‘When we talk about offering digital services at the ICO we don’t mean driving customers to the least expensive contact channel’

By Paul Arnold, Head of Customer and Business Services.

digital-servicesProviding modern, fit for purpose, public services, in difficult economic times, is a challenge facing all regulators and public sector bodies. Securing value for money from our investment of public funds is therefore central to the ICO’s information technology and digital by default strategies. In addition, as the regulator of many organisations collecting and processing information through digital services, it’s vital our own digital and wider technology credentials are up to the job.

Our approach, aims and objectives

We’ve recently merged our customer service and information technology teams to form a new Customer and Business Services department. Our aim is to use the targeted development of technology to achieve two fundamental objectives:

  • To offer the digital services to our customers and stakeholders they’d expect from a modern regulator.
  • To provide our staff with technology to help them work efficiently and effectively to meet the needs of those same customers and stakeholders.

In this blog I want to focus on the first of those two objectives…..

What do we mean when we talk about ‘digital by default’ and ‘assisted digital’ services?

When we talk about offering digital services we don’t mean driving customers to the least expensive contact channel. We mean providing choice at the point of contact. We focus on providing customers with everything they need through the fewest number of contacts with us. This means making our knowledge and expertise available at the first point of contact where possible and avoiding the need for customers and stakeholders to ask us for things unnecessarily.

We’ll always strive to offer efficient ways to do things digitally online. However, if you are a customer worried about your information rights or obligations we want you to be able to talk to us if that’s what you’d prefer.

Offering a choice of efficient, value for their investment, ways to contact us is therefore at the centre of our commitment to provide high quality public services.

Some practical examples….

Our data protection registration service, launched in 2014, is a great example of this commitment in action. Our online registration service is now used by over 90% of those needing to register and approximately three quarters of all payments are made online or by direct debit.

However, many customers want to talk to us about their registration obligations and for some small organisations paying by cheque remains their preferred approach. Our registration helpline therefore remains central to our service and we’ve not forgotten how to process cheques from those who need us to.

You hopefully noticed that we launched our new website earlier this year to serve as a platform for our new digital services. My colleague Greer Schick blogged at the time about the benefits of the new website as we strive to make our information ever more available and accessible online.

We’re also about to launch a new ‘live chat’ service on the website. It’ll be in pilot form for the first few months to help us understand how it is used and the likely demand. We’re excited about the development this might represent for our customer services and we hope it proves popular.

We also know it can be frustrating at the moment when trying to report multiple concerns about receiving Spam texts and calls. We’re working on the next generation of our online reporting tool which will address this issue.

Looking further ahead, over the next 12 to 18 months we’ll be developing new casework management solutions. These will see new digital services which will enable the public to report concerns, organisations to report incidents and for anyone to ask us for advice quickly, and hopefully easily, online.

Our commitment to social media is hopefully well recognised when it comes to our @ICONews team keeping the public informed about our work. However, we want to make it easier for people to contact us using social media where it makes sense to do so.

Commitment to accessibility and information rights

Developing our services also goes hand in hand with our commitment to provide, and where possible adjust, our services for those customers who need assistance when trying to contact us. We know that technology can be both an enabler and a barrier to accessing services depending on a customer’s personal circumstances. Every digital service development we introduce will be accompanied by an equality impact assessment to make sure we continue to increase the reach of our services to as many customers as possible.

As you’d also expect, we build privacy impact assessments into our business development work, making sure we practice what we preach to those we regulate.

Managing change

Underpinning all our work is the need to be able to develop our public services as quickly as possible. Although we believe our work is important, we don’t believe the way people need to contact and engage with us is any different from most other organisations. We therefore intend to use established solutions wherever possible with minimal reliance on bespoke technology.

Tell us what you think

As our services develop and evolve we’d like to receive regular feedback from those who use them. We listen to all feedback we receive, so please do share your thoughts about our services.

Last updated 28/09/2015 12:30

paul-arnoldPaul Arnold‘s department provides Customer Contact services to the public and IT and Business Development services to colleagues across the ICO.
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