Tag Archives: ICT

Unmentoring 2: The return of Randomised Coffee Trials

What can Welsh public services learn from Kirklees Council? Dyfrig Williams discussed digital with Steve Langrick.

UnmentoringWe’ve been running Randomised Coffee Trials, where random participants are drawn together to discuss their work, since our Wellbeing seminar in March. We’ve had some great feedback, where people have discussed a range of issues from job interviews, to mentoring and working closer together.

At the same time I’ve been taking part in LocalGov Digital’s Unmentoring sessions, which are along the same lines as Randomised Coffee Trials. My first Unmentoring blog looked at my conversation with Paul Inman of Warwickshire County Council, and this time I had the opportunity to talk with Steve Langrick of Kirklees Council.

I spent much of the conversation getting as much info as possible out of Steve, who fortunately was happy to share his work and how the council are embracing digital developments.

Going mobile

As a higher proportion of people in Wales access the internet through their phones than any other part of the UK, I was intrigued to hear how people access Kirklees’ website and how it influences the council’s work. In two years there’s been an increase of 300% in the use of mobile to access the website, which is now close to 50% of traffic to the website. With stats like that, a responsive and easy to use site isn’t just a ‘nice to have,’ it’s a necessity.

Cyngor Kirklees

BetterOff

With more people accessing their information through mobile, Kirklees are tailoring their approaches accordingly. They’re developing a new site called BetterOff to help benefit claimants through their applications and to show them how much they might be better off in work. As this can be quite a long process, the council can potentially save a lot of money by moving the service online. They can then focus their resources on the more complex enquiries they get on the issue. It’s also preventative as it guides people through the right steps up front, which helps them to avoid potential sanctions.

BetterOff also embraces the concept of Assisted Digital, where people who can’t use online services are helped to access them. The site itself is not an inhibitor, as people can come in and get support to access the site and the service.

What’s next for Kirklees?

Public services are constantly evolving and adapting to the environment in which they’re delivered. Kirkless Council are a good example of that, because even as they’ve undertaken a lot of work in the field, they’re constantly looking to improve. The Alpha version of their new website is online so that people can see what their new site will look like and comment on how it meets their needs. Like Kirklees Council, we can’t rest on our laurels if we want to deliver the best services possible for the people of Wales.

Collaborative Graphical Information Software

In our latest blog from the All Wales Continuous Improvement Community Annual Awards 2014, Kevin Williams from Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council tells us about their Graphical Information Software and the importance of collaboration.

NPTCBCStaff from our ICT Division, in conjunction with counterparts from the City & County of Swansea, have recently picked up a prestigious award from the Association of Geographic Information, an award contested across the whole of the UK Public Sector.

When the ICT Division decided to replace its high-cost proprietary Graphical Information Software (GIS) with a low-cost, high functionality open source alternative, the team’s aim was simple; to increase the availability of GIS to staff and our citizens for less cost. As a result of the benefits this project delivered, a great deal of interest was shown by neighbouring authorities including Swansea, Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion. This resulted in a regional project tasked with identifying areas where cross-boundary collaboration would prove advantageous in identifying and delivering efficiency savings, increasing GIS usage and service improvements. This project was part funded by the existing regional programme and operated under the governance of the Central and South West Wales Shared ICT Services Board.

Early findings concluded that each local authority goes about the same tasks but nearly always in a slightly different manner, with GIS proving no exception to this rule. When the group first formed, it became apparent that each authority had differing proprietary GIS solutions but all had the same problem. How to expand their systems without being tied to a commercial vendor with ever increasing costs?

Having concluded the project, it is clear that the benefits realised are not restricted to the savings on licence fees and the elimination of maintenance agreements, although at half a million pounds over five years these estimated savings are substantial, but that by adopting the OpenSource solution within our authorities, GIS usage is now limitless. Removing the financial constraints can empower anyone to access their data in a spatial manner, enabling quicker and more informed decision making and ultimately improving council services.

Working collaboratively on this project has also helped forge new working relationships and assisted in breaking down the boundaries regarding creating shared services between local authorities. It was this work that the awards committee were so taken with, which resulted in the recognition of innovation and cross sector working. Kevin Williams, who led the project for NPT, has now been invited to sit on the panel of AGI Cymru, representing the OpenSource GIS.

Don’t buy hardware

Effective use of Information Technology

We all love it.  Hardware has flashing lights, cool lines, and looks really good in racks, humming away.  It impresses strangers; validates us as experts.   It’s also wildly expensive and fantastically underused.  Google (yes, that Google) discovered on the early 2000’s that their data centres were running at 10% of their potential maximum.  Much of the UK public sector is a lot worse with the Cabinet Office suggesting that some of us get as little as 5% utilisation of our most expensive assets.

Ask any IT Head why they spend gazillions on hardware and they’ll say “well, it won’t work without it”, or if the IT Head has an MBA he’ll say “the hardware is central to our mission”. Which raises an interesting question – why do we feel it necessary to buy the means of production for computing when we have no qualms at all about buying-in electricity, or water for that matter?

Back in September over 60 IT specialists, and me, met at WAO seminars in both North and South Wales to share good practice (viz, ‘nick ideas’) and, hopefully, have their preconceptions challenged. I like a good challenge to my preconceptions and the scepticism around Cloud Computing was not so much challenging my preconceptions as mugging them.

Cloud Computing / Cyfrifiadura Cwmwl

There were a lot of reasons why not to adopt Cloud. There’s security.  Everyone will have access to your data. There’s regulation, the Americans will arrest your Chief Executive……. and, well, there’s no flashing lights are there? None of this is necessarily true.  Of course you can mess up security on the cloud in the same way you can leave your own security in a hash if you try, but there’s no real reason why you should, particularly.

I like easy computing. I like to provide a service that just works.  I don’t want to run a datacentre any more than I want to run a power station or manage a reservoir. For me, Cloud Computing offers a chance to buy just as much as I want, when I want it. Period, as the Americans say.  No more capacity than I need.

This isn’t easy for us as a profession. We tend to think of IT as being an exercise in hardware management, rather than service to customers.

Here’s a thought exercise. Imagine your Chief Executive has banned the purchase of anything physical at all. Server provision is easy to purchase through the cloud (and really easy for the public sector through g-cloud), connectivity and firewalls – tick, software as a service – tick, end user devices? More problematic but a good BYOD strategy should see to that. In fact, if you’ve got decent mobile signal coverage (and you can even get around that) you don’t need the building network either.

Of course, little in life is simple, and that isn’t exactly simple either. But it’s worth considering, how much will it cost me if I don’t buy this upgrade but buy it as an on-line service?

It costs a lot to keep all of those servers warm, fed, stroked, and loved.  It might sound like heresy but could you do better, cheaper, with fewer commitments if you bought the service through the cloud?

Not that I’m mildly obsessed, or anything, but on 13 December I’ll be discussing cloud computing: the myths, busted, with Peter Middleton from the Cabinet Office’s g-cloud programme. 2013 has been a pivotal year for public service, a pivotal year in recognising that we cannot continue to deliver under the current model.  We need to be smarter, more collaborative, cheaper, simply better at what we do. Time to ditch some myths.

– Evan Jones, Welsh Government

The Rule of 1%. Why it matters to your online community.

Effective use of Information Technology

Llun o Victor Meldrew o wefan y BBC / Picture of Victor Meldrew from the BBC website

Llun o Victor Meldrew o wefan y BBC / Picture of Victor Meldrew from the BBC website

I have to be careful here and try to avoid sounding like a curmudgeon.

A few words of caution for anyone about to launch an online community;

Beware!

  • Most people will not participate (even if they say they will),
  • Many of those that participate initially, will stop after a few months (weeks probably),
  • You will be left with a core of ‘die hard’ enthusiasts (talking to each other), and
  • An (increasingly disillusioned) ‘community facilitator’ working at
    full stretch to keep the community alive.

Sorry if that sounds very negative, but it is a fair reflection of the reality in some of the online communities I’ve experienced It’s also part of the 1% rule of Internet culture.

The 1% rule or the 90–9–1 principle is a hypothesis that more people will lurk in a virtual community than will participate. It’s been around since the mid 2000’s and has been likened to the 80/20 rule (Pareto principle), where 20% of a group will deliver 80% of the activity.

For online communities the 1% rule states:

  • 1% of people will actually create content;
  • 9% of people edit, modify or comment on that content; and
  • 90% of people will view the content without contributing.

Based upon my experience this feels about right and seems to be a very plausible hypothesis. It could also apply to some of the offline physical communities I’ve also experienced.

I appreciate that this sounds awful. Why would anyone bother with an online community with participation rates like that?

Well, there are many positives that can come from an online community, and some have much higher participation rates than 1% (it is after all an average figure from across the internet).

The good news is that you can boost your participation rates, and there are lots of helpful resources (many of them online) which will help you achieve this.

One of the key activities I would suggest is to ask why? Why do we need this online community?

To answer this question it is worth thinking about why people would participate in an online community, and designing the community to meet these needs. Lots of the online advice suggests six main reasons for participation. If you can provide an answer that is specific to your potential community members, you are probably heading in the right direction. Just ask, “will our online community satisfy members need for?”

  1. Anticipated reciprocity (you will get something in return),
  2. Reputation (it will make you look good),
  3. A sense of achievement,
  4. Altruism (doing good for others),
  5. A sense of belonging (the community provides this), and
  6. Emotional connection.

One of the key messages in much of the advice about online communities is that participation rates will decline after an initial peak. The secret to keeping the community alive is about making sure that activity bounces back to a sustainable level that makes it worth the investment, again, lots of advice about this online.

Finally, I did hear of an example a successful online community that had 1,700 members, discussing the finer details performance management. This community was held up as an example of success and ‘how things could be’. When I asked the Community Manager what was the secret of success they said, “the hard core of about 20 people who are always online, posting questions and commenting on what others have to say”.

I wasn’t aware of the rule of 1% at the time, but 20 active people in a community of 1700 feels quite close to the rule of 1% to me (1.2% actually).

3 things I’ve learnt:

  • Online communities are not ‘resource free’. In most cases somebody needs to facilitate the community and help to keep things ‘ticking over’.
  • Most people in online communities do not actively participate. The rule of 1% probably applies, even to your online community.
  • There will be an initial burst of activity when the community is formed. This will drop off over time. Unless something is done to invigorate the community, there is a danger it could become dormant.

This post is based upon two posts that were written on my personal blog in May and June 2012. http://whatsthepont.com/  Links below:

http://whatsthepont.com/2012/05/17/the-rule-of-1-is-dead-well-not-quite-round-these-parts/

http://whatsthepont.com/2012/06/26/getting-beyond-the-1-rule-intrinsic-motivation-and-online-communities/

Chris

Disaster recovery in action

Effective use of Information Technology

Before I moved to Cardiff a couple of years ago, Aberystwyth was my home for the best part of a decade. I used to walk past the National Library of Wales every day on my way to work and pause for a second by the building so I could check out the fantastic view of the town from there.

When a fire broke out in the Library, my friends’ social media accounts were consumed by the story, as they all worried about friends who worked there, the building itself, and resources that it holds that are treasured both locally and nationally.

Effects of fire on the National Library of Wales

A picture taken from the BBC website of the effects of the fire on the National Library of Wales

The scale of the reaction was dwarfed by the effects of the fire. When pictures emerged we were all shocked by them.

Einion Gruffudd and Owain Pritchard spoke at our IT shared learning seminar about how the Library managed to get their IT systems back online amidst all this. The fire occurred on the Friday, but amazingly computer services were up and running on the Monday, and the library was open for business as usual on the Tuesday.

Owain Pritchard speaking about the effect of the fire

There were lots of lessons to be learnt and experiences to share from Einion and Owain’s accounts. I wasn’t aware that most of the damage was caused by the water from extinguishing the fire rather than the fire itself, but incredibly data was recovered from 90% of the equipment affected. We heard how two data centres, a mesh network and virtualisation had all played a role in the system recovery.

Lots of the key messages from the session were highlighted on Twitter and can be seen on the Storify of the seminars. I highly recommend watching our interview with Einion too. Fortunately few of us ever need to put our disaster recovery systems into practice, so there’s lots for us to learn from people who’ve had to put their plans into action.

–      Dyfrig

Risky business?

Effective use of Information Technology

After every seminar we commit to getting information sent out to participants as quickly as possible so that we can make the most from the momentum gathered from the event. So last week we created a Pinterest board of our Information Technology Shared Learning Seminar, used Storify to collate social media contributions to the event, uploaded interviews with presenters on to Vimeo and we sent out emails with the outputs from the seminars.

In the North Wales seminar, there was a bit of excitement when the Auditor General for Wales encouraged attendees to take well-planned risks.

18. Risk Taking

We circulated this message by email to participants so that they could encourage improvement in their organisations.

This message isn’t just confined to IT though. The Auditor General also had this to say at our Working Across the Generations shared learning seminar:

The Wales Audit Office is hosting this seminar as part of its commitment to support knowledge exchange and bring global practices and experience to Wales. I regard promoting new and innovative approaches as fully in line with our role to provide assurance and promote improvement in public services to benefit the people of Wales. Public services have a duty to keep changing in line with the environment in which they operate and to be well-informed and responsible risk takers. I have therefore made a firm commitment to follow up the well-received work we have already done in promoting the dissemination and adaptation of good practice through an even greater emphasis on shared learning.

The role of the Good Practice Exchange is to share the Auditor General’s message along with other interesting or new approaches to public service delivery. We recognise that people are dealing with similar issues, and we want to share how an organisation has managed an issue and encourage other organisations to think about if it would work for them by adapting the approach to suit their needs.

What it means in reality that lots of the leg work will have already been done and by sharing this knowledge other organisations can benefit in a number of ways. We feel this is vital, because the most needs to be made of every opportunity in a time of diminishing resources.

It’s best to give the final word to the Auditor General himself, who reinforced this message on risk taking on Twitter at the Wales Audit Office’s External Stakeholders seminar.

Risky business?

–      Dyfrig

Using Information Technology to enable better public services

Effective use of Information Technology

Our shared learning seminar on Effective use of Information Technology was the first one that I’ve organised since joining the Good Practice Exchange at the Wales Audit Office. I’ve learnt a lot in terms of ensuring future events are run effectively, but also on the subject itself.

When we spoke to the Auditor General for Wales about the seminars, he was very clear about the role Information Technology can play to enable new ways of delivering services.

In the seminar I was particularly struck by how Information Technology is having a direct influence on service delivery in some organisations. I was fortunate enough to facilitate Andrew Durant’s workshop in North Wales, which looked at Powys County Council and Powys Teaching Health Board’s collaborative Information Technology service. It was interesting to hear how frontline staff of both social services and health are now better able to co-ordinate their work as they have access to each other’s work calendars.

This wasn’t the only session that looked at enabling better public services. I also attended Wendy Xerri from University of Wales Trinity St David‘s workshop on Green Information Technology, which focussed on the needs of students. Students were often forming endless queues to print their essays, but by focussing on the student experience they moved the essay submission system online, thereby streamlining the system for students’ benefit and vastly reducing the amount of paper that was being used.

As there’s such an array of public service bodies in Wales, it was no surprise that Information Technology approaches and equipment varied between each organisation. It’s clear that there is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach for Information Technology, but it was really heartening to hear how public service staff at our seminar were all looking to improve the effectiveness of their work.

Dyfrig