Issue 6

SOCIAL BUSINESS CAN TRANSFORM PUBLIC SERVICES

By Stuart McRae, Executive Collaboration and Social Business Evangelist, IBM Collaboration Solutions

In an era of rising expectations and falling budgets in the public sector, one glimmer of hope is burning bright: the growing evidence that social business approaches are delivering better business results for companies in the commercial world. Now is the time to look at applying these to the business of government.

Social business is about making every staff member, and the teams they work in, more effective by helping them to build trusted relationships with the network of colleagues, partners and citizens with whom they work. Multiple technologies, including social media/social networking, mobile devices, analytics and cloud technologies, are coming together to deliver a powerful enabling platform the helps employees to find the information, experts and understanding they need to work more effectively and deliver better outcomes.

It's about changing the way people work so that knowledge flows frictionlessly across organisational boundaries.

This new, social collaboration approach isn't about getting employees to do extra work to share their knowledge. It is about moving the processes they do every day onto a social platform that will provide open access to the knowledge it captures (within required privacy constraints), instead of locking it away in closed email conversations, attachments and voicemail messages.

Social business uses technology, but is not just a technology problem. It is about working practices that add value to every interaction your employees have: going beyond the specific issue at hand to contribute to your organisation's knowledge pool and expertise profiles - making all employees more productive in their jobs, now and into the future.

It's about changing the way people work so that knowledge flows frictionlessly across organisational boundaries. But to be effective, it requires a collaboration platform that not only enables these work practices effectively, but also integrates into the applications and processes you already have.

So this is about doing social files sharing, not document management. The emphasis is not on access control (though that is provided) but on wrapping context around content. Who wrote this document? How many times has it been recommended? What comments have people made about it? Have they identified inaccuracies or suggested improvements? What were the answers to questions they asked about it? Who else has downloaded and used it?

the people who best understand the users of your services are the staff who interact with them every day. Enabling those employees to share their experiences internally provides invaluable planning information

It is about enabling open conversations instead of closed ones. Posting questions to colleagues in public, so that someone else can provide an answer if they are not available right now. Or so you get different viewpoints and alternative answers. Of course, if the topic is confidential it is also about having these open conversation just within the specific groups of people authorised to know about it.

It is about self forming communities of experts that are willing to share their expertise to help others and grow their knowledge and influence. About driving innovation by creating open forum's where employees can suggest process improvements, comment on suggestions, and vote on which should be put into practice.

It is about easy access to expertise and a way to make yourself visible. About learning from others instead of continually reinventing solutions. About understand the trending topics in your organisation, the areas of concern and the things that actually make a difference. About identifying future leaders and then giving them the tools to lead.

It is about taking “social” beyond being a talking shop, instead providing tools that will let employees define, execute and track the activities that deliver the business outcomes you need.

As social business practices and technologies are evolving, proven patterns are emerging that show how a social business can improve organisations:

1.        Knowledge Sharing & Innovation: By capturing knowledge as a side effect of employee interactions (internal and external), organisations can make it discoverable by authorised staff, and also use analytics to keep users informed of what is going through personalised notifications and recommendations, so increasing user productivity and making better, more informed decisions.

2.        Finding Expertise: As a side effect of using analytics on shared content, and through tagging of users, it becomes possible to find and contact expertise in the organisation - effectively extending discoverability to information that only resides inside an employee's head.

3.        External Insights: While you can understand general trends by analysing social media, the people who best understand the users of your services are the staff who interact with them every day. Enabling those employees to share their experiences internally provides invaluable planning information, while ensuring that staff are aware of your strategies and plans helps them to set the correct expectations in the minds of the consumers of your services.

4.        Recruiting and On-boarding: Getting new staff on-board quickly and making access to experts and mentors available to them, saves you money by making staff effective more quickly. That is not just true for new hires – it produces a more agile workforce, making it easy for people to move between roles and departments as resource requirements change.

5.        Mergers & Shared Services: Whether departments are being reorganised or services being shared to reduce inefficiencies, helping employees to work together more effectively and share expertise across organisational boundaries drives operational efficiency and cost savings.

6.        Safety: There are many necessary business processes that can be made more efficient and effective through social engagement. Workplace safety is just one, where a conversation with employees not only allows you to leverage their knowledge and ideas but also ensures that they really understand what is expected of them and act appropriately.

There are many other repeatable patterns for social business in public sector organisations. These are not just within your employees, but also by collaborating effectively with service providers, suppliers and other institutions. These patterns have a provable return on investment

There are many other repeatable patterns for social business in public sector organisations. These are not just within your employees, but also by collaborating effectively with service providers, suppliers and other institutions. These patterns have a provable return on investment based on experiences of other organisations.

For example, the New Jersey City Fire Department is creating online versions of the “Flash Cards” buildings have to post to provide vital information to first responders, making that information even more widely available faster; the Children's Hospital of Boston is wrapping communities of experts around learning resources to help improve paediatrics in the developing world; and the State of Vermont is reducing costs by eliminating paper based processes.

The move towards open government must be underpinned by not just open data, but also social media – not just to engage with citizens but also to collaborate with other public sector organisations to deliver the services that citizens need and expect. To enable effective external social engagement, it is essential that organisations develop an internal culture of open, transparent knowledge sharing to help their staff work together effectively and cost effectively to deliver the services required.

The use of social business in the public sector is therefore key to delivering on Scotland's Digital Future.

By Stuart McRae, Executive Collaboration and Social Business Evangelist, IBM Collaboration Solutions

Issue 6

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