Collaboration, Collaboration

Speaking at the Socitm conference in October 2007, an event organised for IT professionals in the public sector, Sir Michael Bichard identified key issues for IT professionals in the public sector, and the foremost was service design. Developing shared services that deliver the promised efficiency savings and service improvements relies ultimately on the transfer of knowledge between teams.  
    
Without a shared vision, a full understanding of local issues with their consequent specific needs, working practices and stakeholder expectations, even the simplest of specifications can result in an implementation that falls short of its potential either through poor design or lack of adoption.
    
Traditional approaches to specification capture are by their nature serial and hence do not naturally lend themselves to the rapid exchange of ideas and information that often spark off innovative thinking. Process audits, surveys and data sampling have their role, but are better suited to sharing transactional knowledge. A more complete understanding of tacit or folk knowledge needs discussion between many parties.
    
Reaching agreement on specific issues and capturing ideas for improvements from service users and partners is something that is often vital to securing agreement on an idea or project, but this is also a discursive process.

Equipping a service design team with desktop-based online collaboration tools is a powerful enabler of effective service design. Providing individuals with the ability to work together effectively irrespective of their locations and making it possible for them to interact in a secure environment that is as intuitive and as natural to use as if they were in the same room,  aids the collaboration and free discussion that reveals the detail of processes and lets decisions be made quickly.
    
The latest tools, such as Netviewer’s one2meet, allow users to securely share any document on their desktop PC – without their collaborators being required to install programmes for conferencing. This makes it very practical for any PC user to have an ad hoc meeting, as no administration rights are required for them to start or join a conference. Face to face contact is provided by integrated video conferencing using a standard web cam and full duplex VoIP saves on conference call costs.
    
Face to face
When you compare the ability to engage with any person, or group of people, who are relevant to a discussion, and the resources at their disposal, no matter where they are located with just a couple of mouse clicks, it readily becomes apparent how inefficient waiting for regular scheduled meetings, convening special meetings or traipsing to hardware intensive video conferencing suites is.
    
In addition to sharing one’s own desktop and talking face to face, the person starting a web conference can request any of the other participants to share their desktop and offer participants control of his PC or request control of theirs. This allows people to work jointly on a document or perhaps demonstrate actions in an application or on a website. All voice, video and information shared on screen can be recorded for later review.
    
This combination of capabilities makes it more practical than ever to consult widely with colleagues, clients and citizen users when defining services and their systems that support them, reducing risk and maximising the value of the body of knowledge within the organisation. An additional benefit is that less time is wasted arranging and travelling to meetings.
    
Bichard’s second key issue was the management of IT innovation. He advised that to manage innovation IT professionals needed to be business led, inclusive, realistic, on guard against design drift and to manage well with an appreciation of risk and contingency. These are all core project management competencies that require knowledge and information sharing both inside and outside of the organisation.  
    
Once more, web based collaboration tools can contribute to success. As discussed, good practice in service design will ensure alignment with realistic business goals and the inclusion of the input of all stakeholders. During the evaluation phase of a project, teams can use the same online meeting tools to review tender options and design choices, amend and comment documents and test interface options.  Above all, by meeting when needed, without need to travel unnecessarily, the team can make rapid decisions and save time that they can invest in innovation.
    
In the implementation phase, the IT team can use Netviewer to discuss time lines, evaluate the impact of design modifications and review progress, ensuring consensus and reducing version control issues by only working on one document.  Where external suppliers or partners are involved they can be brought into ad hoc meetings when their expertise or decisions are required.

Capability and Acceptability
The third issue highlighted by Bichard was capability and acceptability. Ensuring close collaboration and contact with users and partners throughout a project’s design and implementation will make the most of the whole group’s knowledge and build the shared vision that helps the acceptance of change.

The final stage of deploying a new service however requires careful planning to deliver the support that effects a smooth transition. The use of collaboration tools can help assure success through the delivery of group and one-on-one remote training and even the integration of live on demand support for web applications by integrating the collaboration tools with an application or web service.

For more information
Netviewer offers on demand demonstrations and free evaluation of its tools for online collaboration at www.netviewer.com
Netviewer will be exhibiting at the following trade shows:
9./10.4. – Unified Communications, London Olympia, stand 811
22.-24.4. – Infosecurity Europe, London Olympia, stand H 210
29.4. – 1.5. – Internet World, London Earls Court, stand W188.

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