Tag Archives: intranet applications

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.

A great mobile experience needs….

In my previous post in this series on mobile ‘Good governance signals right mobile direction’ I said mobile is one of the key drivers for the transformation of intranets into digital workplaces which could become mobile workplaces but progress is patchy.  It is no surprise if I say setting the right direction for your organisation with mobile is critical.  Having some good governance principles helps you to continue in the right way and underpin your strategy.

We also need to give people a great mobile experience.  But what exactly does that mean?  Here are my thoughts on what is needed to achieve this in my last post in this series.

Mobile audience

Firstly, you need to make sure the people who will benefit the most are able to use a mobile device.  You need to be clear who will benefit from having a mobile device.  It probably will not be everyone.  Even if it is, you will need to prioritise who has the greatest need.  Factors like the number of people involved, time spent away from their place of work and what contribution they can make, will help decide the greatest need.

When you have the right people then you can find out what information and which services they most need, when they need to use them and how they need to use them, to be able to design and test for a good mobile experience.

Mobile devices

Secondly, you need to choose which mobile devices are the best tool to help people with their work.  For example, is it a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, or maybe a combination of more than one of these that is needed?  Will you let people bring their own devices to work or will your organisation provide them?  These decisions are critical and will depend on your organisation’s corporate values, type of employees, security, funding and speed of adoption.  Once these decisions have been made you can then focus on how you start to create a good mobile experience.

Once you know how to support the type of devices and size of screens being used, and the main purpose people will be using their mobile device for, you can start to create a good mobile experience.

Mobile platform

Lastly, you need to make sure you have the right infrastructure to support the needs of mobile workers in your organisation.  This means access to the information and tools needs to be 24/7 and not just normal working hours.  It means business continuity plans must include how people will still have mobile access to what they need for work.  Your organisation needs to consider the different mobile operating systems and devices it will support; what is the cost; what should be the limit; which systems and devices will have most overall benefit?

You also need to give a fast connection when mobile workers need it for their work to the information and tools.  Why would you want a mobile device if you find it takes ages to connect to any content or services you need to use?

Good mobile experience

So, what is needed for a great mobile experience?  These bullet points help summarise the posts on mobile:

  • A mobile strategy aligned to business needs
  • Supported by a governance framework
  • Helping meet the needs of people using mobile devices
  • Research and test with mobile users
  • Get the infrastructure in place
  • Have a policy on using mobile users for business purposes

If you need any more information please contact me.

Good governance signals right mobile direction

In my previous post in this series on mobile I asked ‘Why you need a mobile strategy‘ and showed that mobile is one of the key drivers for the transformation of intranets into digital workplaces which could become mobile workplaces but progress is patchy.  It is no surprise if I say setting the right direction for your organisation with mobile is critical.  Having some good governance principles helps you to continue in the right way and underpin your strategy.

Mobile governance principles

You need to have the following in place:

  1. A champion who will sponsor your strategy and the direction you take
  2. Stakeholders who represent your organisation’s key business areas and functions with the right decision-making authority
  3. Roles and responsibilities that include meeting the needs of mobile users
  4. Standards for owners of content and tools to follow so mobile devices can easily use these

Mobile standards

You need to have standards consistently but appropriately applied for mobile content and apps.  This may mean a change of focus to how your publishing standards are applied to how content is already used.  I will focus on three standards which are most important to a good mobile experience:

Security

It is critical to protect the intellectual property and commercial interests of your organisation.  It is also important to make the method of accessing content and apps from a mobile device secure and easy to do.  It is no good having several logins with different passwords just to quickly look up a person’s contact details you need to quickly check something with just before you enter a meeting.  People just won’t have the time and patience to follow this method.

But you do need some intelligent software working in the background to ensure you know who is accessing content with a mobile device.  Getting the balance right between these two needs is sometimes delicate to achieve but essential for the benefits of mobile use to be achieved.

BYOD

Bring your own device is increasingly seen as important to employers and employees.  It offers businesses opportunities and productivity benefits if it can be successfully introduced.  It manages the threats from wider security systems by having processes to monitor these.  You need a BYOD policy for mobile devices coming onto the network that may not have been checked.  By a combination of tools to implement it and educating and building trust with employees on how to use mobile devices this can help.

Usability

This is even more important than usual because of the smaller and different screen sizes for mobile devices.  Think about the difference in size of screens between a smartphone, tablet, and laptop.  Yet you will need mobile workers to be able to use the device that is best for their needs.  You need to get your content editors and apps developers to think about mobile first when designing how people need to use their information or apps for their work.  This may be some mind and culture change for some people!

The interface for each device needs to be clean, simple, with any key functionality easy to find and use and unnecessary links, extra content, and functionality stripped out.  Always test with mobile users at each stage of development and before launching to check it will meet their needs.

My last post in this series will focus on the mobile experience.

How to be more productive in a digital workplace

OK, so you now have a digital workplace strategy showing the direction you need to move in; a governance framwework to show who is responsible for what with standards, etc, to give you a fantastic online experience; policies and values that encourage you to use a digital workplace and benefit from them.

Now I will show how you can be more productive using a digital workplace:

Usability

It is critical that the time you use in a digital workplace is not wasted.  That means having clearly labeled information, direct route to the information, able to use the information whatever device (laptop, tablet, smartphone) you have, and be able to edit the information as well as read it.

And it’s not just information, you need to find people who can help you or you want to share some knowledge with.  Having an easy to use people finder helps as well as finding collaborative content in discussion groups with other people with similar needs or interest.

Finally if you are mobile your time is limited.  You need fast access to apps and services you need to use e.g. booking travel, hotel room, invites for meetings, hire care.  The list is long but you need to get to each task in a short time and complete each task quickly.

IT capability

You need to have the right tools and access to gain the full benefits from a digital workplace.  Your organisation needs to fund and provide laptops, smartphones, tablets as well as an internet connection and monitor screens for homeworking.  Having the right choice of devices means you can always use the digital workplace whenever you need to – checking people finder, completing tasks, sharing information.  This means you can be more productive and aim for a better work/life balance.  No more waiting to get to an office before you can do your work.  And with the right device you can do your work better, maybe faster too.

You need reliable access to your digital workplace when you need it.  If your organisation gets it wrong then you probably won’t use the digital workplace so much.  Your IT network needs to be reliable for speed and availability.  If it is frequently down for a hour or so you won’t trust it and become reluctant to use it.  If it is slow then you will vote with your feet and stay in a physical office where you can contact people and work better.

Security

You must be confident you have secure access to your digital workplace.  Your organisation needs to be confident it will not be abused by anyone away from their physical workplaces.  For example if you want to check your pay record online you want 100% confidence only you can do this.  Likewise if you need to access sensitive information online the organisation also needs 100% reassurance only those with the right permissions, like you, can use it.

To be fully productive you need to use these services with confidence about how secure they are in a digital workplace.

Involvement

Your organisation needs to develop and have available the things you need to do your work.  Research will be needed before your digital workplace can be used.  You should be involved and asked questions like:

  • What is the information you need?
  • What applications do you need for your work?
  • What collaborative tools do you to share?
  • Will any device work in your digital workplace?

All of these need to be addressed before you need them.  It may take your organisation time, effort, and money to research fully what is needed.  However it will be seen as an investment in the months afterwards when you start using your digital workplace because it helps you to be more productive.

Please contact me if you need my help or leave a comment on this post.  My next post will cover how the weather can help your digital workplace.

Help with intranets, digital workplaces, collaboration and SharePoint

Thinking about what is the best way to implement SharePoint 2010?

Are you looking for good examples of managing intranets?

Are you planning how to transform your digital workplace?

Maybe you want to use collaboration tools to increase employee engagement?

Now you can find helpful information on all these areas in one site.  It combines my first-hand experience managing BT’s intranet with my knowledge and help improving other intranets to show how you can improve your intranets and digital workplaces.

If I can help you further please contact me whenever you want to.

Get IT right for your digital workplace

In my previous posts on the digital workplace I have covered ‘Must have digital workplace principles’, ‘5 steps to a great digital workplace strategy’, 7 ways to engage people in a digital workplace, 4 factors critical to good governance in a digital workplace and HR policies to encourage a digital workplace.

To have a successful digital workplace (my definition is ‘work is what you do, not where you go to’) organisations must have the right strategy, culture, environment and infrastructure to exploit the benefits fully. It becomes the natural way of working so everyone is more productive and your organisation more efficient with:

  • people work from any location as well as their office workstation
  • IT infrastructure for the same or similar experience
  • everyone can read news, collaborate, search and complete tasks
  • individuals choosing tools – RSS, mobile, etc. – that help them
  • organisations measure benefits and encourages digital workplace

Follow these ‘must have’ principles including strategy, engagement, governance, HR policies and IT infrastructure and you will have a great digital workplace.

IT infrastructure

These digital workplace principles won’t work without the right IT infrastructure in place.  This will include:

Equipment

Making sure people have the right kit to take advantage of the opportunities digital working offers.   Organisations need to fund and provide laptops, smart phones, broadband and/or wifi, tablets like iPads and monitor screens for homeworking.  All these are needed for individuals to do their type of work effectively.  The aim must be more productive workers who are happier because their work/life balance is better.

Connection

Access to the digital workplace when employees need it is the most critical thing to get right.  Get it wrong and digital working won’t happen – simple as that.  The network needs to be reliable for speed and availability.  If it is frequently down for a hour or so people won’t trust it and be reluctant to change their behaviour so the digital workplace strategy works.  If it is slow then people also will vote with their feet and stay in a physical office where the people they need can be contacted.

People must be confident they have secure access to the digital workplace and the organisation needs to be confident it will not be abused by anyone not in that organisation’s buildings.  For example if you want to check your pay record online you want 100% confidence only you can do this.  Likewise if you need to access sensitive information online the organisation also needs 100% reassurance only those with the right permissions, like you, can use it.

Services

Organisation must have developed and have available the things people need to do their work.  Research may be needed before digital workplace is implemented:

  • What is the information needed?
  • What applications are needed for their work?
  • What collaborative tools for sharing?
  • Are there mobile versions?

All of these need to be available when they are needed.  And don’t guess what they are – invest the time, effort and money to research fully what is needed.  It will be seen as an investment in the months afterwards when you see people using the digital workplace because it has all they need for their work.

Make sure these meet the needs of people using.  THEY MUST BE USABLE!  If not, you will waste a lot of potential benefits in time taken trying to use unsuitable tools.

All of these help create the confidence needed to encourage everyone who is able to, to move to a digital workplace.  This may need up front investment but the business case should show the savings made in office space, travel costs, time saved quickly justify the costs.

More on the digital workplace in my next post.

7 ways to engage people in a digital workplace

In my last three posts on the digital workplace I have covered ‘Must have digital workplace principles’ then focused on the first principle ‘5 steps to a great digital workplace strategy’ and lastly ‘Create a brilliant digital workplace with me’.

To have a successful digital workplace (my definition is ‘work is what you do, not where you go to’) organisations must have the right strategy, culture, environment and infrastructure to exploit the benefits fully. It needs to become the natural way of working so everyone is more productive and your organisation more efficient with:

  • people working from any location (or mobile) rather than their office workstation
  • IT infrastructure for the same or similar experience wherever someone uses the digital workplace
  • everyone able to collaborate, search, complete tasks as well as read the latest news
  • individuals choosing tools – RSS, mobile, etc. – that help them
  • organisations measure the benefits and encourage you to use the digital workplace

Follow these ‘must have’ principles including strategy, engagement, governance, HR policies and IT infrastructure and you will have a great digital workplace.

I’m going to cover how people need to be engaged for a digital workplace to be successful.

Engagement

It is absolutely critical to your organisation to have people working who are fully engaged.  They are satisfied with their roles, happy with their work and their colleagues and look forward to working each day.  If not then the costs of lost productivity and extra time spent managing for the same or less output can be horrendous.

There are two audiences you need to engage:

  • For the success of your strategy: your stakeholders
  • For the ongoing success of the digital workplace: everyone

Stakeholders

You have to engage the people who will have biggest influence on your strategy and who will be affected the most.  These are your stakeholders.  They will represent the key functions of the organisation that are either the first priority and/or the biggest factor in whether it succeeds or fail.

Your stakeholders need to buy-in to your digital workplace strategy at the decision making level of your organisation.  You need to communicate clearly and timely what their involvement will be.  They won’t want any nasty surprises – just nice ones!

This is a similar approach to how stakeholders are engaged for successful SharePoint 2010 implementations.

Everyone

How do you get everyone to be comfortable with a digital workplace?  You need to make sure the ideal culture for a digital workplace is in place or planned for before you start.  There are seven factors you need in place for this to work:

  1. Everyone who will benefit is able to adopt this new way of working.  Some may already be working like this, some partly and others planning to.
  2. There is enthusiasm for working in a digital workplace.  It is seen as something positive, that people will want to do and be envious of those who already can.
  3. The culture in your organisation is strong on ‘doing things online’ so individuals can carry out their normal work tasks in a digital
    workplace.
  4. You are encouraged to share knowledge to help anyone in your organisation no matter where their location is or time zones they normally work in.  You may also be incentivised to do this.
  5. You can easily use the tools with no or minimal training to collaborate and share knowledge.
  6. Policies and processes that encourage everyone to use the digital workplace and don’t restrict innovation.
  7. Individuals can easily move from a physical location where they regularly meet their work colleagues to remote locations without feeling isolated because the digital workplace tools help to avoid this.

Applying this approach helps to create a buzz around the organisation for digital working.  People feel envious of those who have started.  There is impatience for everyone to benefit.

Organisations start to see improved productivity and levels of service, processes streamlined and absentee rates dropping.

In my next post I will cover how governance is another ‘must have’ principle for a successful digital workplace.

When will mobile priorities come first?

When will organisations start designing and creating applications, web pages and social media tools with mobile devices as the first priority before PC users?

More and more people are using smartphones for their work.  While travelling or working remotely from their normal place of work they need to use their intranet.

But we still design for PC users as the first priority.  This can mean it is more difficult than it need be when using a smartphone on your intranet wasting unnecessary time or having to involve others taking them away from their work.

When will the tipping point come and first priority be to check that anyone with a smartphone can have a great experience using a new intranet tool?

When the Intranet Benchmarking Forum last benchmarked BT’s intranet they said “BT’s intranet is designed to support mobile workers so it is fully accessible from mobile devices.  Mobile users use a text-based interface.”

People in BT can use their Blackberrys to:

With the rollout of SharePoint 2010 it is critical that people can use their Blackberrys to do this.  As you can see from comparing these screenshots showing SP2010 sites using a PC and Blackberry that is possible.

How long before the experience is as good or even better when you use a smartphone compared to a PC though?

Great intranets help make efficient people

When I posted about the latest results for BT ‘BT Intranet 2010 benchmark results‘ I promised to give examples the Intranet Benchmarking Forum highlighted as global best practice.  The first three examples are:

The latest example covers how BT’s intranet improves efficiency saving wasted time searching for the wrong stuff or sites not being well organised enough.  IBF said the BT Homepage was excellent at directing people to tasks tasks that were completed successfully.

BT Homepage groups services and content functionally under the title ‘Essentials’ so people have everything easily to link to when completing an activity.  Here are some slides showing examples of what is grouped under each heading on the BT Homepage.  Users liked the changes when we asked for their feedback.

Research with users shows high satisfaction with the BT Homepage and 91% were satisfied with Essentials which was great news.

People also rely on the BT A-Z.  This is an index of all sites that have a BT-wide purpose and are cross-indexed if need be under more than one letter e.g. Group Finance is under G and F. 

I’ll cover our A-Z in a future post.

2010 BT Intranet user research update

I recently posted about the latest user satisfaction with BT’s intranet but forgot to mention one key area which really troubles me.  Self service applications.

You will know my concerns on their usability and the problems trying to improve it.  Well, the research confirmed all of these and showed me how much users are prepared to put up with because they have no choice.

But it is the huge loss of productivity because of the time taken completing tasks, asking helpdesks, colleagues or searching for online guidance or having to be trained to do these tasks which is my aim too.

I am working with my IT partners in BT and with our suppliers of self service applications like Oracle to improve the ‘out of the box’ usability.

This will take time but it is tackling the problem at the root source so should ultimately bring many benefits to BT and other customers of these applications.