A year ago, the council started using mobile, selecting Apple’s iPads to complement its existing suite of 1,000 BlackBerry mobile phones. But the council has since ditched Apple and BlackBerry devices in favour of Windows 8.1.
Like most local governments, Nottinghamshire faces significant budget reductions, with targets to save £154m overall by 2016/17. Technology is at the heart of its agenda to "do things differently" and Ivor Nicholson, ICT service director of Nottinghamshire County Council, says savings and efficiencies have to be creative and innovative.
Nicholson said the council’s original pilot, using iPads for front-line social workers,, went well and, after deploying 100 tablets, the organisation learnt a lot about how carers work. The council provided social workers in children and adult teams with tablets during the pilot, but Nicholson hopes the devices can also help mobilise a lot more of the front-line workforce, including highways and trading standards.
Within the children division, workers spend three to four days a week in peoples’ homes caring for vulnerable families, while adult social workers conduct home visits to help people living independently and with community care.
Workers with the iPads could access email and calendars through Exchange, and a middleware provider, Total Mobile, allowed the council to connect devices to key information and documents for workers.
“They could see all their case notes and forms via a touchscreen service, rather than downloading the whole application,” says Nicholson. “It also provided the capability to work on and offline.”
Nicholson says social workers' assessment processes were reduced by 90 minutes, which were spent travelling to and from the council to write up notes.
Case notes write ups were much quicker with tablets. The council found a 20% reduction in travel, time and cost, and a 16% improvement in productivity.
More on Windows 8.1
“There’s a lot less dead time,” Nickolson says. “For instance, for our children, social care workers can be in court waiting for several hours, and up until now that was unproductive time waiting around court rooms.”
The council also discovered the devices were a great tool to break down barriers when talking to children. “An unintended benefit was the fact they can use the device with the children, who might use paint and tablet device features to share feelings without having to talk about it,” says Nicholson. “And with adult teams you can use the device to take pictures of medical records, or adaptations of homes people could use.”
A Windows perspective
When the council extended the pilot and roll-out of 2,000 devices by the end of 2015, Nicholson says it decided to switch to Windows 8.1 rather than continuing with the iPad.
“The project was never about the iPad, but a touchscreen device, and that was the most appropriate one at the time.”
Nicholson says the workers have been keen to access a lot of their Microsoft products, including Sharepoint for collaboration and Lync for messaging and audio.
“They’re all apps people want to be able to access on a day-to-day basis when they’re mobile,” he says. “And 8.1 devices are more cost effective because they fit well in our estate and we can provide support.”
PSN security compliance now prefers for devices to be managed centrally and Windows 8.1
Nicholson says that, during the iPad pilot, when upgrades of fixes needed to be done, the council had to call out an engineer. But, with Microsoft devices, the council IT team can fix devices remotely reducing costs and time.
Another reason for the move to Microsoft was due to the council’s need to be security compliant with the Public Service Network (PSN).
“When we set off with iPads, we were happy with security, but, increasingly, PSN requirements have been necessary to invest in lots of other ways to make these devices secure,” says Nicholson.
He explains that PSN security compliance now prefers for devices to be managed centrally and Windows 8.1 allows the council direct access through secure firewalls to meet the security standards from the Cabinet Office.
“It was a tricky time getting compliance," says Nicholson. “In 2013, the compliance regime changed immensely, and it was a significant hurdle and took a significant amount of effort to make compliance.”
The next step for the council is to upgrade its 1,000 BlackBerry devices which are coming to the end of their useful lives.
“We’ve had BlackBerrys in the estate for a number of years, and we bought them in because, at the time, they were the only secure device you could get approved by government,” says Nicholson.
While Nottinghamshire council haven’t settled on an exact handset, it is looking to invest into Windows 8.1 by Christmas – most likely a low and mid-range Nokia product from its supplier Vodafone.