Unify Blog

digital jobsEmployee engagement. How on earth do you get hundreds or thousands of your widely dispersed employees feeling like they are a part of a community? Granted there will be meetings, and maybe, just maybe an annual ‘get together’ that brings them all in and made to feel included.

I am an anywhere worker – I make no bones about this – I love it! I have written about how to not feel isolated as a remote worker, I have written about the extra productivity gained by not commuting (I was even at the gym this morning instead of sat in a car on the motorway) and I have covered some of the ways that Circuit has made a difference to the way we work and what we are able to acheive.

We at Unify recently had a Quarter End. In bygone times, when Moses were a lad in short trousers and my employer was called GPT (an early instance of Unify.. and yes – I have been with the Company a long, long time!) each month and quarter and year end was a social and busy occasion. Everyone was in the office, stood by a fax machine waiting for an order to come through, bells would be rung and teams would banter about who would get the biggest order or the most orders. The friendly rivalry created an atmosphere of a place that you wanted to work and wanted to help to be successful.

Gone now are the fax machines and the vast, expensive to run offices. Now is the time of remote and flexible working.

NOT gone.. is the camaraderie and the month end ‘fun’. How can that be when we are not all in the same office? The answer is simple, basic even.

‘tech is not just for the serious elements of work’

The groups on Circuit are called ‘communities’ and ‘conversations’ because that is exactly what they are.

Last Quarter End a graph appeared in the ‘Sales Community’ conversation.. it recorded every order that was shared in the conversation in teams – by number of orders and by total order value. The graph showed the teams, their cumulative results, the Manager’s face at the the end of each bar.. and a clipart Crown on the winning Manager’s head (very modern-day ‘Blue Peter’).

So very simple… and spurred a HUGELY competitive week! Having received an order, the FIRST action by sales was to upload the info into the group, making sure that their team’s bar on the chart exceeded the other teams. The leaderboard was updated morning, lunch and end of day for that week.. images of ‘ringing’ bells started to appear when orders hit the conversation.. the encouragement of team mates flowed.

If you ever wondered how to recapture ‘the good old days of month end’ when few people are physically in the room together – well this was it. Circuit. Bringing people together, even when they aren’t.

The challenge is… what can I come up with for next month end…… hmmmmmm

<<strokes imaginary beard and gazes thoughtfully upwards>>


discover more at www.circuit.com

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Circuit, Collaboration, Team Working, Unified Communications

Technological challenges are not the only ones which councils need to overcome to transform services – council staff and the public need to get onboard.

Local government has absorbed more radical change in the past five years than many could have imagined. Between now and 2020, “billions more” are expected in cuts to local government services

In an interview with the Guardian, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, Greg Clark, said “council funding would be reduced by 6.7% between 2016 and 2020, with the bulk of the cuts “frontloaded” in the first two years before easing off in the last two.”

From the onset of austerity, services, jobs and working methods have changed out of recognition, but digital tools have helped blunt what could have been a deterioration in service standards.

Some of this would of course have happened even without austerity as possibilities of the internet and telecommunications steadily increased.

But austerity has been the spur. It provides an easily understood reason why change is necessary and unavoidable – and so perhaps makes it easier to convince people of the need for cultural change.

Any such change must not have a detrimental impact on current services and above all must take service users with it – the best technological solution will be worthless if the public refuses to use it.

Nor are technological solutions optimised unless they offer seamless working – one would not, for example, want adult social care and housing to work on incompatible systems.

The public does not of course directly see back office services, yet any difficulty here caused by staff unfamiliarly with a new way of working can quickly become highly problematic if administrative systems cannot provide the support needed to front line ones.

We must look at what a local authority wants to deliver, the resources it has to do that and how to implement ways of working which both staff and residents will be comfortable with.


The public adapts

Adaptation to digital is perhaps moving faster than one thinks. People who are used to ordering goods by clicking a mouse would be unlikely to use a high street shop that still insisted on a personal visit.

Local government does not ordinarily have customers who can take their business elsewhere, and has historically tended to provide a service into which users must fit.

Quite apart from financial pressures, will people who readily interact online with, say Amazon or Ryanair, remain content to deal with their local authority only through traditional means?

Any technological failure will attract unwelcome headlines thus making political leaders wary of radical change in service delivery.

But since austerity demands such radical responses, can these be delivered without disruption?

Using a digital strategy to solve the conundrum of maintaining services on a lower budget means looking beyond those early challenges to the long-term benefits that would make them worthwhile.

One immediate issue may be that a council’s IT system is obsolete (at least in digital world terms), and that the costs of replacing it look daunting.

However, it is possible for councils to deliver measurable efficiency savings from improved telecommunications.


Cultural changes

So, councils that seek to save money through digital transformation have two cultural changes to consider: the way their own staff work and the way the public engages with the council.

As the Local Government Knowledge Navigator’s ‘local government in the digital age’ paper notes: “Introducing mobile and flexible working can deliver enormous savings through estate rationalisation, increasing productivity and extending hours of service delivery. It can also increase staff loyalty, reduce absenteeism and deliver a better work-life balance.”

This may include greater flexibility over where and when staff work, allowing them to work outside the office, ‘mobile’ to work ‘on the move’, and ‘remote’ from home or another office.

Which of these options is chosen should flow from the service design, not service delivery flowing from what the technology happens to make possible.

While a local authority can train its staff, and try to win their ‘hearts and minds’, it will be on less sure ground with changing the way the public interacts with them.

If technology does not deliver as intended, residents may vent frustration at councillors leading to a high volume of complaint calls or by instigating unhelpful local media coverage.


Get on my Cloud

The concept of ‘the cloud’ is one such term that may require explanation to residents.

Although anyone who uses Amazon, or a webmail service, will without knowing it be a cloud user, staff may be disconcerted that software is not ‘on the premises’.

Local residents – while not generally interested in the council’s IT systems – may be alarmed that personal data is held ‘somewhere’ perhaps in circumstances of questionable security.

The cloud can provide multiple capabilities and being web-based is more easily integrated with mobile working and sharing across locations.

Councils can specify the degree of security they see fit and take advantage easily of future updates in software provided through the cloud.


How can success in digital transformation be secured?

Let’s look at some current examples of what councils want to do.

Cumbria County Council, which serves a mixture of urban, industrial and rural areas, has saved £80m in the past three years and must save a further £83m by 2018.

It has many successful digital services – everything from school admissions to ‘blue badge’ applications, but these evolved separately rather than as part of a concerted strategy.

Cumbria now seeks to drive down costs further, citing national benchmarking that shows the cost of digital transactions to be up to 30 times less than face-to-face meetings and also lower than phone and post.

To make this work, the public will be encouraged to use the service outside traditional office hours – a cultural change in itself on both sides – and older people will be supported to stay living independently rather than in a care home through access to home shopping and support services online.

Cumbria’s policy paper on this notes that web access can open up education and employment opportunities, reduce rural isolation and bring services to residents when it would be inconvenient for them to physically access them.

Access to benefits such as Universal Credit will increasingly be online at central government insistence, and therefore actual or potential claimants must be targeted for digital inclusion.

Managing these changes requires Cumbria’s service centre to shift emphasis from being a facility that largely deals with human resources and payroll enquires to the key link between internal and external customers, responsible for the management and delivery of transaction based activities across the council.

Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council has set goals that include contributing to Greater Manchester being in the world top 20 for super connected city regions by 2020 by “ensuring everyone enjoys the power of digital, empowering people and communities through digital services” and support for local businesses to better exploit digital opportunities.

It intends to market the borough as a digitally successful place to attract new business and to encourage and enable local people to become self-reliant online and expand online transactions and social media.

Wigan’s proposed measures of success include reducing number of people who do not have basic digital skills by 8% annually, and that 2017 all staff will be digitally included in partner organisations, all of which will utilise social media channels and offer an online presence for customers.

Wigan is a densely populated urban area but digital is still essential across far flung rural Argyll & Bute Council.

The council’s strategy shows it will maintain a range of customer access channels to ensure choice, but implement a digital first approach. It will develop a new base level e-learning course in customer care and procure a ‘next generation’ customer contact and customer relationship management system capable of .supporting new mobile web and social media interactions.


Switched-on switchboard

At Oadby and Wigston Borough Council the council’s switchboard had seen many calls unanswered, abandoned or misdirected and it urgently needed a communications system that would improve customer services. With a ‘one number’ system that can be used by up to 1,000 people, they integrated contact centre applications.

This gave Oadby & Wigston improved staff productivity and collaboration, better customer service and reduced the number of calls lost or abandoned.

Or take Wakefield Council, which found £100,000 in efficiency savings. The council wanted to rationalise its estate and move more than 2,500 employees into more flexible working environments.

They identified the potential for mobile working and the work practices, business processes and platforms needed to enable this.

‘Connected places’ in which local authorities, their partners and customers are linked up can help councils to solve the question of how they deliver the services their public expects while their budgets shrink.

Digital may not fill all that gap, but explained well and with careful steps to educate staff and customers, it can deliver important benefits.



  • One of the barriers to digitising services in the UK is a combination of three elements – culture, technology and skills.

  • Cumbria County Council’s digital transformation has saved £80m in the past three years.

  • Councils seeking to save money through digital transformation have two cultural changes to consider: the way their own staff work and the way the public engages with the council.

  • Digitally successful places can attract new business and can encourage and enable local people to become self-reliant online, expanding services and streamlining delivery.

  • Faster access to, and sharing of, data between councils, customers, and partner organisations can avoid the need to collect the same information over again and saving time on information collation and service delivery.

Discover how to transform to a next generation local government by downloading your free report The Local Authority Of The Future: Where The Town Comes First now.

Posted in Unified Communications

Mobile Baton

Mobile Baton streamlines clinical efficiencies. It allows your doctors, consultants, and other medical staff to be contacted by “one published number” on any chosen device. A button, via the app, can be selected to let teams know who is on call or available to deal with situations in real-time.

According to a recent report by the Nuffield Trust, “clinically led improvement, enabled by new technology, is transforming the delivery of healthcare and our management of population health. Yet strategic decisions about clinical transformation and the associated investment in information and digital technology can all too often be a footnote to NHS board discussions. This needs to change.”

With mobile baton, investing in unified communications technology can enhance patient care, lower telephony costs and increase operational efficiency.

Staff can be contactable at any location through a single number, greatly increasing efficiency by removing barriers to connectivity that were previously in place from the multiple devices used. This benefit extends to patients and other callers who may wish to speak with a specific clinician – these calls and queries can be quickly forwarded to the correct person or message box.

Discover more in our video below, and download The Modern Patient Experience: Where Care Matters as we unlock the true value of streamlined communication between clinical staff to drive improved care standards.

Posted in Unified Communications

Every week I give you a run down of 5 things to read to get your week started. Everything from Tech to Millennial working habits and some of my perspective on top. Here’s my 5 things this week:

Need a professional Drone Operator?
If you read a lot of media it can sometimes seem like Drones are just a nuisance. But that’s quite reductive, Drones are being used helpfully in all sorts of scenarios from inspecting wings on airplanes to providing live footage from sporting events. If you’ve ever piloted a Drone you probably found it quite difficult to get started, lets just say it’s not a skill this writer has. It seems natural then that as Drones become more common so too will professional Drone operator’s become a thing. And they have, in this article Techcrunch talks about a new directory for Drone pilots Read More

Read more ›

Posted in Unified Communications

How to enable delivery of long term efficiencies within your local authority during austerity.

Reducing costs while maintaining service delivery is now the double standard for which local authorities aim. Despite the difficulties brought about by declining resources and budget, opportunities are presented in the form of digital technology.

It’s arguable that technological developments that enable shared services – mobile working, customers ‘self serving’ and much else – have come together at just the right time as local authorities grapple with the implications of the 2016-17 local government settlement.

But how can these technological developments best be used?

The spread of shared services

What can local authorities and other public bodies do to work through austerity and enable the digital solutions needed to deliver goals, then support them in their use and development?

Let’s take shared services as an example. The Local Government Association’s map of shared services for 2015 shows 416 such arrangements between councils resulting in £462m of efficiency savings. Only a decade ago, a similar map would have been more or less blank.

Could those savings though be greater still if they more fully exploited the possibilities of next generation digital technology?

From the bottom up

Council’s saw desirable efficiency savings within shared services and then, with the onset of austerity, a compelling necessity grew to look for ways to increasingly deliver services even more economically.

Things have come a long way from when every council had its own chief executive, management team and service provision – there is now a diverse pattern and it can be hard even for those within the sector to grasp its full extent.

This will surely go further following the November 2015 Spending Review, which, as the Local Government Association has said, handed down a 6.7% real terms reduction, meaning a £4.1bn funding cut on top of almost £10bn in further demand-led cost pressures projected by the end of the decade, chiefly in adult social care.

While sharing across tiers is relatively rare since these councils do different things, we can surely expect a steady increase in sharing arrangements between similar councils or groups thereof even across traditional regional boundaries – the collaboration of Cherwell, South Northamptonshire and Stratford-Upon-Avon being a case in point.

With council tax increases in effect restricted to 2% (other than for the social care precept in top tier authorities), revenue from retained business rates uncertain and the success of council business venture unknown, increasing income is problematic.

Up in the Cloud

But next generation technology can bear down on the costs side of the equation by imaginative use of the internet, phone systems and the opportunities offered by the “cloud”.

Extending shared services from local authorities into the NHS or emergency services brings the additional challenges of integrating different systems, practices and cultures that can hamper efficiency.

How then should local policymakers seek to connect both themselves and the public with disparate and geographically spread service providers and perhaps those providers with each other?

In the connected council of tomorrow – whether it serves a city, several towns, or a rural area – next generation technologies will be key to solving the question: how can we save money while not damaging service provision, or if we must reduce provision, how might that be done in the least damaging way?

Seamless services for residents. Think bringing together different voice, video and data channels into one straightforward platform that allows teams to collaborate securely, effectively and efficiently anywhere and at any time.

Out of the problems of austerity could come a new way of working in which, once staff and the public become used to it, outcomes could be better.

A connected council

Let’s think of a few examples of how a ‘connected council’ could relate to service users.

Suppose a care worker finds that a client’s unexpected needs that day cannot be left unattended and so the carer is slowed down in completing their list of visits?

If that happened more than once in a day, the carer would soon be running seriously late to clients’ homes and perhaps unable to complete their work within normal hours.

Suppose though that the carer is tracked in their work by a telecommunications device that logs their arrival and departure at each venue.

If they then become delayed their manager will know instantly, and can use their judgement to reroute other carers to ensure that clients are seen with the minimum delay. Let’s look at it from a customer service point of view: if the carer is running late, a notification can be sent to the individual letting them know an updated time of arrival. This is crucial in ensuring a better citizen experience.

Overcoming ‘Big Brother’

Introducing such schemes may seem like ‘Big Brother’ if staff think they are used simply to control them, but if explained that they deliver information to enhance service delivery and swiftly resolve problems, people will be more receptive.

That is example of a connected council improving services provided by its staff or those contracted to it.

But there will also be benefits to the wider local economy of a ‘connected city’ or indeed ‘connected area’ where a council has ensured that high quality broadband and widespread a free wi-fi are on offer.

Those with a choice of where to live, work and invest may well be drawn to such locations, whether as tourists, investors or permanent residents.

Those whose work means they have no need to be in cities will look to rural areas with excellent telecommunications, and those that do need to be in cities will want to locate where they are well connected. Such developments could help places that at present struggle economically.

Innovative use of technology could be the factor that helps both services and local economies to survive and thrive during austerity.


  • Shared services should be seen as a catalyst for reduced spending.
  • Councils can work in partnership with other agencies and authorities to save money.
  • Shared services, while cutting costs, can deliver efficient services for local citizens.
  • The pressure is on to provide the same level of services with a reduced budget. More and more councils are sharing services, mainly back office ones, to improve efficiency and effectiveness and to save money.
  • Out of the problems of austerity could come a new way of working in which, once staff and the public become used to it, outcomes could be better.


Discover how shared services can enable the delivery of long term efficiencies by downloading your free report The Local Authority of the Future: Where The Citizen Comes First now.


Posted in Unified Communications

Dear ‘responsible person’

I am sure you will have seen a raft of information regarding telecommunications systems going End of Life – but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t clarify the position as regards end of life and support.

But first, the impact. This clearly depends on the risk appetite of your organisation. My personal view is that organisations that provide revenue generating services such as Clearing should not be prepared to accept this level of risk. This becomes even more critical if those organisations rely on this technology to handle their clearing, Imagine the impact on the financial state of the organisation if students were unable to enroll because communications were down, and the fault couldn’t be fixed due to the lack of immediately available, reliable and compatible spares.

Read more ›

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in Technology, Unified Communications