Transforming the Waste Collection Service Through The Implementation of Digital in Cab Software
Briefly describe the initiative/ project/service; please include your aims and objectives
Wigan Council is the 9th largest metropolitan authority and maintains 150,000 properties each week, carrying out around 11,250,000 waste collections each year. As a service we were keen to improve the way in which we communicated with our residents through the means of updates within each resident MyAccount. MyAccount is a resident portal allowing customers to view their council tax and housing benefit accounts, and report and track progress of issues they have raised with the council. We also wanted to introduce more digital solutions into waste collection and reduce avoidable contact both into the service and through our corporate contact centre.
Another aim was to streamline processes such as logging missed bins, ordering replacement bins and bulky waste collections for staff but also making this easier for residents and at the push of a few buttons. Improving communications with the waste collection crews and enabling them to log any issues whilst out on site was also a priority. We introduced The Deal, an informal agreement between the council and residents which aims to ‘make Wigan Borough the best place it can be over the coming decade’ Wigan Council’s Waste Collection service plays a key role in the council’s The Deal 2030, across the key priorities of “Our People – Communities that Care and Our Place – An Environment to be Proud Of.” Our role in this is to “provide an enabling role in promoting digital services” and to “utilise technology to optimise travel and improve air quality.”
To achieve this, we invested in a new “in cab” waste management software provided by Whitespace. The implementation of this software has allowed us to meet our corporate aims of improving air quality, reducing paper usage and introducing digital services as well as improving communication with our residents by enabling live waste collection data to be provided to the public and council staff.
What are the key achievements?
The introduction of Whitespace has meant a reduction in paper usage by 70% initially, immediately meeting the council’s corporate plan to reduce paper usage by 60%. It also immediately impacted on the number of missed bins that were reported by residents.
Missed Bins– Internal KPI
May – Dec 2020 May – Dec 2021
With a reduction of 350 missed reports, this also reduced contact to the contact centre as residents are now unable to report a missed bin when the crews have logged information and issues into Whitespace, giving the reason why their bin has not been emptied. Now, when a resident contacts the call centre to advise that the bin at their property has not been emptied, the call centre is able to check if the crew have informed us on Whitespace that the bin was not out for collection when they arrived at the resident’s property. Whitespace enables crews to log exceptions against individual properties or if the full street is not accessible, this could be due to issues with parked cars, road works or police incidents. The information logged against a street or property is displayed on the internet for residents’ information advising them when we will return to empty the bin. If it was an operational issue, or if there was a log against the individual property, this would prevent residents reporting their bins as missed and the reason the bin had not been emptied.
If the crews log a contaminated recycling bin, emails will be sent directly to residents who have an active MyAccount. If there is no active MyAccount for that address, the system will generate a letter advising the resident of the contamination. If the resident receives 3 reports of contamination, either by email or letter, the system will create a job for an environmental enforcement officer to arrange a visit and advise the resident of the next steps resulting in the bins being emptied for a fee and monitored for future collections or a section 46 notice of warning and if the bins get reported again by the crew a fine will then be issued. In the event that the resident requires educating regarding recycling, we are able to remove 1 trigger, giving the residents time to resolve the issue.
Another priority for waste services was to reduce the amount of paper used and we have achieved this by using the digital in cab to advise crews about missed bins, bin deliveries and assisted collection lists direct to the crew via Whitespace. When a crew enters the street all the notifications i.e assisted collection, bins left at the rear of properties for collections, or reminders about a property that has reported issues previously are presented to the crews. The system can also perform as a Sat Nav providing directions for route optimisation which consequently makes savings on fuel and time spent out on site, supporting the councils aim to reach net zero carbon by 2030. When deciding on the appropriate hardware, Apple iPad was chosen to display the software, this has enabled us to see a huge difference in the way technology can be used for communicating with the workforce. All waste collection crews can log on to Microsoft Teams whilst out on site and Waste Supervisors can also keep crews updated with issues and information during the working day. The crews can also communicate with each other via Microsoft Teams.
Microsoft teams gives the crews ability to engage in live video calls with fleet services should they experience a breakdown. This enables the trained technicians to assess the problem and potentially provide an immediate fix without the need for the crews to return to the depot for another vehicle.
Since going live with the software we have seen a reduction in the number of missed bins reported by crews which again means a significant reduction in vehicles on the road, fuel savings and time saved to be utilised in different areas of waste services. Contact centre staff have been provided with full access to the system. Residents that do not have access to the internet or MyAccount can be advised of any issues immediately. Previously residents had to wait for crews to complete the rounds before they could be advised if there had been an issue with a specific property.
Whitespace Analytics summarises the operation’s performance using a clear dashboard helping us to make informed strategic improvements across the service.
The implementation of Whitespace has greatly improved the confidence of waste collection operatives with reporting issues meaning the workforce are using the system to improve the service that we provide to the residents of Wigan Borough. The implementation has allowed us to meet our corporate aims of introducing digital services as well as improving communication with our residents by enabling live waste collection data to be provided to the public and council staff.
How innovative is your initiative?
Whitespace’s digital solution has given us the functionality to manage our waste collections efficiently and record the valuable intelligence required to make informed strategic decisions. The in-cab software helps waste collection teams keep the customer services centres up to date on their round progress in real-time, providing valuable information, allowing us to manage resident queries efficiently. Crews can also use the in-cab software to report on types of contamination, supporting follow up education and enforcement. The website integration has also been improved with more online services available to residents, and the automation of processes has reduced paper, reduced avoidable contact and helped us to re-prioritise workloads on more meaningful outputs.
We have been recognised with a highly regarded Certificate of Excellence from the iESE following the implementation of this new system. Cllr Paul Prescott, cabinet portfolio holder for environment said, “Its brilliant to see the work of our dedicated waste collection teams – both those on the front line and those behind the scenes who ensure the smooth running of the service – working in partnership to work creatively and innovatively to find digital solutions.” We’ve then created a new online form for the residents to register their bin for collection once they’ve moved into the property to start collections. This also updates our council tax and our LLPG custodian. The introduction of this innovative solution will help transform service delivery to tackle current and future challenges and deliver increased efficiencies, productivity, and service benefits now and in the future.
We have continued throughout to share our findings with other services across the council and challenge every process we have in place to see if we can make improvements and efficiencies. We have involved residents for their feedback on using systems too, in order to ensure it is fit for purpose and user friendly. We have looked at and challenged our own processes and thinking, asking staff to look at everything they do in a new way, a blank piece of paper and what would it look like if money was no object. This has allowed us to be more creative and innovative and really utilise the system to its full capacity, making changes and improvements for the borough along the way.
What are the key learning points?
Waste Services have a large workforce. A large percentage of operatives have been in the same role for many years, and we did have some concerns about how they would adapt to a digital way of working. Drop-in sessions were offered to all waste collection operatives to ensure they were fully conversant in using the system. We invited the workforce to apply to be in-cab champions, these colleagues would be available to assist any operatives who required any extra support. A key learning point on this was that we must appreciate everyone’s learning styles, speed and put in place the necessary support. We have also set up an ongoing refresher training course for the workforce.
We are currently sharing the success of the software with colleagues across the council to look at where the system can be used and bring efficiencies for other services. Both the software and the sat nav facility will be able to bring efficiencies across many teams. Initial trails with our Streetscene service have found that this system will support the service in efficiently emptying public bins in a timely fashion, but also in the most efficient way by utilising the route optimisation facility.
In addition, we are showcasing the system to our colleagues who deal with Environmental Enforcement and Education so streamline processes for bin contamination. This will bring efficiencies in the whole process from a waste collection crew reporting a contaminated bin, right through to communications with the resident and education and enforcement by the team at the end of the process, with all information in one place.
We are in the process of setting up with our Planning department an online form which will allow the developer of new build properties to go online and order bins on mass, pay and for them online and view a new policy pack for developers. The API has the ability in Whitespace to upload all the asset data, saving officers time going into each address and adding the bins, calendars and collection days. A final, important key learning point is that we are not to stop looking for and discovering additional facilities within the software and how it can assist our service and colleagues in making more improvements and efficiencies for the council and its residents.