By Nathan Marke
With public sector budgets being cut extensively until 2013, increasing workforce effectiveness is a top priority. But with funding in short supply some organisations are continuing to support ageing, costly infrastructures. The author explains how a better connected workforce can drive productivity and process efficiency, removing costs and delivering value overall. He relates his experience in the London Borough of Brent.
As a result of concerted efforts to drive efficiency savings, there is a renewed focus on the “better connected workforce”, one that ensures employees are productive, regardless of location and at times that can fall outside of traditional working hours. This requires people to be connected, whether they are at a main site or head office, at a customer premises, at a patient’s house or in their own home office.
Employees not only need to be connected through a supportive network and information infrastructure and collaborative tools, but they also need to feel connected. Support systems must be in place for them to access helpdesks and training. They also need to quickly reach colleagues and share ideas efficiently.
With this in mind, flexible working methods can create a better connected workforce, by equipping and empowering employees with the right tools to work as efficiently as possible. This can mean giving employees access to a modern Intranet that will include blogs, wiki’s and per department pages, as well as offering email from Blackberrys, Windows Mobile based devices and even iPhones.
As a result of government pressures to drive efficiency savings whilst supporting a workforce that is better connected, many organisations are looking to demonstrate significant cost savings, either through major transformation programmes or single ‘business as usual’ projects. There is an increasing demand for Software as a Service (SaaS) and hosted solutions to deliver IT infrastructures that combine multiple legacy networks with Unified Communications & Collaboration programmes that allow flexible, remote working for employees.
Particularly in light of the recent Icelandic volcano ash cloud crisis, which saw thousands of employees stranded and unable to work, organisations are increasingly turning to alternative ways of working collaboratively. Many are planning to consolidate their property estates, rationalising IT infrastructure and creating either a virtual private cloud or entering into more hosting and managed services contracts. Either way, organisations need to ensure they have the technology in place to ensure data protection and integrity, yet make it possible for employees to work wherever they are.
Fundamentally, an organisation must deliver the best quality of services to its customers for least cost; this can be achieved through better internal communication and streamlined IT assisted processes. In turn, this will make the delivery model more efficient, by reducing expenses and the cost of the communication infrastructure.
Any new technology must be supported by excellent staff training and support to ensure rapid end user adoption– this must take place before the change so people know what to expect, during the change so that they are hand-held throughout the deployment (and their work is not affected) and after the change so they know how to access help and support.
In addition to good support, organisations must be sure to educate users about security risks and the measures that are in place to keep these to a minimum; the recent heavy penalties for data breaches makes this a clear priority. As roaming and home based connectivity becomes the norm, potential threats will no doubt increase. For example, confidential information that was historically kept on the network is now transported onto mobile devices that can be lost or stolen. There must, therefore, be secure authentication and encryption of data on mobile devices. Strong authentication and policy-based control over access, for example enforcing the use of Virtual Private Networks, personal firewalls and anti-virus programs, as well as pushing the latest operating system patches into place before allowing remote access, must all be part of the process of adopting a new flexible ICT infrastructure.
Despite the growing demand for hosted solutions that enable better workforce efficiency, some organisations are still running costly ICT platforms that are full of data but have become progressively less useful over time. In order to benefit from even basic collaboration, these existing platforms must be upgraded to support new work practices or new applications. For example, those using old versions of Novell, Microsoft Exchange and Notes must first move to a single directory environment to provide the platform for better employee collaboration.
Unfortunately, any hint that the process of upgrade may be complicated or costly will discourage some CFOs and CIOs. Perhaps this is why many organisations are still in the pilot stages of rolling out IP telephony, instant messaging and enterprise portals, despite Gartner research suggesting that almost every single one can see itself benefiting from equipping employees with new tools in different ways. If these organisations could be reassured that the budget spent on redundant data storage and ageing infrastructure could be re-aligned to other programmes, some of which can drive a 6 – 9 month ROI, perhaps they might look into investing.
The London Borough of Brent
A large number of local authorities, public sector organisations and private enterprises are taking a unified communications approach in a bid to consolidate costs and deliver flexible working for employees, the common aim being to allow users to access information, applications and each other in a manner that is drastically improved over the existing systems.
The London Borough of Brent is just one that has taken the plunge, overhauling its existing IT infrastructure in favour of a fresh approach. In a £1.5 million five-year deal, Brent invested in a radical transformation programme to deliver Unified Communications & Collaboration programs across the organisation, through a modern, cost-effective and flexible IT platform that could be used across the council’s entire IT estate. This will enable 3,500 staff to work flexibly, revolutionising the ways in which they could communicate both internally and externally, via fast, efficient and easy-to-use IT.
Brent’s feedback so far is that staff are now better able to connect with one another, reducing cost, shortening decision times, accelerating innovation and ultimately delivering a better service to the public. Already, the London Borough of Brent is seeing the benefits, with the new collaboration architecture being a major part of the Transformational Agenda which will change the way in which the council will work over the next five years.
There is a tremendous pressure on the public sector to deliver efficiency savings and increase productivity in light of the new government’s vow to make £6bn in savings over the next year, and greater savings beyond. Technology will often be in the firing line when public spend is being reduced, so organisations must find ways to face the scrutiny head on and prove cost-effectiveness.
Many organisations are embracing change to deliver cost efficiency or carbon reduction through new virtualised data centres or by reducing the amount of storage required by de-duplicating unstructured data. These methods allow employees to work flexibly and enable better collaboration between employees. However a number of organisations are running scared; those that are investing in new collaboration architectures are showing real initiative at a time when it would be more palatable to simply reduce cost, whereas other, perhaps more timid organisations are continuing to support ageing, costly infrastructures.
Fundamentally, organisations that are succeeding in cost-effectively modernising and upgrading their ICT infrastructure for a better connected workforce are those that are equipping their employees with new tools in different ways, creating a flexible working culture that is popular all round. Attracting new employees and clients through a more modern and diverse image is an essential part of business today. Equipping employees for flexible working is therefore an essential part of today’s business environment, and one that must be considered within any modern, secure and compliant ICT programme.
Nathan Marke is the Chief Technology Officer at 2e2.