The culture of how people in government come together is shifting fast. Finally, that’s a good thing.
Any seasoned public sector executive knows the feeling all too well.
At the end of a long, taxing day there’s a reflection on the busy hours immediately passed, and then the realisation hits … “what did I actually achieve today?”
For decades, the reality of public service has been back-to-back conference calls, unrelenting travel for committees and late hours that subvert sound intentions and good ideas into a productivity-depleting morass of unresolved action points.
For too many public sector leaders, ‘real work’ often starts after hours — when the talking stops and the typing starts. Not for much longer.
Technology has often promised to restore time and productivity; and it is finally delivering. What’s changed is there’s now real seamlessness – where people don’t scramble for logins or get locked out. And it’s affordable and it scales. And while collaboration software that lets staff work together from anywhere has recently proliferated, the missing piece of the puzzle has been pulling everything together in a way that works.
Cisco looks to have finally nailed that last hurdle with Cisco Spark, an integrated suite that combines intelligent and effortless file sharing, third party collaboration apps, tools and messaging with best of breed video and audio.
It means staff using Cisco Spark are virtually together, wherever they happen to be. They work together without incompatible tech or distance getting in the way.
One area Cisco Spark is poised to ignite is the Holy Grail of cross-agency collaboration by making it far more feasible and practical.
The big challenge for agencies working across portfolios and jurisdictions is securely providing the right level of access to those who need it.
By using Twitter-style @user names in Cisco’s Spark, colleagues across agency lines can be instantly authorised and connected and work together on a trusted platform as and when required within designated boundaries – and not otherwise.
“Being able to get cross-agency teams together is a massive headache, due to physical restraints and some protocol issues and now it suddenly isn’t,” Cisco’s director of collaboration Vaughan Klein says.
“When a political problem arises and a Minister from on high claps their hands and expects agency execs to solve it, suddenly they can be together and that in itself is powerful.”
Collaboration with effect
The creation of an interoperable collaboration platform by design – as opposed to yet another application – means dispersed teams can share documents on most devices through Cisco Spark.
This said, a killer feature is the Cisco Spark Board, which can become the central point of any physical meeting room.
Best described as a cloud-connected whiteboard (it can actually be any colour you want) it’s designed to allow multiple users to edit, write and draw on the board from anywhere, while also talking via video.
This said, intelligent displays, boards (call them what you want) are really just the icing on the cake for government and enterprise.
What matters is that Cisco Spark can securely and smartly weave together applications, files and permissions needed for small and large groups to work.
Say goodbye to the refrain “I’ll dig that out and email it to you”.
Harnessing the here and now
Klein says government executives should view Cisco Spark as a pivotal step in the cultural and technological transformation of workplaces because physical and process barriers evaporate.
“We all know the problems most workplaces have with collaboration and group activity; the first killer is it takes 15 minutes for everyone to get in and set up. Then disparate technology can lead to terrible pixilation of video and lots of lip sync problems,” he says.
“The people who aren’t in the room feel a disconnection, like they are not a full participant.”
There’s real evidence that shows the urgency of employee engagement and connection to make collaboration work.
Cisco’s recent Workforce Experience 2020 report specifically canvasses emerging work trends, employee expectations and their influence on organisations. It noted more satisfied and engaged staff can reduce employee churn by as much as 50%.
For a public sector now challenged by the expectations of ‘screen smart’ millennials, this can make the difference between keeping or losing emerging talent as they achieve proficiency in their roles. That’s huge.
Digital by design
Citing the payoff that comes from good online customer and user experiences, Klein contends the same principle ought to apply to staff experiences in government.
“What we have now comes from design thinking. We wanted to create an experience that’s actually better than being there,” Klein says of Cisco’s approach to Cisco Spark.
It’s a bigger cultural play than just super-usable technology – even with biometric participant recognition and enterprise software integration thrown in with Cisco Spark.
The boost in productivity and morale that organisations can reap is first triggered by a commitment from leaders to foster workplace engagement that gives staff back time and the belief they can succeed, not just survive.
Lighting the path
Klein says many government IT departments affected by budget cuts logically spend more time worrying about ‘lights on’ concerns than enhancing human work practices.
Thus fostering collaboration and lifting productivity needs to come from the broader leadership group to happen.
“If you are going to make a change in culture and behaviour, it has to be driven by the senior executives of the organisation,” Klein says. “Where IT feels unable to be progressive, bottom-up changes are never going to be very successful.”
Interactions that matter
The Cisco Spark platform provides organisations the option of redefining what coming together at work means well beyond a meeting.
Given research reports in recent times have found that 34% of workers admit to having fallen asleep in meetings and over 60% of meetings are held without a specified agenda , the case for making a change in how they are planned and run is almost impossible to refute.
The rewards come when the outcomes and milestones of group events and meetings become the primary focus as opposed to people just showing up to be counted.
It means the speed and effectiveness with which the public sector and government delivers can increase even if budgets are constrained.
And that can’t happen soon enough.