Communication is critical for local governments. Whether it’s talking to citizens on the phone, web-conferencing with teams in different sites, or sharing files with suppliers and third parties, getting timely responses and information is crucial on a day-to-day basis.
Unified communications (UC) brings together all of these communication methods into one platform. Through a single interface that can be accessed from any device and any location, employees can transition seamlessly between multiple communication applications.
So, can UC really offer local governments a unified approach to communication across all local sites and departments, and still deliver real value at a time when controlling costs is essential for public sector organisations?
Local authorities typically operate across multiple dispersed sites, covering multiple local council buildings across a large area. In addition, an increasing number of home-based and remote workers mean this is a complex ecosystem of employees.
The integration of email, voice and instant messaging in unified communications is designed to make location irrelevant. The same rich functionality is available for everyone, regardless of whether they are home-working, hot-desking or working remotely.
Meeting in-person can be impractical, time consuming or simply too expensive, but UC makes it easy to find and contact anyone, facilitating teamwork by allowing colleagues to connect via phone, instant message or web and video conference.
For example, if the head of the housing team wants to hold regular weekly meetings with teams based in various locations, these can be held virtually, via multi-way instant chat messages or video conferencing sessions. Additionally, documents can be shared instantly with the team and updated in real time.
Within local authorities, the number of people working on particular patches or dealing with particular areas of government is finite, but collaboration between teams is critical. By adopting UC, a far more efficient working experience can be implemented through ‘presence’, a key feature of the platform providing information on colleague availability.
Local government employees can easily identify who’s available and on which channel, so queries can be directed to the right person and instant responses received. For example, if a planning assistant wanted to ask his boss an urgent question, he can see using ‘presence’ that she’s not available, but will be out of a meeting in five minutes. A quick tag on the presence pops up an alert when the boss is ready and they initiate an IM session: no more waiting for email replies, ignored calls or receiving out of office messages.
Public sector budget restructuring makes doing more with less a priority, and there are many ways in which UC can deliver cost savings back to local governments.
For IT managers a single, integrated platform lowers maintenance and support costs. Furthermore, interoperable UC applications fit into existing IT infrastructures for easier deployment and migration. Routing voice calls through UC instead of land-lines or mobiles can also reduce phone bills, with IP telephony enabling communication across dispersed locations at no cost over an IP network.
New working practices can drive further cost savings. Access to an integrated communications platform from anywhere on any device means the number of seats, desks and buildings can be reduced – an appealing prospects for local governments looking to consolidate their estates and sites that are a drain on maintenance costs.
Perhaps the easiest way to calculate the potential return on investment is in terms of productivity. Local authorities have a multitude of workers who spend a vast amount of time working away from desks on the road. Saving just five hours every week by working remotely instead of driving equates to 240 extra working hours per year, which gives £5,040 worth of time back to the organisation per employee (based on a £40,000 a year salary).
Improved citizen service and relations
A UC platform can play a critical role in improving citizen engagement and service. The addition of Presence constitutes a cultural shift for many workers; it is a time-saving mechanism that empowers employees with insight into the availability of their colleagues, reducing wasted time.
Advanced directories allow employees to find the right people in the Council to deal with requests requiring specific skill sets or expertise, saving time for employees and ensuring citizens are not being directed to the wrong people and departments.
Pop-up stations can also be set up with ease to provide citizen-centric outposts such as job centres, libraries, civic centres, education facilities or even a Citizen’s Advice Bureau, where the physical IT infrastructure is already in place. This approach gives citizens direct access to expertise and supporting resources, making it straightforward and cost effective for queries to be dealt with by the right person.
Local authorities are already benefiting from a unified approach to communication, enhancing productivity, driving cost savings, enhancing collaboration and driving the provision of more efficient citizen services.
Using UC effectively means using the right communications channel, at the right time and with the right person, whether that’s between different departments, between colleagues, or improving interaction with members of the public.