Let it Flow – Scottish Water taps into information as an asset

Scottish Water provides vital infrastructure on a national scale. We take a look at how, as part of their digital transformation, they are taking control of a major asset: information.

A photo of a waterfall
The Loup of Fintry Waterfall, used under Creative Commons

Water is one of our most vital assets. As a publicly-owned company, answerable to the Scottish Parliament and the people of Scotland, Scottish Water is responsible for providing 1.34 billion litres of drinking water and taking away 847 million litres of waste water every day.

Scottish Water has long recognised the value of its physical assets, which are instrumental in discharging its responsibilities to Parliament and the people. Of pumps, plants or reservoirs, and the people who operate and maintain them.

But it’s only more recently that Scottish Water began to fully realise the intrinsic value of its information as an asset.

Better Information for Better Government

It is perhaps timely, given The Cabinet Office’s recent publication of its white paper ‘Better Information for Better Government.’ The Cabinet Office reflects on the growing “awareness of the value of information as a corporate asset (like money or people).”

The context of ‘Better Information for Better Government’ is the difficult shift which public sector organisations face in the “transition from paper-based working to email and electronic documents, [which have] undermined the rigour of information management across much of government.”

The Cabinet Office recognises that:

“There is an immediate need to improve the organisation and management of departments’ accumulated digital records. Fortunately, the tools and techniques for doing so have improved rapidly in recent years and some departments are already making effective use of them.”

Scottish Water is one such department which is already at the forefront of this movement.

It has already benefitted from an initial foray into the transition from paper-based working to digital working. Some years ago, Documentum was chosen as its EDRM of choice. But user adoption was not strong, and, over time, file shares became established as the tool of choice within the organisation.

Office 365

Today, having learned the lessons from that early initiative, Scottish Water is embracing recent improvements in the tools and techniques which ‘Better Information for Better Government’ recognises – with the cloud and Office 365 at the heart of its new strategy.

“A number of departments are moving to new cloud platforms over the next 1-3 years, presenting a significant opportunity to refresh information management approaches and drive compliance in departments.”
‘Better Information for Better Government’, The Cabinet Office, January 2017

This article looks at a few of the ways in which Scottish Water is beginning to use the enterprise-class capabilities of Office 365 to transform its information management. In turn, it shows how this enables Scottish Water to derive real value from its information – an asset which sits right at the heart of its business.

The technology is a vital agent of change, and Office 365 delivers significant advantages over and above Scottish Water’s legacy platforms. However, this is about more than just the technology. The technology in itself isn’t enough to drive positive, transformative change; it needs to be carefully harnessed as part of a wider change management programme. That is another crucial lesson which Scottish Water has learned since it first grappled with the transition towards electronic information management, with a renewed and re-imagined approach towards Business Change, and People Change in particular.

In doing so, the work already underway at Scottish Water reinforces a number of the positive Cabinet Office recommendations made in ‘Better Information for Better Government.’

Corporate Memory

‘Better Information for Better Government’ states that:

“Effective information management is fundamental to the preservation and utility of corporate memory. Corporate memory (the accumulated knowledge of a department) ensures that civil servants learn effectively, preventing the repetition of failed policies and superfluous activity.”

Scottish Water has engaged wholeheartedly with this principle, harnessing the capabilities of Office 365 to develop its corporate memory.

“Information, if put to good use, can potentially increase civil service efficiency at a time when financial and human resources are constrained.”
‘Better Information for Better Government’, The Cabinet Office, January 2017

Documents form a sizeable component of this corporate memory – and Office 365 supports the concept of a document lifecycle in a way in which the previous fileshares simply could not. So Scottish Water now has documents starting their life in OneDrive. The author can select to ‘share’ their document with colleagues and collaborate on it in real time, taking advantage of Office 365’s live co-authoring features.

The document can then be promoted into a Team Site or Project Site in SharePoint Online which engages Office 365’s document retention, archiving and destruction capabilities.

From a compliance perspective, the effective and appropriate management of documents has never been in sharper focus. Contravention of the principles set out in the Public Records Act and the Data Protection Act is already subject to a punitive range of consequences; the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, scheduled to replace the DPA in 2018, will be even more severe, with maximum fines for data loss of €20 million or 4% of global annual turnover.

The Cabinet Office points out that “keeping everything would make compliance problematic.” And that’s before we even start to think about the significant cost of storage that such a “keep everything” strategy would impose upon organisations such as Scottish Water. Keeping everything is neither feasible from a financial perspective, nor desirable from a compliance one.

Project Discipline

When it comes to project discipline, the Cabinet Office suggests – perhaps unfairly – that there is a tendency in the public sector for project work to “not formally conclude with a clearly identifiable end point or output.”

For Scottish Water, this lack of project discipline is not in evidence. Instead, the organisation is underpinned by a well-defined project framework, which is observed across its complete portfolio of programmes and projects.

To that end, Scottish Water now uses Office 365 to develop a Project Site template to support and reinforce conformity to its project methodology, giving users a choice of either the APM or PRINCE2/MSP workplace structures.

Communities of Practice

When it comes to less-structured information, Scottish Water’s use of Yammer is front and centre of its information management strategy in general, and knowledge management in particular.

Nowhere is this more evident than with the ‘Communities of Practice’ it is developing around the knowledge it holds within its organisation.

Like many public sector organisations, Scottish Water contains a high number of staff who have served the organisation for decades. Over that time, they have accumulated considerable specialist knowledge, which is hugely valuable to the organisation. However, unless this knowledge is harnessed and shared, it is lost when those staff ultimately leave their roles.

“Unstructured legacy digital information poses a potential operational risk to departments. It can contain documents critical to ongoing business that were created by an individual who has since left the department.”
‘Better Information for Better Government’, The Cabinet Office, January 2017

For Scottish Water, Yammer provides an effective vehicle to store and share the kind of tacit knowledge and expertise which would otherwise walk outside the organisation. But, returning to a familiar refrain, providing the technology is only the start of the story. To extend the aqueous metaphor – “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”

Change Management

That’s where effective change management comes in. Users need to be engaged in the design and execution of business transformation strategies; if you simply impose change on them, it will most likely fail. This likelihood of failure is even higher with digital transformation, because technology is often complicated.

We need to remember that human beings are at the heart of this change. They can be complicated, too – as can the wider cultural factors which prevail within an organisation, which may be deeply ingrained through years and years of continual reinforcement.

So, the Cabinet Office suggests that “behavioural science techniques” need to be applied to underpin effective change:

“It is vital that the change programme includes a plan to increase general users’ capability and awareness so that all are able to leverage the additional functionality to the maximum effect.”
‘Better Information for Better Government’, The Cabinet Office, January 2017

The Cabinet Office cites the EAST framework of change management, a method which it has developed in partnership with the Behavioural Insights Team and Nesta. The framework is ingenious in its simplicity – something which cannot be said of all change management initiatives.

The objective of EAST is to make tasks Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely for those who are participating in the change. When it comes to the transformation of information management within an organisation, it will not get done properly if EAST principles are not applied.

“Information management is a hassle that diverts teams from more pressing business. Therefore it does not get done.”
‘Better Information for Better Government’, The Cabinet Office, January 2017

Put simply, in the report “EAST: Four simple ways to apply behavioural insights”, the Behavioural Insights Team sets out a direct call to action to “reduce the ‘hassle factor’ of taking up a service.” So, how has Scottish Water started to apply some of these EAST principles to transform its own information management strategy?

Let’s start with the removal of some technology barriers. ‘Better Information for Better Government’ states: “anecdotal evidence suggests that individuals are broadly aware that information management is something they need to do but (due to corporate or team culture) it is in many cases de-prioritised in favour of other more pressing business requirements.”

In other words, the path of least resistance kicks in. For a document author, this doesn’t usually include a strong motivation to do something like apply metadata to a document – even though this will make the subsequent search and retrieval of the document much harder for the author and other would-be readers or collaborators.

Automated Metadata Tagging

For Scottish Water, though, documents will be automatically tagged with appropriate metadata based on their location within Office 365’s information architecture.

And as ‘machine learning’ concepts continue to evolve through Microsoft Graph, the potential for Office 365 to filter out clutter and suggest and promote relevant information to users is finally becoming a reality.

Remote Site Provisioning

For Office 365 site administrators, Scottish Water users will also benefit from our ProvEn remote site provisioning service.

What used to be a laborious, time-consuming and inaccurate business of setting up and then trying to maintain the sprawl of hundreds of SharePoint sites has now been simplified. ProvEn provides a controlled method to ensure sites have a consistent layout, naming system and structure. This, in turn, improves the consistency of SharePoint sites for the information’s end users.

Open by Default

In terms of cultural barriers, EAST encourages us to “harness the power of defaults”. So, for Scottish Water, information will be ‘open by default’, with sensitive information deliberately and consciously locked down by exception only.

‘Better Information for Better Governments’ recognises that cultural barriers can inhibit effective information management and “depends on a department’s attitude to sharing work across their platform.” Scottish Water is addressing this head-on to promote an open, and transparent approach to sharing its valuable information assets across the organisation, rather than restricting access to them.

The Power of Networks

EAST also encourages us to “use the power of networks”. We’ve already seen how Yammer is at the heart of Scottish Water’s strategy, around developing Communities of Practice in particular. This principle is already well established through Scottish Water’s Office 365 Intranet, which promotes the concept of subject matter experts and using the Intranet as one route to identify them, before going on to collaborate with them.

‘Better Information for Better Government’ describes “‘people finder’ capabilities” as “identifying the person who led that work and where they stored their information”. But Scottish Water has already moved way beyond that, best evidenced by its use of Yammer to provide an environment which offers a self-regulating support community for users of its intranet. Users pose questions or express the challenges they are experiencing through this Yammer forum. Colleagues can then volunteer responses or suggestions or signpost them to other subject matter experts who may be able to assist further.

The technology, and the promotion of an open, collaborative culture, is allowing information to flow through the organisation. In turn, its value as an asset is being realised.

People Change

This development of an open, collaborative culture does not happen by accident. Scottish Water places significant emphasis on ‘People Change’ as a vital component of its wider Business Change strategy. It has recently adopted the ADKAR model, which strives to deliver five outcomes which an individual must achieve for change to be successful – Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement.

To drive towards these outcomes, Scottish Water has embraced the concept of Early Adopters – the involvement of small groups of users in the iterative, incremental development of Office 365 templates and practices. These groups are representative of the wider needs of Scottish Water. So incremental development allows for early feedback and timely refinement to align more fully with the needs of the whole organisation before the concepts are deployed more broadly across the enterprise.

This engagement generates buy-in from the user community. It also minimises the risk of rejection of the implementation by the wider organisation, because it has been developed and refined with the needs of those users front and foremost.

Crucially, the Early Adopters concept extends beyond just the functional capabilities of Office 365. It also deals with the non-functional needs of the users – things like training, support and content migration requirements, which underpin any successful digital transformation.

Nudging the Stubborn Resistors

And sometimes, despite all the best efforts to lead positive change, there remains a collection of stubborn resistors.

EAST supports the concept of the “nudge”. The Cabinet Office helpfully provides an example of such a nudge: “removing the option for staff to save on shared drives and instead nudging them towards their EDRM system”. For Scottish Water, any laggards will ultimately be nudged towards Office 365 through the decommissioning of legacy alternatives such as file shares and its existing Documentum system.

We hope, though, that most will willingly embrace and adopt the positive change which Scottish Water is now promoting across its organisation, to fully realise the value of its information assets.

Check back in over the coming months for further updates on how this transformational journey develops.

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