Digital – the next frontier?

It all feels a bit like Star Trek’s famous split infinitive but we now need to push on into new digital territories!

We have successfully built the digital foundations that can deliver transformation across the Council – a new, vastly improved website, redesigned microsites, a refreshed schools portal and implemented a social media strategy. A beta version of our new intranet is also being built and should go live in the next few weeks. So what is the next frontier?

While we have undoubtedly improved the customer experience, regained control and visibility of our social media and established a solid platform, we have still not fully delivered the much-heralded savings that are often attached to digital transformation.

This is a point in the development that many others have reached; it is also a point that many get stuck due to the different challenges the next phase brings.

What makes me hopeful that we will make the necessary progress is the fact that all the achievements to date have been delivered by an excellent in-house digital team that we have built that has worked closely with ICT and Customer Service teams. If we had gone external in terms of delivery, I don’t think we would have developed the skills, knowledge or relationships that would all us to get us to the next level.

That said, while all the existing skills remain relevant and needed, I think that the next phase will also involve a different set of skills. This is because we will now need to push into territory that is normally fiercely protected – the area of service redesign. Anyone who has ever worked in local authorities will know that this is a step not taken lightly but there is no choice if we are to start seeing the true potential of digital. It is not about putting the existing process online, nor is it about optimising the current process and then putting it online. It is about designing a journey from scratch with a digital mind-set from the outset. That is not to say that offline elements of the journey don’t need to be considered – they absolutely do, but they can’t be the driving force. Also an offline option needs to be integrated into any design to make sure that those unable to use the online solution are not left behind.

The culture and management structure means that to get into this area – the heart of the Council – will take political manoeuvring, the leveraging of influence, keen project management skills and a dollop of luck for good measure. Oh, and if I am going to continue the Star Trek theme, a fully loaded space-age taser set to stun!

Taking this blog back to reality, I am fortunate enough to have a place on our Corporate Leadership Team which provides the perfect platform to help navigate through the many challenges and natural resistance. Anyone setting out on a Phase II digital project that involves going into service areas will need a sponsor at the highest level – preferably the Chief Executive – if they are going to succeed.

We are identifying all of those customer journeys that would deliver savings by being optimised for a self-service, online delivery. This will often mean replacing a labour intensive process with an automated process. It will meet resistance. (Note to Editor: resist using the Star Trek phrase “resistance is futile”) The first journeys are likely to be the most difficult. Early wins will be critical.

Where’s Captain Kirk when you need him!

Posted by Martin Done, Communications and Marketing Director

It all starts with discovery – getting going on our intranet work

We’re now in the discovery phase for our intranet and employee engagement workstream. We’ve already completed content inventory work on our current intranet (read more about the inventory we did on our public website here) and to help us with other parts of the discovery phase we’re working with an external expert, Ann Kempster.

Ann has previously worked at the Cabinet Office and other parts of central government as well as on a number of digital projects elsewhere.

Here Ann describes how she’s approaching the discovery work and the activities we’re undertaking.

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One of the work streams for Digital First includes a review of internal digital communications channels, including the intranet. That’s what I’m working on over the next few weeks.

Previously I’ve managed intranets at the Cabinet Office and I’ve also worked on delivering intranets in number of other central government departments, including the Department of Health, Defra and Communities and Local Government.

I’m really excited to be working on this project with a council that is bought into the process of digital transformation. Nottinghamshire County Council is at a very interesting point in its journey with a new Chief Executive shortly to come into post and the support for the Digital First project at all levels, from the elected council members to staff at the council.

What I’m trying to find out

Is the intranet working for users?
Does it help staff do their jobs?

Is there space for engagement between senior leadership and frontline staff?
Is there space for staff to talk to each other?

Are staff getting the right information?
Are they getting information in a format that helps them?

What about frontline staff who don’t have regular access to the intranet? How does Nottinghamshire County Council make sure they are included and receive the right information?

How am I doing this?

I’m spending a lot of my time talking to as many members of staff as I can – both through one-to-one interviews and group workshops. I’m looking for what is working well, what isn’t working so well; what tools and processes people need to do their jobs. I’m also looking for any potential blockers, things that might stop a new intranet being used.

A few themes are already starting to emerge in my early round of interviews with key internal stakeholders and I’m keen to see if these themes are backed up in the workshops being run this week.

In the workshops with frontline staff and managers, we’ll be doing some activities and exercises to look at positives and negatives of the current system and what might help them do their jobs better or easier in the future.

I’ve also been talking to other people in the public sector who are doing good work on intranets, as well as experts in the private sector to see what trends are predicted for intranets.

Then what?

All of this information – nearly 20 one-to-one interviews and workshop outputs from almost 40 frontline staff – will be analysed with the help of hundreds of Post-It notes to see where clusters and themes emerge.

These will then be synthesised into a report that will be delivered to the Council for consideration, along with findings from my chats with intranet experts. I’ll be proposing a set of recommendations and a series of objectives, time scales and metrics for success.

I will also share some of the finds, key themes and ideas in another blog post here.

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Ann is a freelance digital projects manager and you can find her on Twitter.

If you’re interested in getting involved in testing or giving feedback on the new Nottinghamshire.gov.uk, the Council’s public website, then get in touch.