A Social Dimension To Local Government Team Work

Profile picture for user gflood By Gary Flood November 7, 2017
Bracknell Forest Council says turning off its old intranet has been a very positive experience. It sought its new cloud tool via the Digital Marketplace.

Conducted as part of a wider digital transformation programme, Bracknell Forest Council has just performed a radical refresh of its internal staff intranet, which it says opens a new way of more efficient teamwork.

Digital Services Manager, Colin Stenning, told diginomica/government:

Like most like authorities, we’re facing financial challenges as well as challenges around a dispersed workforce and limited opportunities for collaborative working.

But our new intranet’s social and collaboration tools will enable staff to drive a range of directory-based features that will help our staff connect with each other and exchange information, skills and experience.

No longer fit for purpose

Stenning’s job at Bracknell Forest is to manage a special Digital Services team that handles everything from its public website to the intranet and associated Web applications.

That responsibility meant he was ideally placed to see how adrift of needs the existing internal staff comms system had become, he says:

The existing intranet has been in place for over 10 years, is no longer fit for purpose, and needed to be modernised to fit into our new ways of working.

What was ‘wrong’ with the older intranet, though? In Stenning’s view, the answer’s simple: it was not supportive enough of the more self-service oriented and collaborative way of doing the job local government is all about now.

It was essentially an information resource, based around the structure of the organisation, only providing one way to access to information and no opportunities for staff to collaborate or communicate with each other.

For example, team members struggled to get access to information and signposting from other internal business applications like example iTrent, iWorks and Agresso. And better online self service would also help reduce pressure on service teams currently receive service requests via phone or email, he predicted.

In addition, the old intranet was just hard to keep going. The system was based on older technology that was no longer supported by its original developer, was labour intensive to update and maintain, he says - and finally, software used to create its content was not intuitive, necessitating training and ongoing publishing support to function.

A tight project timeframe

To deal with all Bracknell Forest’s issues, Stenning and his team went to market for a new option - more specifically, The Digital Marketplace. Stenning searched G9 for a very specific set of requirements, though: the new platform had to be easy and fast to deploy - ideally in a two-to-three month timeframe, had to have been developed with the needs of the public sector squarely in mind, and had to offer a way to help his business users work and interact with each other very easily, on an individual or group basis.

The good news is that a suitable candidate was discovered, and as it could offer its functionality via a SaaS (Software as a Service) delivery schema, Stenning was reassured the project could be delivered in the tight timeframe he needed to meet.

Plus his new chosen supplier, Surrey-based Invotra, also had track record in working in other public sector contexts, he confirms, with engagements at the Home Office, Department for Transport, Department for Work and Pension and HMRC. Invotra has been appointed by Bracknell Forest Council on an initial two-year contract, with the option to extend for a further two years, with initial training completed within three weeks, allowing Bracknell Forest’s team of webmasters in turn deliver training to the wider team membership and get everyone fully engaged.

A social dimension that had been completely missing

Next step is to implement the intranet and get it working, of course. But hopes are high:

The intranet will enable staff to self-serve as we needed, but also get access to a range of collaborative tools, like blogs, newsfeeds, message walls, forums and polls. All these new features will allow staff to interact online and solve issues with the help of others in the organisation.

He also envisages the new design to be a lot easier for his users to drive, too, meaning Bracknell staff can easily find information without needing to be trained to do so.

An unexpected bonus, and a welcome addition to his original project aims, he adds, is the power of the new search facility, which he is confident will be able to help staff by providing the ability to search for people, teams, content and locations. Previously, for instance, staff tended to have to be pretty global with their attempts to identify useful help, like ‘all user’ broadcast emails, or having to constantly go to management in their own or other teams to find what they needed, for example.

Another is support for today’s much more mobile workforce, allowing useful council information to be accessible via any given device, from desktop to tablet.

This is important, because staff need to be able to access information flexibly and on the move, and also aligns with the council’s ‘Council Wide Support Services’ project review.

As of this month, Bracknell is developing a beta version of the new intranet with its new partner.

The aim with this phase, he says, is to thoroughly test the system prior to official go-live but also demonstrate the wide range of new ways of working to the team itself.

Stenning’s also working with service teams to create new content and publish it to the beta site, with Finance, HR, ICT Services, Legal and Property being the first set of priority areas.

A new staff directory, properly populated with key contact information, a dedicated new internal news section and support for intranet groups, notifications and feeds are all ready for roll-out too, he says.

Once all that is implemented, phase two will be a second wave of content creation for Comms and Marketing, Procurement, staff benefits, internal staff blogs and a slew of social features such as a new message wall, space for idea sharing and discussion forum availability.

Intriguingly, that discussion space could extend beyond Bracknell Forest - as the supplier has offered the chance to help with the alpha phase of a new ‘GOV.invotra’ feature – a digital comms platform where all its government clients can come together to discuss, share best practice and collaborate with one another.

Summing up, for Stenning,

We have found the experience of transforming our intranet to be very positive.

As proof, he points to some very positive feedback received from a special introductory training day held in October, which included comments such as “This seems far superior to our existing intranet; searching on our current intranet is nothing short of painful” and how, “The ability to follow people and content has added a social dimension that was previously missing.”