Walking the ‘digital by default’ walk

At the end of last year, I presented at the Channel Shift Live conference – and had a great reaction to my slide about how much money UK online centres has saved the government by getting 750,000 thousand people online since April 2010. People liked the simple maths, as those 750,000 people have shifted 1.2 million offline contacts online each month, leading to a saving of £117,648,000. That’s a huge amount, and looks like pretty good value for the £30m Government have given us to get 1 million people online by April 2013- a target which we haven’t even reached yet. You can take a look at my slides from the conference here.

So how about our own channel shift metamorphosis? As an organisation, we’ve been talking the ‘digital by default’ (which includes things like eGov, online public services and channel shift) talk for a long time, but I’ll admit we didn’t always walk the walk. A couple of years ago we thought: “We talk about this internet thing a lot – shouldn’t we make more use of it in our business?” As such big advocates of technology we needed to put it at the very heart of everything.

How did we become digital by default? The biggest transformation was customising a clever web-based CRM system that automatically includes all of the performance data about people learning online in their local communities. This CRM allows us to easily communicate with almost 4,000 community partners, managing them effectively and providing the support they need. The whole team can use it, wherever we are. Our CRM system then links to our web centre search which means anyone wanting to get online can find a place nearby to get started. External organisations can also embed this search within their own website with a widget or an API, so we can share even more widely.

What’s more, the system we’ve created means our community partners can see their performance data on a personalised web page, something they say saves them hours of form-filling, as well as providing them, us and funders with accurate data. The counter you can see at the top of our learning website aggregates this data.

About a year ago we moved our funding application processes online, so centres can apply for grants without having to put pen to paper. The claim process also went online, so money can now be claimed without the fiddly process of printing a drawdown form, signing it and faxing it back. Even our contracts with projects are online. These two things have taken thousands of pieces of paper out of our processes. We’ve continued to develop our web-based intranet, making it easily accessible on the move and the natural place for staff to find and share news. And to fit in with our new staff-owned mutual, in December we embraced the Google Apps suite, and now we share all our documents online, in the cloud. By bringing our website development in-house and using cloud based software, we’ve reduced our IT costs by about 75% in the last 12 months.

Do we still have paper? Yes. Do people still bring notepads to meetings? Yes, although they’re now being replaced by laptops and even the odd iPad. Google Docs has made a big difference, and we can now share meeting notes or plans live as a meeting is happening.

What’s the next step for us in our digital by default journey? I’m not quite sure. I don’t think we’ll be getting rid of our printers just yet, but having gone through the challenges of moving all of our own processes and services online I now feel in a better place to preach the ‘digital by default’ message to anyone who’s willing to listen in 2012.


2 thoughts on “Walking the ‘digital by default’ walk

  1. The next step is to teach people to use the cloud instead of teaching them all the old fashioned stuff. The courses need updating.The other step is to help the rural people get a connection and to help the urban people on long line lengths who really struggle to use the internet. My aunt is such a person in suburban Southport and my daughter in Manchester has such low download speeds she can’t look at photos a lot of the time nor hold a skype call. My other daughter in Wales posts her photos to me on a CD as uploads on ADSL are pathetic. Until you get some decent pipes you can never get people digital by default, its easier for them to stay analogue. I know it isn’t in your remit to deal with the infrastructure, but at every opportunity you should mention that you are working with one hand tied behind your back. Maybe government will listen to you, as they don’t listen to the grassroots people no matter how many times we tell them. The telephone service was never designed for this process, and it is failing millions of people. chris.

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