Q&A: Using digital communication platforms to work smarter – part 1

The public sector is increasingly embracing the benefits of the digital workplace, central to which are digital communication platforms. Digital by Default News spoke to Fintan Galvin, founder and CEO of Invotra, to find out how local authorities can reap the rewards of going digital with a suitable digital solution

 

How can digital communications platforms boost local authorities?

Digital communication platforms can help local authorities in a number of ways, namely to help them overcome challenges and provide better, workable solutions that increase efficiency, and change the quality of services.

An effective digital workplace enables employees, across departments and multiple sites, to work on the same project, at the same time. Staff can more easily share learnings, collaborate and thus improve productivity, quality and work towards one end goal. This helps put a stop to siloed working.

Digital communications help organisations work smarter and more efficiently. Employees can work anywhere – on the go, from home, an office or site location – and digital communications are consistently up to date and easy to access.

There is also less emphasis on email, and the risk that information will get lost is greatly reduced. Digital communications have an environmental impact too as they are paperless (lengthy policy documents and manuals can can be published online) but more so they are instantly available, accurate and enable interaction.

 

In your experience, are employees happy to adopt digital initiatives like this and how can councils ensure uptake is positive?

I think there is increasing awareness that there are digital solutions out there that will help organisations work more efficiently, but finding the time to find the right solutions and providers is a challenge.

Councils are keenly aware of the vision for local authorities to be digital by default by 2025. As a solutions provider, it is also our responsibility to help councils find the right information and solutions, facilitating delivery of digital services that end users need and want, but which also save time and money, and improve productivity and people engagement.

We deliberately call this digital evolution, not transformation, as I strongly believe digital evolution is continuous, never-ending and constantly improving.

I also think there is also some misunderstanding about the length of time it would take to transform digital communications. We offer ‘off the shelf’ solutions that can easily be deployed, quickly within weeks, which also have the benefit of improving the digital skills of staff. This helps create a culture change to get users thinking digitally not physically. Maybe we’ll see the death of notes, but not ideas as these will still be valued, but recorded, shared built upon and actioned digitally.

Organisations sometimes need to think bigger too.

When one council asked staff what they would like the new intranet to be able to do, most of the feedback was based on improving what they currently had such as, navigation, colours, fixing bugs and making it look better. We agree these are important components but providing a digital workplace is more than that.

We need to think more than the term ‘Intranet’ and think what is possible, looking beyond the first issues of appearance.

Imagine a digital workplace which allows you to collaborate with your colleagues, comment on news, share ideas with managers, post blogs, join groups, all in the same platform as an interactive, digital staff directory serving accurate information and showing you the relationship between each member of staff and each department.

 

Are there any figures you can share estimating the savings to be made?

Here I would argue that it is more about using budgets wisely and getting more for less. By investing in an effective digital workplace there are savings to be made in terms of reducing paper, printing and travel costs to name a few. And that’s not to mention the sharing capability, not just within the councils and their stakeholders but also with other councils and central government.

Invotra hosts Gov.Invotra to bring together local councils and central government to share best practice and enable collaboration. This platform is useful to us as we develop our services to suit the public sector but is also an exclusive service offered to all of our customers at no extra cost.

We know public sector budgets are declining and stretched, and that expectations remain high, so here I believe more fundamental change is required. We don’t want to simply think about what services we can cut, we want to understand how we can deliver them smarter and digitally, while also meeting the demands of our environment.

 

How does this fit in with the wider digital transformation journey – can it be used to enable other digital services?

Consumers of council services will expect to be able to carry out the majority of transactions with their local authority through a digital channel rather than in person. Digital communications encourage self-service which saves times, money and effort – for example paying taxes, parking fines, rent via an extranet rather than Council offices. Employees can already self-service for example update their own details to ensure staff directories are accurate and up to date as well as publish content.

Strategic reviews carried out across government have shown that changes to services are required in order to meet financial targets, but also to promote greater self-reliance among the people using the services.

A key challenge is not just to make cuts – but to re-engineer services so that they are more efficient and take a new approach to service delivery. IT is a key enabler for this and is being used to help to deliver more for less (less budget and less resource). Extranets for external users will allow restricted access to parts of an organisations digital workplace to do things like pay bills, view committee documents and share feedback.

Also, accessibility for all software users is critical to enable the same quality of experience for everyone.

 

What advice can you share with councils looking to implement digital communication solutions?

For me, there are five bits of advice that will help councils:

  1. I would recommend councils look to smaller solutions providers who are flexible and responsive as opposed to the giant software companies.
  2. I would recommend finding a SaaS solution to guarantee any new platform guarantees continual evolution.
  3. Trust the experts: if you don’t have the know-how in-house or a team of IT experts, seek answers from those who specialise and have up to date industry knowledge and experience.
  4. Make accessibility an integral part of any change to ensure digital services are delivered with the same quality to all users.
  5. Get staff excited about the changes – there is currently a discord between the quality of technology that employees use inside and outside work. Councils need to bridge this gap so that people have access to brilliant digital communications all the time.

 

Do you think we’ll see the adoption of SaaS accelerate over the coming months?

If you’re a local authority, the benefits of working with an SME that provides SaaS and allows you to have your say on their roadmap, means that suggestions from your staff will be heard, reviewed, built on and delivered, making them feel involved but also improving the product at the same time.

Big legacy 10-year contracts do not exist anymore, so SaaS should be the prefered solution. Councils need a number of strategic partners that can be relied on to deliver secure digital services.

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