Tag Archives: bt

BT field-based workers use the digital workplace

I read Jane McConnell’s latest blog post ‘Floor-field workforce: the forgotten people?‘ with great interest.  I agree with Jane that office workers are currently the main focus for digital workplace transformations.  But there are some enterprises who lead the game for field-based workers.

It reminded me of when I was the BT intranet manager.  BT had employees who worked mainly from offices or while mobile or remotely from home or local hubs. I was involved in a project to give everyone, including field-based workers, access to BT’s intranet and developing digital workplace.  The project was seen as key to BT’s overall transformation as a business and was closely linked to wider strategic business priorities that included, higher customer service, improved employee productivity, and reduced office and travel costs.

The hardest part of this transformation was equipping all the field-based engineers who visited customers at their homes or places of work.  At the time BT had around 30,000 field engineers spread across the whole of the UK.  Some places were very remote and customers in difficult places to get to.  But this was not just a change of technology project.  It would bring about a huge change in how engineers worked and behaved with other team members, manager, everyone in BT and most importantly their customers.

Equipping every engineer with a laptop or smartphone with access to the digital workplace to upload and download customer progress reports and next job was expensive and technically complex.  The time needed to plan, test and implement for so many people didn’t encourage senior managers to commit easily to this project when quick results counted.  Because of these factors – cost, complexity, time to roll out – BT’s field engineers were the last group to be connected to the digital workplace.

To answer Jane’s point, the field-based engineers were not forgotten in BT but prioritised with everyone else because it wasn’t easy, quick, or cheap to achieve or for business benefits to be realised.

Before the transformation engineers would meet at the start of each day at one location to be given their work by their manager and to plan their routes from there to the each customer’s home or place of work.  They shared knowledge with their team members over a cup of tea before they started on traffic problems, technical tips, new products coming soon, etc.  Any news was given by their manager before they left for their first visit either individually or if appropriate together in an informal meeting.

After the transformation field-based engineers downloaded their first job (not their day’s work schedule) at home using their laptop and free broadband  connection to the online work tool in the digital workplace.  Travel was straight from their home to their first customer saving time and costs – there was no visit to their usual location at the start of each day.  When each customer’s visit was successfully completed the engineer uploaded this outcome to the online tool and be informed of the next customer to visit and what the work involved.  At the end of each day the engineers go home.  They were able to use the digital workplace to read the latest information about BT the same as everyone else.

As I said earlier it wasn’t just a technology project but more about changes to working practices which had been the same for decades.  It was very difficult for everything and everyone to benefit when this amount of change is made.  There have been many benefits but some drawbacks.

The biggest benefits were increased productivity with engineers able to go to their first customer visit straight from home.  The digital workplace was resilient and always available so the online tool could be trusted 24/7 to accept and provide work updates.  Customer service also improved with more flexibility in times for customer visits and quicker changes to work schedules.  Less buildings were needed with home starts with huge savings in costs.

Culturally for the first time in a long while field-based engineers felt part of the same BT team again.  Access to information and news on the digital workplace helped to remove a perception that they were missing out on important information affecting them.

But there were some drawbacks.  Engineers didn’t like the isolation.  It meant they did not see their team members for days sometimes and their manager less frequently.  Many found it hard to adjust to the new approach and considered leaving risking a huge loss of knowledge from BT.

BT has tried with limited success to replace the face-to-face sharing of knowledge with technology.  The limited time and lack of contact did not encourage a huge takeup with its impact on unsolved problems.  In my view tools like Yammer and Jive can supplement some face-to-face contact but they can’t completely replace the absence of it.

The inability to decide how to schedule their work brought a sense of disengagement and lack of empowerment that affected their job satisfaction if it did increase productivity.  A slow burning issue that needs to be resolved.

To again answer Jane’s point, the field-based engineers were connected with the digital workplace but it is not technology changes which are the biggest challenge but the human changes that need most attention.

London 2012 Olympics boost to the digital workplace

With perfect timing for my recent posts on the benefits of the digital workplace, the Evening Standard had a great article showing how the London Olympics will have a major impact on the digital workplace in just under 12 months time in 2012.

The aim is to reduce by one third the number of daily commutes to London while the Olympics take place from July 27 – August 12, 2012.  Sebastien Coe, head of LOCOG (The London 2012 Organising Committee), has led calls for flexible working and urged leading employers to follow the example of bankers JP Morgan, Citigroup and HSBC who plan to overhaul their working practices.

Companies that already have this sort of flexible working like BT, have realised that there are huge benefits for their business.  While I was the BT Intranet manager, 70,000 people worked flexibly accessing the digital workplace with 13,000 never going into an office.  BT says its homeworkers are 21% more productive than office-based colleagues.

This is the right time to start planning to implement my digital workplace principles so you are ready ahead of the Olympics.

Some banks believe the Olympics will be the tipping point for widespread adoption of the digital workplace. With savings in productivity and property costs, reduced impact on global warming with fewer journeys and employees more engaged and happier it is a compelling, winning, formula.

The real legacy from the London 2012 Olympics could be digital working becomes a reality for many workers.

Join the Intranet Career Path group on LinkedIn

Following on from my post ‘What’s an intranet manager’s career path?’ a group has been created on LinkedIn called ‘Intranet Career Path‘. 

Already there have been comments made to help intranet people with their skills, experience and future career paths.

So, don’t delay – join today! :-)

What’s an intranet manager’s career path?

After a successful live tour of BT’s intranet on IBF24, I also took part with Christy Season, William Amurgis, Mark Tilbury and Kay Golan in a discussion on the career paths for intranet managers.

There is no easy answer and no clearly defined path.  This maybe because intranet manager is a relatively new role but also it doesn’t fit nicely into an established development and succession plan.

The skills and experience which intranet people have – strategic, communications, project management, technology, people and relationship management – can lead you into many career paths.

This abundance of talent should be seen as strengths that can be used in many other roles in the same organisation not as weaknesses because they are too diverse to fit into one natural path.

There isn’t much advice for intranet managers.  LinkedIn groups tends to be how to help with intranets rather than their managers.  So, we agreed to create a LinkedIn group for intranet managers to help other intranet managers.

I hope the recorded discussion is made available for people to listen to after IBF24 is finished – not just because I’m talking but the points made to help intranet managers.

Building an intranet publishing community

I recently posted about ‘5 simple ways to have good intranet publishers’ which James Robertson publicised on his blog and added the comment “All good stuff! I like to see a strong authoring community on this list, but that is probably difficult in an organisation the size of BT”.

So, grateful for any encouragement, especially from someone like James, I’m trying to show what we have done and will be doing in BT.

As BT’s intranet has grown so has the number of people publishing.  The method of publishing and the management of content but the leadership has consistently been with communications in BT.

As the BT Intranet manager, I lead a small team in communications responsible for the strategy, standards, compliance and development of our intranet that meets the business, user and publishers needs.

We communicate to key stakeholders the strategy and action plans so we have their commitment for funding of key developments that improve our intranet and awareness, hopefully understanding too, when needed.

We have a decentralised publishing model.  Each of our 6 lines of business has a key contact who engages with my team on operational needs and extends the implementation of our action plan and strategy.

Someone responsible for information is also responsible for publishing and managing it on our intranet.  They have training, standards and tools to check compliance.  They review their own content and respond to any user feedback.  The owner’s name is on every page they own so users know who to contact with any queries.

Line managers approve or reject publishing requests.  Soon if our new automated intranet management tool identifies content that doesn’t comply with key standards e.g. content out of date or not accessible, line managers of content owners will need to act or the offending content will be removed if no action taken by the owner.

I’m talking about formal, content management published, type content here that is authoritative and factual.  It is different for user generated content like wikis and blogs which are rightly managed with a much lighter touch.

Previously we had Frontpage discussion groups and newsgroups when we had a smaller number of publishers who helped each other by sharing problems with each other.

As the numbers have increased – potentially everyone in BT is a user and publisher of content now – so the technical skill level has dropped and the time to devote to helping others.

Now we use BTpedia, our corporate wiki, to share any publishing issues.  While people may have less time to devote to helping others than before, there are far more who can.  We hope one will balance out the other.  Time will tell!

How users can tell it is social media content

In my last post ‘Searching all intranet content including social media’ I blogged about how users can search for user generated content.  I will show in this post how users can tell the difference in the 4 content types I covered in my post ‘Extending publishing standards into new content areas‘.

To help our BT Intranet users we have a global navigation bar (GNB) at the top of every page of published content.

For authoritative, factual, content our users have a purple GNB to show users they can rely on this content for any business decisions they make based on it.

For collaborative and emerging thought content published on blogs, wikis and podcasts for example, we have a yellow GNB and a disclaimer saying that user generated content is content that is produced by individuals or groups of people in real-time without any ‘official’ editorial controls.

This helps users to differentiate the content types and know which is user generated content that may need further assessment before being used for their work.

It does give users access to the latest thinking across BT that wasn’t possible with just the authoritative content.

You can see examples of the GNB used in these slides.

Searching all intranet content including social media

In my last post ‘New year – new BT intranet homepage‘ I showed how the BT Intranet homepage has now integrated feeds from our wiki, blogs and podcasts with other traditional content and links.

 

Finding this information on BT Intranet sites will be easier now after a major overhaul of our intranet search engine.The search engine has been upgraded and its coverage extended to the new social media sites.  The result is a faster, more efficient engine which will provide more relevant results for users.

It means users can search for any authoritative information or emerging thoughts on the terms they have entered.  This can save duplicated effort and save time solving problems.

You can see what this looks like in the search slides showing categories and results shown.  The first result is for BTpedia which is our intranet wiki.  The other results are for our CMS content.

I’ll show in my next post how users can differentiate the different content types.

For anyone technically minded our search engine runs the Autonomy Ultraseek engine, version 5.7 with security and bug fixes applied.

14 steps to improve your applications’ usability

In my last post ‘5 ways to help you improve intranet applications’ I talked about some easy steps you can take.  The first step was having some usability standards to apply to your intranet applications so users have the best experience.

 

Now, there are plenty of sites and blogs who can give you expert guidance.  The difference with these standards is they are practical and have been applied in BT.  They are:

 

1.  Have a style guide so there is consistent, usable, design

2.  Measure cycle time to check speed of doing things

3.  Measure support calls to helpdesks and target a reduction

4.  Examine the systems error logs and see where people are having problems

5.  Observe real users not survey (or listen to the opinion of senior stakeholders)

6.  Fix the easy and small things like the labels on buttons and the headings in forms

7.  Be forgiving.  Allow the back button and provide an undo feature

8.  Make help available where people need it. 

9.  Only have a minimum FAQ section.  Instead try to reduce the questions people are asking frequently – the FAQ is a ‘things to fix’ list

10. Fix accessibility so everyone can use it

11. Consider the system emails and improve them

12. Forget trying to tell people things for their own good, we all have banner blindness

13. Be consistent across applications in the style and language.

14. Allow deep linking to specific parts of the system

 

My thanks to Sandy Blair for his help with this post. :-)

Beta testing helps users

Following on from my last post ‘Don’t forget your users’ about remembering your users I wanted to share with you how BT tries to help users to test new sites and services so we give them what they want.

It sounds so obvious doesn’t it?  Well, my experience in BT and seeing other intranets shows it can be something all too easily forgotten in the enthusiasm to launch sites and services.  The owner thinks he/she knows what users want and either doesn’t test or tests too late and isn’t able to male the changes in time.

So, what does BT do?  In the past we sometimes planned to the nth degree what we thought users needed and made sure it was tested and tested until the owner thought it was perfect before launching it on users.  The trouble was it wasn’t always what users wanted due to the passage of time, misunderstandings, changing needs, etc.

Well, BT takes a far better, agile and innovative approach now.  With Web 2.0, open source coding, low/nil set up costs it combines so BT encourages site owners to start up something very quickly before all the detailed business requirements are settled.  As long as there is a clear business need a beta test can quickly be set up for little effort and cost and offered to users to test out if there really is a business and user need.

BT has found that users feeding back on the beta test site has helped create much better solutions that exceed the original requirement.  The direction a site or service takes can be very different than originally planned for and can be far more effective.

Likewise, BT has also found users saying the beta site is of no use to them.  The site has been quickly closed down with little time and effort lost.

Gone are the days when organisations spent millions of punds developing huge systems that users found unproductive and unusable…………………but had to put up with them because switching them off wasn’t an option.

I’ll be talking more about ‘Exploiting user testing: Getting users to answer the difficult questions’ at the Ark Group’s ‘Delivering a user-centred intranet through superior design and usability’ conference on 19 November.

Intranet management? It’s business as usual in BT

As you will know if you have been reading my earlier posts, I’m the BT Intranet manager.  Our intranet is close to 14 years old and has matured into a business critical tool that is used every day by everyone for everything connected with their work.

But how do we manage our intranet?

Well, there’s me…………..and a small central team in an Intranet Centre of Excellence (ICE).  We don’t do any publishing apart from BT Homepage, our corporate intranet portal, and the site that supports our publishing community.  ICE is responsible for the strategy which is aligned to BT’s overall strategy and the actions needed to improve our intranet further.

When BT’s intranet was rolled out we delegated responsibility to ‘franchise holders’ (think of Tie Rack, Macdonalds, etc) for approving publishers to publish and meeting our standards based on business, legal, regulatory and, most importantly, users’ needs.

However now BT’s intranet has matured the management of the day to day publishing activities is carried out by the owners of the information published on BT’s intranet and their managers.  BT treats a digital asset (web site, online document, etc) the same as a physical asset (new phone, PC, etc).  Someone requests and justifies the need and their line manager approves/rejects it.

If a digital asset doesn’t comply with a standard then the owner and, if no action is taken, their manager are asked to act on the problem or risk it being removed by an automated escalation process and tool.  This is the same as for anything else where someone isn’t meeting any of BT’s business policies.

It means it is business as usual for people in BT using digital assets as it is for physical assets.  There is no central team doing these activities on people’s behalf or a parallel governance and approvers just for intranet stuff.  Those days are long gone now in BT.