Unify Blog

Here at Circuit HQ we are loving some of the new features Apple has introduced in iOS 10. Finally users have more control over how they communicate. With collaboration apps like Circuit, the traditional mobile call isn’t the main and dominating communication method anymore, that pushes everything else into the background. So what exactly has Apple introduced with their CallKit API, and how do we leverage it for Circuit?

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Digital plays a key role in the shift to new ways of working for local councils, offering the opportunity to respond to changing public digital demand and to make efficiency savings.

Streamlining services across local authority teams why collaboration is key-01
Streamlining local council services

Keeping children safe, making sure vulnerable people have their needs met and working to promote public health and provide social care can be a challenge at a time when local government finances are under pressure.

But unified communications and collaborative working along with new powers enabling councils to keep all cash made from the sale of assets and raise extra money to fund social care can help local authorities rise to the challenge – and put into practice the government’s agenda of shifting power to authorities.

 

Why should you collaborate?

Local authority heads of services are already talking to and working with other agencies and across departments to share scarce resources and information, tackle common or ‘cross-cutting’ issues like fear of crime or social exclusion, and avoid duplicating services.

Council leaders are convinced that joint working is the way forward – in 2025 44% are likely to work in partnership with others on technological innovation, 41% on outsourcing whole services and 41% on streamlining services and making efficiencies; only 6% said they would do everything in-house.

 

Does your collaboration have the hallmarks of success?

Working with other agencies to streamline your services can save you money, make provision more effective and build the council’s reputation as a local leader in the community. There are different kinds of collaboration – from formal types where organisations are merged into one unit with shared goals and a separate identity, along with a long-term vision, to informal networking arrangements, where a loose agreement to share resources and support activities leads to a short-term collaboration. They can involve sharing services with local charities to get information about vulnerable citizens or outsourcing services completely.

But what makes for a successful partnership? One obvious key requirement is strong leadership, particularly in the first stages of a collaboration – getting the chief executive or council leader involved can help see a partnership through its early days. The leadership might change as the project develops.

It’s important to set your sights on what can get the best results for local people rather than what individual partners might get out of a collaboration and it goes without saying that relationships between partners need to be built on trust. Getting things set up quickly rather than letting plans drift and being able to deal with risks effectively are also crucial. And it’s important to measure the cost benefits of collaboration to find out what the return is on your investment. This will help you plan for the future and make you accountable.

Communication is also crucial. Staying in touch with your partners and keeping up with developments can be easier through technology like video-conferencing so you don’t have to meet face-to-face and cloud-computing, which allows you to share information.

 

How are councils working in partnership to streamline services?

Local authorities across the country are joining forces with other agencies to provide a number of services, like helping vulnerable people in the community, tackling unemployment and deprivation and raising awareness of difficult topics. They are working with partners in health, bringing together health and care records and gathering data from across agencies to support integrated commissioning.

For example, Leeds and Cheshire local authorities have been working on integrated digital care records. The project involved merging key information from the partners’ separate systems into a single web-based application. The councils believed integration would help provide more joined up care and offer value for money.

Councils working on the government’s Troubled Families initiative have been using technology to  strengthen partnership working , which in turn has led to a better focus on families that needs support.

For example, Manchester City Council extended access to its database of information through secure web log-ins to a wide range of local partners, including NHS Manchester. As a result, work to identify families eligible for support through the programme grew and not only have more families received support, but the council has also been able to build a more complete picture of the issues the families face so partners can better meet their needs.

Meanwhile, Buckinghamshire County Council collaborated closely with four district councils as well as agencies such as Jobcentre Plus, Citizens Advice and other voluntary groups, to develop a web-based universal benefit calculator tool, which was tailored to the local area. It allows advisors to provide people with information on how they might be better off in work. Two other tools were also developed to deal with the area’s poor broadband connections – a mobile offline version of the benefit calculator, which can be used in different locations on tablet devices and a My Next Steps app to help advisors prioritise applicants and make referrals and search for local organisations that can offer support.

Although welfare is mostly the responsibility of the district council, the county council is involved in the partnership to strengthen its leadership role and ensure vulnerable residents are protected.

Meanwhile Lewes District Council uses a secure cloud-based collaboration tool not just to work with its own staff and the public but also with partners, such as probation and criminal justice services. The tool allows staff across the partnership to provide effective case management and agencies to work in a more joined-up way.

 

How are partnerships sharing knowledge to inform services?

Along with providing services, partnerships can give local authorities access to education institutions’ knowledge to help them back up decisions they make about services. They’ll also be able to share the costs of the research.

Southampton adult social care services teamed up with Southampton University on the Care Life Cycle Research Project, which looked at the ageing population and demands on health and social care in UK. It used information on the older population’s health and living arrangements and a range of other characteristics from local and national data sources. It also included local health and social care providers’ data on their services and planned changes. The research outlined whether helping carers support older people could cut the demand for more expensive local authority support. It’s been used to predict the demand for social care in the future and to get an overall picture of the role local authority services play.

 

Discover more about streamlining services across local authority teams. Download The Local Authority Of The Future: Where The Citizen Comes First for best practice guidelines to help you working more collaboratively.

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Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.

To begin – this is absolutely NOT a ‘woe is me’ blog. This blog is a true account of how Flex Working has enabled a family to retain ‘normality’ in a difficult situation.  Why am I telling this? Because it is factual, because it is relevant and because I like to address the taboo at times!

Naturally, there will be those that think that the course of action taken is insensitive or ‘wrong’. To those I say – we all deal with situations in our own way, in a way that helps us to get through them, and we are all individuals with individual paths.

Let’s go back four years. My mother was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. Surgery, Radiotherapy, Chemotherapy – it all went by in a blur, and my family’s lives changed forever.  This was a time of shock, change and fear of the unknown. We all took time away from working lives to be there and support – and to learn and understand what impact this would have, not only on Mum’s life, but also on our own.

One lesson I have learned along this 4 year journey is ‘what being able to work means to the sick’. At first, Mum’s employer was supportive of mum with her illness, but then as the sick pay runs out, and her ability to travel to work is impaired with the frequent hospital visits and bouts of extreme tiredness due to the treatments – She was pensioned off.

She lost daily contact with colleagues and her  feeling of worth deteriorated, the job  that she loved (and had studied for years to qualify for) was no longer hers. She missed her friends and interaction.  Her employer lost a loyal, committed and knowledgeable employee – taking with her experience and skills that they could have leveraged – had they had technology such as Circuit.  Circuit would have enabled knowledge share/team collaboration/advice on an ad hoc basis – the employer retains knowledge whilst the employee retains a feeling of value.  Even on a consultancy basis, this could have made Mum’s convalescence so much easier as she would have still felt valued, and her employer would have continued to realise the investment they had made into Mum’s education and qualifications.

Moving on, how has flex working helped me lately? Well, here is a diary of a recent week !

Monday: work from home, pack straight after and drive 100 or so miles to Mum’s to stay overnight ready for an early start the next day.  Because I am an ‘anywhere worker’ I am able to stay with Mum to help her out for a week after her Chemotherapy – so much better for her than taking her home to mine and her having to fit in with our daily madness at home. This way she gets to relax and be comfortable in her own home, her own bed, and with her own routine – but with that little bit of assistance and company through the post treatment lull.

Tuesday: Leave the house early, having booked a half day holiday. Now the reason for that half day’s holiday is that I would be spending a significant part of my day driving the 60 miles or so to the hospital for Chemotherapy treatment, so whilst driving I am not being productive. However, I only booked a half day as whilst the treatment was in progress and Mum slept, I had wifi and a laptop (and coffee!) and was able to be totally productive thanks to flexible work enabling technology. During this treatment though, it was identified that we now needed an urgent blood transfusion and an appointment to kick off a ‘port’ being fitted for administering future treatments, PLUS (yup… ANOTHER appointment) for a review with the Oncologist. Not a problem I say, I am fortunate that I am a) already staying at mum’s, b) my children are grown and don’t need me to rush home and c) I can work remotely and flexibly!

Wednesday: A work from (Mum’s) home day.  Pretty uneventful, business as usual.

Thursday: Early start, head the 60 miles back to the hospital for an early meeting with the Oncologist. I take another half day’s leave because actually, I need my head in  the room for this meeting – and I really do know when it is the right time to switch off work.  The appointment last’s just half hour, so we head to a restaurant for lunch and for me to get on the wifi and work for a couple of hours before the next meeting. Back to hospital, next appointment done and dusted, and then head to a local hotel. Hit the room, log onto free wifi and work til dinner.

Friday: Early start for blood transfusion. Settle Mum in, grab a coffee and whilst she sleeps I am working… typing this blog, amongst other things, as it happens!

So that is my week. I have demonstrated agility, I have worked flexible hours, I have known when is right to give my full attention to personal life over work – and taken holiday accordingly.

As this illness has been ongoing for 4 years, we have all learned to live with it. It is what it is. We are not complacent – but we have all adapted to a new way of living with it. Personally, I have found ‘business as usual’ to be very grounding.  I thank my lucky stars that I am able to balance work and life thanks to new ways to work.

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Reduced local government staff numbers, austerity measures, and significantly reduced funding can put local residents in potentially life-threatening situations. Maintaining critical level output is crucial. Here’s how austerity is affecting councils and how they’re responding…

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Central government cuts in real terms funding for local authorities – 1.7% over the next four years – are leading to job losses across non-statutory services. Local authorities in England and Wales are not just facing a funding gap of £10 billion but will also have extra unfunded costs of £9.9 billion by 2019/20 to cover inflation and care services as demands rise because of the growing number of older people.

New government policies that affect councils will cost £6.3 billion by the end of the parliament – for example, a change in the rules making starter homes exempt from council charges could set local authorities back by £3 billion by the end of the decade. And a Local Government Association survey of 152 local authorities found that just 7% of councils felt they had the influence and funding they needed to support 16- to 18-year-olds.

Leeds City Council, for example, will have an £87 million funding gap in 2016/17, with £25 million less to spend on public health. Social housing rents will also go down and the council will have to reduce its staffing by losing 259 full-time equivalent positions. It, like other councils, will also start paying employees the real living wage of a minimum of £8.01 per hour from April 2016 adding to its costs.

 

How will this affect services?

As local authority heads of services try to deal with the funding cuts, the impact on vulnerable groups and communities could be devastating; there could be fewer opportunities, a lack of social justice and a rise in anti-social behaviour and loneliness in old age as the family and social networks break up. And short-term cuts alone could have a long-term impact on local communities that councils don’t even know about yet.

But councils still have a responsibility to meet the needs of local people, particularly vulnerable groups, children at risk, young and older people.

 

What are you doing to minimise risks and still provide critical services?

Doing joint risk assessments to look at the impact cuts could have on social and community issues and that involve a range of organisations, like the council, NHS and other public agencies is a good way of finding out how to better organise services to meet local needs. And investing money in a different way of working, moving towards partnerships with others and taking advantage of new technology can offset cuts, help you provide vital services more effectively and increase public confidence.

Responding to the cuts, Leeds City Council is putting services for vulnerable the young and older people at the top of its priority list. But the way it works will now have to be more commercial.

Leeds City councillor Judith Blake said: “The difficulty we now face is that with less and less government funding, council tax and other funding streams open to us have to be stretched further and further and even with the new social care precept we still have a significant gap in our public health and social care budgets which is a major concern. The council simply cannot continue to operate the way it has traditionally as the resource is no longer there, so we need to look at new ways of delivering services or helping people to help themselves, be that through working differently with partners or making the most of new innovations and technology.”

 

Are you ready to look at new ways of working?

Technology, such as cloud-based computing offering email, apps and networks as well as the facility to pool resources through mobile phones, tablets and other devices, can help you communicate better with other agencies and work in partnership to provide key services more efficiently and cost-effectively. Many local authorities are already using this kind of technology.

Hampshire County Council social workers will be able to get information about the background of a child, such as school attendance records, family details and notes made by different teams, from one resource thanks to new computer software that allows information to be shared. The One Social Care service also displays referrals and can automatically send a message to social workers if a child is excluded from school or misses a class. Issues can also be ‘de-escalated’ so that expensive interventions can be avoided.

Meanwhile, Leeds City Council and Calderdale Council got together to create a new database to help provide vulnerable residents in Leeds with more effective support. Through the system the city’s social workers can collect, store and manage information about their residents, see what decisions and action other agencies have taken and pick up any concerns. This integrated approach particularly helps vulnerable residents in remote areas.

Councillor Lisa Mulherin, Leeds City Council’s executive member for health, wellbeing and adults, said: “Demand for adult social care is increasing at a time when resources are more and more stretched, meaning it is vital that we find ways to work more efficiently so we can continue to effectively support vulnerable adults. Working with our colleagues in Calderdale to develop joint solutions is another great example of this.”

“This new software,” she added, “will mean our social workers will have the important information they need at their fingertips which will allow them to respond better and faster to the needs of the people they work with.”

A pilot scheme involving Cambridgeshire County Council and Central Bedfordshire Council provided 30 people over the age of 70 who did not feel confident about using information technology with a simplified Facebook-style app. It meant they could stay in touch with family and helped reduce their feelings of loneliness.

And in education, Hertfordshire County Council moved applications for secondary school admissions and free school meals online allowing it to get away from paper-based application processes. It was able to reduce red tape, drive down costs and improve services for parents and carers.

The Department for Communities and Local Government found councils that went digital saw average savings rise from £1.1 million to £1.4 million over 2015. Local government minister Kris Hopkins said: “Can do councils have led the way by proving that hundreds of millions of pounds can be saved every single year just by waking up to the digital dawn.”

 

Have you woken up to the digital dawn? Download The Local Authority Of The Future: Where The Citizen Comes First.

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Coffee ShopOver the last few weeks I have been thinking (dangerous I know!) about how working from home, or remotely, impacts various areas of our lives, and I am still thinking!  This subject is huge. So, today, I figured that a re-cap on the more widely discussed aspects wouldn’t go amiss.

Environment. I did cover this a little under ‘commuting’ in a previous blog, but didn’t look at the bigger picture. What about the ‘green’ effect?  Cloud based applications deliver a seamless remote working experience, but they also deliver it with far less cabling and switches and hardware than a traditional PBX – and this ultimately means less manufacturing and pollution from manufacture, and less electricity being used as we plug in less boxes.

Furthermore, less travel means less fumes and less stress on our overloaded motorways.

How about Managing staff?   We have heard the objection : ‘how do I know staff are working?’.   Well that is an easy objection to overcome:  targeting and objective setting AND measurement against their KPI’s. ask yourself as a manager – ‘do they  achieve their objectives?’.  You could use ‘presence’ indications on today’s Unified Communications technology , easy to see who is online, who is busy and who isn’t.  Mind you, they could be working flexible hours – which is a new mind set for employees AND employers.  Statistics are regularly hitting the news to demonstrate that  employees that can balance work/home with flex work are more likely to stay/not leave for a pay rise, be more productive.

Then there are the Employees:’ I don’t have a spare room to create an office at home’.  Objection overruled! you don’t need a room – people work from coffee shops; needing  just need comfort, wifi and a  laptop/tablet. Gone are the days of multiple lever arch files crammed full of printed material.  These days we just scan a document  on our  smart phone, and save e-copy in the cloud.

We have moved on from environment to people.  Not just people – employees.  Flexible/remote working enables employers to widen the geographic talent pool.  The right person for a job may not live in commuting distance – why allow lack of technology to limit your businesses growth and success with the right employee?

Even Maternity/paternity leave is affected. Technology enables Keep In Touch days – allowing both employee and employer to plan for return to work. Employees can stay ahead of the conversations and projects gradually whilst off – not getting involved – but just keeping informed. This has to make their transition back to work far easier?

Relocation. With flexible/remote working there is no need to lose an employee who needs to relocate home due to spouse’s job relocation or desire to move to a new area;  Working from home means that germs don’t get spread and  the common cold that one employee is suffering from doesn’t travel through the entire team and affect everyone’s productivity; Even the weather affects productivity less than if everyone were travelling to an office. If you’re already set up for flex working, it means your team productivity won’t grind to a halt on a snow day (a GREAT competitive advantage if your rivals aren’t ready for it).  This really is the topic that can go on and on! It’s a topic that your HR department shouldn’t be ignoring!

 

To discover more about how remote workers can be enabled, securely and simply, visit www.unify.com

 

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By Paul Bender, Global Public Sector Marketing

Last year, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) released an ambitious, modern and highly connected model for soldier learning and training. As the TRADOC Army Learning Concept 2015 video highlights, the U.S. Army is moving toward a model of mobility, where e-learning, videoconferencing and gamification will be integral parts of a soldier’s work.

TRADOC isn’t the only branch of the U.S. Armed Forces that has embraced a digitally savvy approach to warfighter communication. The Navy, Air Force and others have initiated connected and collaborative e-learning programs to support soldiers with training and just-in-time resources.

As consumer and business technologies evolve, the Department of Defense (DoD) finds new uses for unified communications (UC) solutions to support military personnel at home and overseas. This includes the use of mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, as well as platforms and solutions, like videoconferencing, voice and presence.  Now, DoD has migrated  and renamed “UC” from “Unified Communications” to “Unified Capabilities” to better describe the modern transition.

Adopting new technology is no easy feat for any organization, but due to the highly secure and classified nature of military operations, the challenges of upgrading and introducing new digital communication tools are magnified. This is what keeps defense organizations on the “trailing edge” of new technology trends.  Due to the unique and stringent requisites of the military, it is unrealistic to invest in tech the moment it becomes available. However, this does not dampen defense agencies’ motivations to take advantage of the latest UC innovations.

 Support and Secure

The DoD is working to support the use of mobile devices and digital communication within its divisions, but as always, the safety and security of warfighters is the top priority.

The use of mobile communication technology is rampant among civilians, so it should come as no surprise that this trend is seen with servicemen and women too. According to a report from the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, 96 percent of soldiers with a mobile device make voice calls and 95 percent use text messaging on a weekly basis.

The survey findings also reveal that nearly a third of soldiers own more than one mobile device, and younger soldiers are more likely to have mobile devices other than a smartphone, such as a tablet or e-reader.

There are obvious benefits for men and women in uniform who are able to better connect with their friends, loved ones and colleagues, particularly while on deployment. In fact, last year CNBC published an article about the benefits warfighters experience by feeling more connected while on deployment thanks to the modern technology on hand. But with these benefits come serious risks that cannot be ignored. If left unchecked, communication within the digital realm could inadvertently expose sensitive or classified information, putting individuals or entire missions in harm’s way.

 Advancements in Devices and Infrastructure

Fortunately, civilian and private sector tech is bolstering the UC strategy for military personnel. Siloed point solutions like walkie talkies, GPS trackers and traditional RFID connections have morphed into smart, connected, rugged devices that can perform all of these functions at once. This transformation helps servicemen and women better connect with each other and conduct their duties more efficiently.

Advancements go beyond handheld devices, to the services powering communications in the field and on base. Platforms that offer tools like VoIP, messaging, IM and video solutions mean the UC industry has become a critical factor in the DoD’s technology strategy. This also includes internal collaboration tools, such as blogs, wikis and other knowledge-sharing portals as outlined in a report from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR).

Cybersecurity is now an integral piece of UC solutions as well, rather than an afterthought. This makes new UC tools more appealing to the DoD, as it allows for easier securing of warfighter communications.

 Interoperability is Key to UC Strategy

Despite the myriad communication tools available for our nation’s warfighters, the DoD is working to consolidate its cyber infrastructure and technology platforms. It is a concerted effort to better secure, upgrade and enhance the digital experience for military personnel, and UC is no exception.

Defense agencies certainly need to consider endpoints, but perhaps more importantly, they need to consider the backend infrastructure and platforms that will enable dependable and scalable communication now and in the years to come. With so many UC vendors in the market, the DoD needs to be sure any technology investment will validate and enhance the military’s overall IT capabilities.

Interoperability should be an essential component of the DoD’s consolidation effort. It is imperative that existing legacy solutions work seamlessly with new platforms to ensure communications are truly unified. A good interoperability strategy will also anticipate the various ways UC technology will evolve five or ten years from now.

Agencies can expedite communications technology adoption by using Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) certified vendors. These companies have completed rigorous on-site testing with the military to ensure their technology solutions are held to the highest security and reliability standards set forth by the DoD, and that the solutions can be swiftly integrated into an agency’s IT schematic.

Interoperability is an important way for the military to stay on top of tech innovation while balancing openness and control for personnel. By prioritizing interoperability as a key component of the military’s IT consolidation efforts, warfighters across all branches of the military will be better equipped with the latest devices and UC innovations to support their collaboration, e-learning and daily duties.

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