State Agencies Educate and Inform via UC

A mix of tools makes it easier to train staff, encourage collaboration and improve communications.

State governments are deploying unified communications and collaboration tools to streamline document management, save time on travel and train staff more efficiently.

The School Improvement Division of the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), for example, relies on a Microsoft SharePoint 2010 portal for all of its document management needs, according to CIO Matthew Porett. The division monitors and reviews student performance documents and looks for ways to improve outcomes.

In the past, roughly six to 20 MDE employees would have to make a site visit to a district to collect and review the required forms. Now, all the documents are loaded on the portal, and DOE staffers run follow-up conferences over a Polycom voice system to iron out the details.

Using SharePoint saves MDE $20,000 annually because it no longer has to compensate district employees for the hours they spent compiling documents. The department also saves considerably on travel costs. “Much of this moved forward because we had to find ways to work smarter with declining resources,” Porett explains. “It’s been widely accepted and applauded by the districts.”

MDE also uses WebEx from Cisco Systems to train teachers. Porett says all of the sessions, which cover everything from new academic standards to how to deploy a flipped classroom, are archived. That way, if a teacher can’t attend a specific class, he or she can go online and view the training session when it’s convenient.

MDE even offers one-way webcasts for longer training sessions that are geared to larger audiences and plans to use Microsoft Lync for one-to-one or one-to-many video chats.

“I’m trying to get our department to be seen as a resource for inspirational technology leadership,” Porett explains. “I think the video chats especially are a big opportunity for people to communicate more frequently.”

Brent Kelly, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, says he expects to see more organizations collaborate this way.

MDE has been able to connect its people with many different kinds of tools, Kelly says. “It creates a very fluid and robust way to work.”

An Efficient Way to Go

Multiple communications and collaboration tools also help the Washington State Department of Health save money on travel and train its staff more effectively.

The amount the Minnesota Department of Education has saved over four years by deploying Microsoft SharePoint

Janice Taylor, a DOH technical resource management project and training coordination supervisor, says the team serves a diverse mix of health department staffers and external partners, including nutritionists, lab scientists, health inspectors, drinking water specialists, physicians, social workers and health educators. “Our goal is to deliver the right communications tool for the job at hand,” she says.

According to Taylor, she and Director of Applications Resource Management Dan Francis provide the staff with a variety of web conferencing tools, including WebEx and the GoToMeeting product suite from Citrix Systems. They also use the agency’s Polycom video conferencing gear for meetings and collaborative projects. For video conference sessions, local health departments, providers and educators connect via an IP-based Polycom video conferencing bridge.

Developing a UC Plan for Education and Training

There are so many unified communications technologies to consider today that knowing how or where to get started can be daunting. Brent Kelly, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, suggests the following:  

Tip 1: Profile your users and develop use cases. Be judicious in how you distribute the applications. Not everyone needs every communications capability. The organization will save on licensing and operations costs if people get what they need. Ask your providers about bundled solutions for the organization’s different use cases.

Tip 2: Begin with the end in mind. Don’t roll out UC because it’s “cool” or the organization gets it “free” with an enterprise software subscription. Be purposeful in how you use it. Consider how such capabilities might be used to educate or train staff. Look at what other state and local governments are doing and how they roll out UC capabilities to help people become more engaged learners.

Tip 3: Anticipate that some training will be necessary. Even if the manufacturer or service provider insists the system is intuitive, build in some time to train staff and other users.

Tip 4: Explore how new social networking tools can enhance collaboration. Consider how emerging enterprise social networking solutions, such as IBM Connections, can help your organization. Study the types of information that other organizations are posting on their walls and in other social media applications and determine how such tools can be deployed securely within your organization.

Tip 5: Get stakeholder buy-in. It doesn’t make sense to force technologies and tools on your users. Solicit stakeholder input, and then help people understand the immediate and long-term benefits of the new UC and collaboration tools. For example, explain how video chat will make one-to-one or one-to-many collaboration easier or why using the video capabilities in WebEx from Cisco Systems or Microsoft Lync can make training more efficient.

Tip 6: Decide whether cloud-based UC services are applicable. Does the organization need to have an on-premises solution, or can it be hosted in the cloud? Compelling cloud-based and hybrid UC solutions are available, so do the research to determine what would work best for your organization.

Oct 12 2012