Unify Blog

Falling tree

So here in the UK, Storm ‘Doris’ hit many areas hard in the last 48 hours. With 94 mph winds, it has offered some ‘challenges’.

Travel has been arduous and taken many hours longer than it should have. Damage to trees, cars and sadly people has been on the news and on everyone’s lips. Snow, torrential rain and howling winds have taken their toll – shutting roads, ports and bridges, and even grounding planes.  Powercuts have spurred on resourcefulness (and cries of ‘where are those candles I bought for emergencies back in 1989?!’), and many parent’s sigh of relief that their children’s tablet has enough battery life to keep the ‘yunguns’ entertained.

It has been disruptive.

How do I know this? Well, firstly I live in the UK. Secondly, I saw it on Facebook and Twitter.

From my home office I saw rain and wind  through the window, and popped my head out the back door occasionally to check that the fencing was still in place, and had to cancel plans last evening because a friend could not get home from London in time due to debris on train tracks.

I was incredibly lucky that I did not have to travel to work – or anywhere in fact. I worked from home as I often do.

It is when furies like ‘Doris’ hit that I am reminded how  being an anywhere worker helps me to minimse time and risks of travelling in adverse conditions, and importantly – it  helps me to keep in touch with people that are travelling so that I know they are safe .

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Posted in Mobile Working

A mobile workforce can transform your council. Here’s how mobile is enabling public sector innovation and improved services.

The new workforce of the local authority how mobile is enabling public sector innovation and improved services
A new local authority workforce

Austerity and cutbacks are putting services at risk – everything from provision for children and vulnerable people to health and social care is under threat. But heads of services can see off the effects of the cuts and improve services if they look at creating a more effective workforce.

Mobile flexible staff can save on costs and free up more people to work in the community, with a positive impact on services. As flexible working becomes standard practice in modern workplaces – with nearly all employers offering staff at least one flexible working option and seven in 10 offering more than three  – local authorities will win out, particularly when technology makes it all that much easier.

And, as more jobs are computerised (some 35% of current jobs are likely to fall into this category over the next 20 years) digital technology will mean that more and more people will be working virtually.

 

What can a mobile workforce do for you?

A more mobile workforce can help you cut down on office costs and staff travel time and expenses by getting people to work from home or in the local community where they are based.

It can mean having a more productive workforce as staff spend more time in the community rather than in the office, getting rid of the need for paperwork and making a difference to the services you provide. You can get other benefits like a reduction in staff costs as employees’ productivity increases, making merging your services with other local authorities a good option.

And if you have the right technology, you’ll find that having a mobile workforce is easy. For example, mobile devices like laptops and smartphones as well as apps and cloud-based computing, offering shared calendars, service directories and address books, can give staff access to services remotely and instantly providing them with all the information and data they need so they can do their jobs better. Shared data can be particularly important, for example, when heads of services are looking to integrate health and care.

 

Are you ready to change the way you work?

Many local councils have been moving away from traditional office-based working and getting staff to work while they’re on the move. Social workers and occupational therapists from Southend-on-Sea’s adult social services department, for example, were given laptops so they could carry out support assessments with their clients in their homes.

They had an online link to the council so that the information could be entered into the local authority’s care management system. Through an online calculator staff could work out a personal budget score. Having the laptop meant that the social workers and occupational therapists did not have to travel back to the office to deal with paperwork or put information into a computer.

A similar way of working helped the London Borough of Sutton make efficiency savings of up to 47%: it provided staff with tablets so they could make a note of information while they were carrying out their work. This also led to a 30% increase in productivity among staff. Apps, cloud-based computing and video-conferencing also made them a more effective workforce. The council has also merged 15 services with other councils saving £8 million.

Meanwhile, Moray Council in Scotland set up mobile working for its housing repairs staff, despite a poor mobile signal in most of the area. To tackle the signal problem, the council introduced a system that allowed them to do their work even when they had no connection. Staff could get details of jobs and input information once a job had been completed while they were out and about, which reduced their travelling time. The team could also make sure its stock was up to date by ordering it remotely, which meant they always had the parts they needed on their vans.

At Wakefield Council, a Worksmart programme meant more than 2,500 employees moved over to flexible working by using solutions that allowed the council to deal more efficiently with around 300,000 queries every year. The centralised phone service saved the local authority £100,000 as it could cut the number of landline phones by 60%. The system also allowed more staff to work from home or out in the community, which helped make them more productive.

Wakefield is also planning a new primary customer contact centre as well as ‘hot-desking’ facilities and ‘touchdown’ rooms designed to enable staff to work while they’re away from their usual base.

The voice infrastructure gave staff more control over calls, as they could manage them wherever they were. As a result of the changes, the local authority’s housing benefits department had an increase in productivity of 20% through flexible working, 225,000 fewer commuter miles per year were travelled in one council service and £1.6 million was saved by rationalising property.

Aberdeenshire Council has also developed a Worksmart programme to cut costs in office space from 98 facilities to 54 by 2017/18, which it expects will save £920,000 a year – and to make its services more efficient. The council can do this by having more flexible staff working mainly in the community who between them do not need as much office space as fixed staff, providing them with ‘hot-desking’ space when they need it. Through telephony and web-based technology staff can connect to the council network through Wifi across Aberdeenshire. Video-conferencing and a single access point will mean the public will have their questions answered at their first point of contact.

Jim Savege, the council’s chief executive, said: “I’m keen to encourage managers and teams to think differently about innovative ways of working together, using a combination of face-to-face catch ups, online discussions and innovative collaboration tools.

“Worksmart enables staff to work more flexibly, and has already brought tangible benefits for the organisation (reduced business mileage and reduced office space), employees (improved work-life balance and increased productivity) and customers (improved service delivery). All managers are now expected to lead their teams to work smartly. This means a shift in thinking from ‘my desk’ to ‘my work space’, it means looking at how you access business information, improving processes and fostering trust.”

 

Discover more about local government innovation, drive service delivery, reduce costs, and enable a truly mobile workforce. Download The Local Authority Of The Future: Where The Citizen Comes First.

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Posted in Unified Communications

By Paul Bender, Global Public Sector Marketing

 

The United States’ Founding Fathers never would have fathomed the ways technology would impact government communication. Social media, mobile apps, email, blogging, and chat tools have offered invaluable opportunities for government agencies to share information with the nation, as well as receive civilian feedback.

But as invaluable as technology has become, there is still progress to be made in terms of achieving a truly connected state with citizens. We all remember the launch of HealthCare.gov, the Federal Government’s online healthcare exchange, just over three years ago. While the issues with the website have long been resolved, initially users experienced frustration with faulty data, inescapable loops and odd error messages. As The Verge reported in Oct. 2013, it was mainly an issue of interoperability and continuity. This spanned the dozen or so agencies and contractors responsible for developing the site, as well as how the access to information between the Federal and State Governments. This was a point where citizen engagement was of the utmost importance, but the experience was buggy and ineffective.

While there were many lessons learned during the HealthCare.gov experience, ensuring reliable and intuitive communication with the country was a key takeaway. To achieve a connected state with the nation’s citizens, the government is exploring new technologies and balancing those with meticulous standards to ensure smoother lines of communication ahead.

 

Multichannel Approach to Citizen Engagement

When it comes to technology adoption, the Federal Government tends to be on the trailing edge. That is, the government is actively evaluating new technological innovations, but these tools need to be carefully tried and tested before they can be deployed. This means that many government agencies are still catching up with some important channels for engaging people across the country.

As many private sector enterprises are doing, government agencies need to take a multichannel approach to citizen communications within the overarching unified communications (UC) strategy. This means individuals should have a consistent and effective experience across different platforms to access the information they need, when they need it. Likewise, government personnel need to be able to take instant action on the data produced by citizens as they submit online forms or leave comments. This means interoperability should be a priority from the start, rather than an afterthought.

For many government agencies, self-service portals are key. This approach allows individuals to navigate to important information on their own, which greatly reduces costs. That said, agencies must ensure their platforms and services are connected cohesively on the backend, providing people with a clear pathway to desired resources. In addition, many agencies are building on-demand support, like chat, into their self-service tools to address any questions or concerns citizens may have along the way. This means that no matter what channels of communication an agency uses, the architecture needs to interoperate and provide a seamless experience internally and externally.

 

The Growing Role of Mobile

Pew Research estimates that nearly seven out of ten adults in America own a smartphone, however, talking on the phone is starting to become passé. Deloitte predicted in early 2016 that over a quarter of smartphone users would not make any traditional phone calls in an average week. While voice calls are certainly still a key communication method for the government, alternative mobile experiences are growing ever more essential.

Fortunately, mobile phones offer much more than voice as a means for the populace to connect with the government. Mobile apps, email and mobile-friendly versions of websites are all potential channels for the government to improve engagement. Even texting has become a key tool, particularly for the Federal Communications Commission’s Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system, which can swiftly warn citizens of an imminent threat within a given geographic location.

Today, mobile is an essential part of any agency’s UC strategy, however it is another channel that needs to interoperate well within the existing UC framework.

 

Diversification of Social Media

Government agencies have varying levels of social media use, which means some agencies are missing out on opportunities to break down even more communication barriers with citizens. Earlier this year, Bianca Spinosa wrote a story for FCW highlighting the growing popularity of Snapchat for government agencies, including “USA.gov, the White House, NASA, the Peace Corps, and two Smithsonian museums — the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of the American Indian.” As Snapchat grew in popularity and expanded beyond a millennial fad, these government agencies recognized the value of the platform in terms of sharing interesting information with audiences.

Snapchat is by no means the final frontier. The key benefit of social media is that the conversation is a two-way street. Social media gives citizens the chance to respond immediately to posts or give valuable feedback that can help inform and improve social services. There are also ways to weave social media into intranets or backend infrastructure to ensure social media data is easily accessible for government personnel, too.

 

When it comes to reaching audiences, as citizens go, so goes the government. While careful planning and audience research is imperative before government agencies jump on any new technology, unified communications strategies should reflect the fact that the channels for communication with the populous will only increase and diversify in the coming years. The key for agencies is to ensure strong interoperability of these channels on the back

Posted in Public Sector

Here at Circuit HQ we are loving some of the new features Apple has introduced in iOS 10. Finally users have more control over how they communicate. With collaboration apps like Circuit, the traditional mobile call isn’t the main and dominating communication method anymore, that pushes everything else into the background. So what exactly has Apple introduced with their CallKit API, and how do we leverage it for Circuit?

Read more ›

Posted in Circuit

Digital plays a key role in the shift to new ways of working for local councils, offering the opportunity to respond to changing public digital demand and to make efficiency savings.

Streamlining services across local authority teams why collaboration is key-01
Streamlining local council services

Keeping children safe, making sure vulnerable people have their needs met and working to promote public health and provide social care can be a challenge at a time when local government finances are under pressure.

But unified communications and collaborative working along with new powers enabling councils to keep all cash made from the sale of assets and raise extra money to fund social care can help local authorities rise to the challenge – and put into practice the government’s agenda of shifting power to authorities.

 

Why should you collaborate?

Local authority heads of services are already talking to and working with other agencies and across departments to share scarce resources and information, tackle common or ‘cross-cutting’ issues like fear of crime or social exclusion, and avoid duplicating services.

Council leaders are convinced that joint working is the way forward – in 2025 44% are likely to work in partnership with others on technological innovation, 41% on outsourcing whole services and 41% on streamlining services and making efficiencies; only 6% said they would do everything in-house.

 

Does your collaboration have the hallmarks of success?

Working with other agencies to streamline your services can save you money, make provision more effective and build the council’s reputation as a local leader in the community. There are different kinds of collaboration – from formal types where organisations are merged into one unit with shared goals and a separate identity, along with a long-term vision, to informal networking arrangements, where a loose agreement to share resources and support activities leads to a short-term collaboration. They can involve sharing services with local charities to get information about vulnerable citizens or outsourcing services completely.

But what makes for a successful partnership? One obvious key requirement is strong leadership, particularly in the first stages of a collaboration – getting the chief executive or council leader involved can help see a partnership through its early days. The leadership might change as the project develops.

It’s important to set your sights on what can get the best results for local people rather than what individual partners might get out of a collaboration and it goes without saying that relationships between partners need to be built on trust. Getting things set up quickly rather than letting plans drift and being able to deal with risks effectively are also crucial. And it’s important to measure the cost benefits of collaboration to find out what the return is on your investment. This will help you plan for the future and make you accountable.

Communication is also crucial. Staying in touch with your partners and keeping up with developments can be easier through technology like video-conferencing so you don’t have to meet face-to-face and cloud-computing, which allows you to share information.

 

How are councils working in partnership to streamline services?

Local authorities across the country are joining forces with other agencies to provide a number of services, like helping vulnerable people in the community, tackling unemployment and deprivation and raising awareness of difficult topics. They are working with partners in health, bringing together health and care records and gathering data from across agencies to support integrated commissioning.

For example, Leeds and Cheshire local authorities have been working on integrated digital care records. The project involved merging key information from the partners’ separate systems into a single web-based application. The councils believed integration would help provide more joined up care and offer value for money.

Councils working on the government’s Troubled Families initiative have been using technology to  strengthen partnership working , which in turn has led to a better focus on families that needs support.

For example, Manchester City Council extended access to its database of information through secure web log-ins to a wide range of local partners, including NHS Manchester. As a result, work to identify families eligible for support through the programme grew and not only have more families received support, but the council has also been able to build a more complete picture of the issues the families face so partners can better meet their needs.

Meanwhile, Buckinghamshire County Council collaborated closely with four district councils as well as agencies such as Jobcentre Plus, Citizens Advice and other voluntary groups, to develop a web-based universal benefit calculator tool, which was tailored to the local area. It allows advisors to provide people with information on how they might be better off in work. Two other tools were also developed to deal with the area’s poor broadband connections – a mobile offline version of the benefit calculator, which can be used in different locations on tablet devices and a My Next Steps app to help advisors prioritise applicants and make referrals and search for local organisations that can offer support.

Although welfare is mostly the responsibility of the district council, the county council is involved in the partnership to strengthen its leadership role and ensure vulnerable residents are protected.

Meanwhile Lewes District Council uses a secure cloud-based collaboration tool not just to work with its own staff and the public but also with partners, such as probation and criminal justice services. The tool allows staff across the partnership to provide effective case management and agencies to work in a more joined-up way.

 

How are partnerships sharing knowledge to inform services?

Along with providing services, partnerships can give local authorities access to education institutions’ knowledge to help them back up decisions they make about services. They’ll also be able to share the costs of the research.

Southampton adult social care services teamed up with Southampton University on the Care Life Cycle Research Project, which looked at the ageing population and demands on health and social care in UK. It used information on the older population’s health and living arrangements and a range of other characteristics from local and national data sources. It also included local health and social care providers’ data on their services and planned changes. The research outlined whether helping carers support older people could cut the demand for more expensive local authority support. It’s been used to predict the demand for social care in the future and to get an overall picture of the role local authority services play.

 

Discover more about streamlining services across local authority teams. Download The Local Authority Of The Future: Where The Citizen Comes First for best practice guidelines to help you working more collaboratively.

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Posted in Unified Communications

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.

To begin – this is absolutely NOT a ‘woe is me’ blog. This blog is a true account of how Flex Working has enabled a family to retain ‘normality’ in a difficult situation.  Why am I telling this? Because it is factual, because it is relevant and because I like to address the taboo at times!

Naturally, there will be those that think that the course of action taken is insensitive or ‘wrong’. To those I say – we all deal with situations in our own way, in a way that helps us to get through them, and we are all individuals with individual paths.

Let’s go back four years. My mother was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. Surgery, Radiotherapy, Chemotherapy – it all went by in a blur, and my family’s lives changed forever.  This was a time of shock, change and fear of the unknown. We all took time away from working lives to be there and support – and to learn and understand what impact this would have, not only on Mum’s life, but also on our own.

One lesson I have learned along this 4 year journey is ‘what being able to work means to the sick’. At first, Mum’s employer was supportive of mum with her illness, but then as the sick pay runs out, and her ability to travel to work is impaired with the frequent hospital visits and bouts of extreme tiredness due to the treatments – She was pensioned off.

She lost daily contact with colleagues and her  feeling of worth deteriorated, the job  that she loved (and had studied for years to qualify for) was no longer hers. She missed her friends and interaction.  Her employer lost a loyal, committed and knowledgeable employee – taking with her experience and skills that they could have leveraged – had they had technology such as Circuit.  Circuit would have enabled knowledge share/team collaboration/advice on an ad hoc basis – the employer retains knowledge whilst the employee retains a feeling of value.  Even on a consultancy basis, this could have made Mum’s convalescence so much easier as she would have still felt valued, and her employer would have continued to realise the investment they had made into Mum’s education and qualifications.

Moving on, how has flex working helped me lately? Well, here is a diary of a recent week !

Monday: work from home, pack straight after and drive 100 or so miles to Mum’s to stay overnight ready for an early start the next day.  Because I am an ‘anywhere worker’ I am able to stay with Mum to help her out for a week after her Chemotherapy – so much better for her than taking her home to mine and her having to fit in with our daily madness at home. This way she gets to relax and be comfortable in her own home, her own bed, and with her own routine – but with that little bit of assistance and company through the post treatment lull.

Tuesday: Leave the house early, having booked a half day holiday. Now the reason for that half day’s holiday is that I would be spending a significant part of my day driving the 60 miles or so to the hospital for Chemotherapy treatment, so whilst driving I am not being productive. However, I only booked a half day as whilst the treatment was in progress and Mum slept, I had wifi and a laptop (and coffee!) and was able to be totally productive thanks to flexible work enabling technology. During this treatment though, it was identified that we now needed an urgent blood transfusion and an appointment to kick off a ‘port’ being fitted for administering future treatments, PLUS (yup… ANOTHER appointment) for a review with the Oncologist. Not a problem I say, I am fortunate that I am a) already staying at mum’s, b) my children are grown and don’t need me to rush home and c) I can work remotely and flexibly!

Wednesday: A work from (Mum’s) home day.  Pretty uneventful, business as usual.

Thursday: Early start, head the 60 miles back to the hospital for an early meeting with the Oncologist. I take another half day’s leave because actually, I need my head in  the room for this meeting – and I really do know when it is the right time to switch off work.  The appointment last’s just half hour, so we head to a restaurant for lunch and for me to get on the wifi and work for a couple of hours before the next meeting. Back to hospital, next appointment done and dusted, and then head to a local hotel. Hit the room, log onto free wifi and work til dinner.

Friday: Early start for blood transfusion. Settle Mum in, grab a coffee and whilst she sleeps I am working… typing this blog, amongst other things, as it happens!

So that is my week. I have demonstrated agility, I have worked flexible hours, I have known when is right to give my full attention to personal life over work – and taken holiday accordingly.

As this illness has been ongoing for 4 years, we have all learned to live with it. It is what it is. We are not complacent – but we have all adapted to a new way of living with it. Personally, I have found ‘business as usual’ to be very grounding.  I thank my lucky stars that I am able to balance work and life thanks to new ways to work.

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Posted in Mobile Working