expect, in enabling more than 5000 council staff to work remotely, installing and configuring telephones and other infrastructure to support COVID-19 command centres and the PPE hub and implementing Microsoft Teams to let officers and councillors meet online, we have also been assisting people right across South Lanarkshire.

“For instance, we installed phones, PCs and wi-fi and organised the re-connection of phone lines in much shorter timescales than usual to enable McWhirter and Kirkton care homes to re-open, and developed new database to support the national Shielding initiative.

“IT staff have also supported the establishing of 20 Hubs and 12 Early Years Centres for key workers’ children to attend, and set up the web-casting of funerals at South Lanarkshire Crematorium to allow families to participate in some way in one of the most emotional restrictions we have had to face.

“Helping local businesses to survive is also paramount and so we have worked to create web-forms to allow business grant applications to be submitted from the council web-site – and don’t forget, like everyone else, the IT service has had to deliver all this while they were also dealing with the challenges of working remotely themselves!”

This work offers assistance those who have the ability to go online, but those who find it difficult to do are reassured that they have not been forgotten.

Brian added: “There is a significant number of people who do not, or cannot, access the internet and therefore do not benefit from on-line opportunities to learn and obtain information, save money and keep in touch with friends and relatives.

“Research also shows that digital exclusion is higher in groups who are most in need of council services, such as elderly residents and low-income families who may need to access benefits – these are the people that our Digital Inclusion Strategy has been created to help.”

A survey in South Lanarkshire last year found eight main reasons for digital exclusion: a lack of the necessary skills; the cost of an internet connection; not having a phone or computer; not being interested; having family members or friends access the internet for them; a poor mobile signal or slow – or no – internet connection; finding it too complicated to use; and worry about security.

As a result, the Digital Inclusion Strategy was developed by a group of partners comprising the council, NHS Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire Health and Social Care Partnership, South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture and a range of representatives from the voluntary sector.

The strategy will concentrate in its first year on four main areas of Internet access, Affordability, Digital Skills and Council Services.

Internet access will be improved by working with partners to improve connectivity, by providing free public wi-fi access in five priority sites, and by ensuring that the provision of free-to-use devices available in libraries and community facilities is as full and complete as possible. 

It will be made affordable through the launch of an initiative to provide tablets and broadband for 25 homeless families, and digital skills will be improved for people across South Lanarkshire through training for front-line council staff on the benefits of digital technology and through continuing to ensure that all pupils have access to the necessary digital resources in an appropriate learning environment.

Council services will also be addressed in the setting up of telehealth and telecare demonstrator sites to increase awareness of their benefits to all and in ensuring that digital inclusion is considered as part of all council strategies and policies across the board.

Source: South Lanarkshire View

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