By 2012 the whole of the UK will have to be ready for the digital switchover. Ensuring that residents living in multi-tenant units can continue to watch basic television may be an expensive and unbudgeted undertaking for housing associations and local authorities, and there is often little choice but to upgrade the existing cable infrastructures. However, organisations do have the opportunity to make the most of this investment and provide additional services to tenants, thereby making digital TV a cost-neutral undertaking.
For similar costs as a traditional co-axial cabling solution, internet protocol television (IPTV) could be implemented to provide the same service. A major advantage of this is that organisations can provide additional services over the same cabling. This multi-service platform can deliver non-broadcast services to housing residents via the existing cabling infrastructure. For example, one way of providing IPTV is through the telephone wires, often no longer being used for their original purpose, already running through multi-tenant accommodation. Local authorities would then be able to make key services, such as health, benefits and social services, accessible via the internet through the television.
It is much cheaper for local authorities to provide these services remotely because one of the main costs to councils is facilitating face-to-face interactions between citizens and staff. IPTV can help to shift the customer-access channels from face-to-face in the council buildings to self-service in the home. Although most local authorities already have online services, many housing residents do not have internet access. Housing residents are some of the most socially- and digitally-excluded groups in a community; consequently they are often the most difficult and expensive to reach even though they are probably most in need of local authority services. IPTV allows these residents to interact with their council via a familiar and accessible medium.
An example of this can be found in the provision of telecare. This is particularly useful to people suffering from chronic conditions. It can enable diabetes sufferers or those with coronary or respiratory conditions to manage their own care where appropriate, which is both empowering for them and more cost effective for the Primary Care Trust. A diabetes sufferer would be able to upload their blood test results or a patient with a coronary condition could have their blood pressure monitored remotely. The data would then be sent to the PCT and these readings measured against parameters set by their doctors.
This is in line with the Government agenda for personalised care and reducing the number of hospital admissions. Increasingly PCTs and local authorities will have to work together to provide the most integrated and effective service to citizens. Using the digital switchover as an opportunity to implement IPTV is also a good chance to pull together the public services that housing residents use most frequently and cut costs to both public service providers. The money saved by giving someone the ability to manage their own care rather than having to come into hospital means that the equipment needed to facilitate this has paid for itself. Furthermore, the same service delivery platform can also be used to facilitate the Government’s drive towards digital inclusion. Broadband can be delivered through the same means to areas that were previously outside broadband range.
However, there may be people who find the transition from face-to-face communication with a council officer to using IPTV difficult. Residents can be trained on how to get the most from digital services and how to tailor them so that the services meet their particular needs. IPTV can be a source of empowerment to housing residents and in order for a real revolution in public service delivery to take place, it must be appreciated as such and not seen as a means of cutting corners or imposing a ‘one size fits all’ style of service provision.
More than ever local government needs to maximise the benefits gained from their investments and the effective use of IT is a big step in the right direction. If councils are able to provide a more effective service to citizens at a reduced cost then the opportunity to do so should be taken and used in as many innovative and imaginative ways as possible.
Andrew Carr is the managed service sales director for Capita IT Services, part of Capita Group Plc.