Case Study Prepared By: Clare Woodhead, Manager of the New Ways Of Working Support Team
This case study details the innovative use of Twitter – a social networking tool – to improve communication between a highly mobile team and an office based team, resulting in an improved service for internal customers, increased security for lone workers, increased visibility of the mobile team, and more proactive communication.
The IT Procurement Team work in partnership with Computerland’s Delivery to Desktop team to deliver and install new PCs within Warwickshire County Council. The engineers from the Delivery to Desktop team are highly mobile, working around the county for a large proportion of their time. Although they have mobile phones and a visit roster for the day, micro-planning their time of arrival with each customer is difficult due to a variety of variable factors including traffic conditions and installations taking longer than expected. Gary Harvey, Manager of the IT Procurement Team wanted to improve the information given to customers enquiring about their delivery. Gary said “When a customer phones up to enquire about a delivery time, our existing method involves phoning the engineer and then phoning the customer back. This takes too long. Having experienced social networking tools to communicate with friends for sometime, I was interested to see how Twitter could be used to provide more proactive communication between our teams and improve the information we give to customers about expected delivery times.”
So what is Twitter? Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are text based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author’s profile page and deliver to the author’s subscribers who are known as followers. Senders can restrict delivery to those in their circle of friends, or by default, allow open access. Users can send and receive tweets via the Twitter website, Short Message Service (SMS) or external applications. The service costs nothing to use, although accessing it through SMS may incur phone service provider fees.
Gary decided to implement Twitter using SMS text messages from the engineers mobile phones. Tweetdeck was used by colleagues in the office to see all the messages received. All of the Twitter accounts were set up with restricted access, so if a member of the IT Procurement Team wanted to follow an engineer from Delivery to Desktop team , then the engineer had to agree to this. The mobile numbers used by the Delivery to Desktop engineers were entered into their Twitter profiles. A phone number was then provided for the Delivery to Desktop engineers to tweet to.
The primary objective was to improve proactive communication between the two teams, so that a more accurate picture about the engineer’s whereabouts was available.
- Members of both teams were set up with individual work based Twitter accounts. These were set up with restricted access. Mobile phone numbers of the Delivery to Desktop engineers were added into their Twitter profile.
- Tweetdeck was installed onto PCs in the IT Procurement Team office.
- Training was provided to team members on how to use Twitter and Tweetdeck.
- The Delivery to Desktop engineers started to send back regular tweets using the SMS text service on their mobile phones.
- The IT Procurement Team all ran Tweetdeck on their PCs to monitor the tweets received from the engineers.
At the time of setting up the solution, there were no corporate protocols surrounding the use of social networking tools within WCC (nb: this has since been addressed by the E-Communications team.) As part of their training, team members were given information on how to use Twitter, and discussion covered what was acceptable and appropriate use of the facility.
This is a good example of WCC and Computerland working together to improve the PC Rollout Scheme.
The anticipated benefit was from a customer perspective, so that the PC Installation Team could give an instant response to a delivery timescale question.
There were a number of actual outcomes:
- Responses to customers improved as more accurate responses to delivery timescales could be given. Typical tweets received included – ‘started work’, ‘finished at site’, ‘on way to XX’, ‘stuck in traffic’, ‘completed going home’;
- Lone worker safety was improved because the engineers were more proactive in sending messages back about there whereabouts from the start of the day right through to end of day;
- Increased visibility of engineers whereabouts has led to more accountability for their working day;
- Information can be passed across the two teams quickly if something happens which could impact the service – e.g. a network outage failure;
- Twitter runs on an external network that appears to have a high degree of service availability – so far it has been very reliable.
Steve, one of the team said “It’s a useful tool for communicating problems, issues and progress of installations between us and our engineers rather than having to keep phoning each other. It’s useful for our engineers in reporting delays on getting to jobs so that we can inform our customers.”
Website : www.twitter.com
The engineers were already equipped with mobile phones which were capable of texting a response to Twitter.
A routine was written to install Tweetdeck on WCC machines.
The costs of setting up the pilot were negligible. The engineers already had mobile handsets with text tariff included. The Twitter service is available at no cost and could be run on WCC PCs with no issues. The only cost incurred was the time to create the various Twitter accounts, and the training time associated with learning how to use Twitter and Tweetdeck. Time to set this up was minimal. Gary said “It took around 15 minutes to setup each device, from there on its so intuitive and easy to use, I would say within half an hour any user would be familiar enough with the application to use it in anger”.
There are a variety of social networking tools available – the key is in understanding what your business need is, and then finding the right tool to meet that need.
Setting up social networking tools costs very little, and it doesn’t require a huge lead time in setting up a special IT infrastructure. Timescales can be swift from inception of an idea to implementation of a working model.
Training can be minimal, particularly if team members are already using the same technology for personal social networking.
Think before you Twitter as your tweet can be read by anyone. Having protocols in place to protect staff and the organisation is very important.
You need someone to monitor the tweets – particularly if you are doing this from a lone worker safety perspective.
From a Modern & Flexible Working perspective, we are keen to explore how social networking could provide benefits for other mobile teams at Warwickshire County Council.