The real impact of legacy IT on Government

Written by on March 10, 2016 in Guest Blog with 0 Comments

legacy ITThe Fear Series is about highlighting some of the most common fears I have come across working in public services to improve the use of web and social media for around 10 years. These fears and anxieties are often used as barriers to better online presences and engagement and they come up so frequently I want to pick them apart and offer up some suggestions to help you face your web and social media fears.

Most public sector organisations are lumbered with IT systems and equipment that perpetuate inefficient working practices, deskill staff and force some staff to use their own technology. From outdated browsers (my most recent work with an organisation had me at a machine resplendent with IE9) and clumsy mobile devices to badly designed internal networks and systems there’s not much over public sector IT that anyone could claim is helping to foster modern working, effective knowledge exchange and efficiency. These systems create a whole host of problems: frustration, inefficiency, limiting personal and professional development, making sure the workforce is isolated and wasted cash. All of this has also helped create commissioners who are not intelligent commissioners who play around in creaky old procurement frameworks and there’s serious bank in that for a small family of IT providers.

Procurement frameworks that lock out the smaller and more creative players, terrible company issued equipment and badly designed systems are strong constant features in the public sector workplace. Legacy systems are big problems and it will take years to sort some of it out but other bits are frankly nonsense, for example blocking parts of the Internet or limiting access to internal systems making remote working complicated. So what happens when your organisation creates a YouTube campaign you can’t answer stakeholder questions about because you can’t see YouTube at work (true story by the way)? What do you do when you need to work from home tomorrow but you are not allowed to access the document management system remotely? Where do you turn when you want to capture an image or some video from your awesome community event to share with your networks online? You break out your own phone/laptop/tablet to email yourself those documents, capture that social content and watch that YouTube video. You take things off the secure networks that don’t work for you and you create content for your organisation on your own device. You stuff your Dropbox to the hilt and collaborate on Drive because those tools allow you flexibility and because they work. Meanwhile data managers, IT security bods and data protection colleagues are having aneurisms all over the place. So where is the middle ground between BYOD and proper data and information handling?

Some thoughts for discussion:

Foster greater understanding. The irritated staff member won’t understand why they can’t see YouTube and the IT security gal will be sick of staff moaning about it when she knows it is because there’s not enough bandwidth. The irritated member of staff won’t understand their full responsibilities with regard to data and document handling and management and the data security guy is on edge about the amount of organizational information flying around the cloud. There’s very little good communication with the workforce about why some IT restrictions or systems are in place and while it won’t stop people going off network or BYODing, clearer communication might help slow things down or going up to the cloud with greater consideration. And then there’s that FOI thing….

Enable BYOD. Let’s be reasonable- lockdown is not the answer. Not every email needs a layer of government grade security over it, not every document is confidential and social media is a legitimate business tool. People are using their own devices in droves already but enabling BYOD means guidance and advice for use can be created and, again, an understanding about appropriate use can be negotiated.

Open up. There are still organisations that block social media to prevent people from having public discussions, that block web based collaborative environments and that only provide IE for web browsing (and don’t always keep it up to date). What is being achieved here isn’t security or damage limitation but the deskilling of a workforce and the creation of a workforce that is finding their own unsanctioned solutions. By trying to keep so much control, a restrictive environment has been created in a lot of organisations and it’s all kinds of damaging.

Staff will continue to create workarounds where their organisations fail them but how can organisations either provide better tools or sanction people using their own devices?

This article was first published here, and is reproduced with kind permission.

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About the Author

About the Author: For over ten years, Leah has been working with small teams and individuals to help them learn to use digital platforms for communication, engagement and building relationships. She is Director of Relate Lab, a consultancy offering hands on short to medium term support to people who want to learn practical skills for online community growth and management. .


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