When working in the public sector, there is a constituency to consider. Whether they directly elected you, depend on your work product, or need open communication paths, your constituents can’t be ignored. It is an important and unique responsibility.
But how do you keep the dialogue open with your constituents? I’m in a unique position to answer that question. Professionally, I consult on Office 365 and I know the solution and native capabilities to help support the mission of public sector companies. In addition, I spent the better part of a decade on my school board (elected, unpaid) and pushed government transparency as a key principle while I was there.
If you already have Office 365 built into internal work processes, you can also put it to good use working with your constituents. If you have yet to jump on the Office 365 bandwagon, the benefits should be considered as you build a technology strategy for your organization.
Understand your collaboration goals
As a government or public entity, you have a few set goals when it comes to communicating effectively with those in your community. It likely doesn’t matter if you represent an internal organization in a federal agency, state-level IT service, small town government, or city dogcatcher’s office. Your goals to increase constituent involvement and understanding should be:
- organizing your information for constituent benefit (centralizing)
- communicating to your constituents (push)
- taking input from your constituents (pull)
I’m taking for granted an additional goal: that your organization would want or should have constituent involvement. Because really, any public or governing body should. You spend hard-earned tax dollars and the community deserves accountability. It may be a legal requirement, but it’s also evidence of trustworthiness, and, simply, a sign of respect to the people who put you in charge. Transparency and communication are a good, noble principles to stand by.
Office 365 can help you achieve all of these goals from a technology perspective. Multiple Office 365 apps can help you centralize your information, communicate out (push) and accept input (pull). In the following posts in this blog series, we’ll examine the capabilities of Office 365 that address these goals. But in this post, I’ll continue to focus on building the strategy.
First I’m going to relate these processes to the world you likely live in.
Know your limitations
We all know government organizations have some serious constraints. Personally, these are the ones I think you should be most aware of.
- Budget: I was elected to my school board in July 2008. Budgets are always tight in the public sector, but it was a particularly tough time to be managing budgets. In many jurisdictions, things still haven’t improved much budget-wise since then. Consequently, when you’re looking at products and services, they have to be affordable, high-value, or both. Unfortunately, maintaining local, on-premises systems is expensive thanks to both hardware and human talent to perform the work.
The good news is that Office 365 provides almost an entire IT system out of the box for little spend – in fact, Office 365 is even free in some education instances. Plus, many of the apps are ones most workers are already comfortable using, meaning no ramping up or compatibility concerns. What’s more, Office 365 provides many features like mobile friendliness, offline access to files, and no hardware maintenance. Office 365 also includes state-of-the-art cyber security as part of the package.
- Regulations: Public sector agencies contend with numerous compliance requirements and regulations, and these regulations aren’t unique. If, for example, you’re a county in New York, you have plenty of federal, state, and local laws you must follow (not to mention Social Security, Medicaid, and other service offerings that go through you). But so do 61 other counties in the state. Office 365 meets or exceeds a lot of them. It’s in Microsoft’s interest to do so: if they want more customers, they should meet as many certifications and records requirements as possible.
Office 365 provides the opportunity to take out-of-the-box applications, configure them in a relatively easy way, and scale the solutions so they can be applied elsewhere in the system. Success can be further shared with the other counties in an effort to further develop best practice and improve interconnection.
- Customization: There are well-publicized statistics in the IT field that suggest the real cost of custom products comes not in building and testing, but in maintaining. Even today, it’s still not uncommon to hear about local departments creating tools back in the ‘00s, ‘90s, ‘80s, and even the ‘70s, that no one has the time or money to update or replace in the ‘10s. Many of these aging solutions are still being used.
There has also been a concerted effort to merge and consolidate IT organizations into shared services. Those processes usually include retiring redundant or old systems because these outdated tools cause budgets to balloon and schedules to seem endless. That’s not good.
Recently, the paradigm has shifted from “build what we need in-house” to “apply what’s available and configure it.” This new paradigm is an improvement: it provides cheaper, more dependable systems. In the instance of Office 365, the maintenance and upkeep has been transferred to Microsoft. This is a huge service offering for a minimal monthly fee per licensed user.
Moving forward, configure the (many) tools that are available through Office 365 to meet or come close to meeting your needs rather than building complex tools that will cost more, increase risk, and likely not meet tomorrow’s needs.
Some use cases that can improve your constituent interaction using Office 365
Many are not aware just how vast the service offerings are from Office 365; included with a license is a litany of tools. These tools generally do different things, but with one subscription you get plenty of tools to do lots of potential work, all without having to leave the Office 365 ecosystem.
Below is a graphic that covers what currently comes with various Office 365 licenses. Some of these tools will be referenced in the examples below. A larger version of this graphic is available here.
In the subsequent posts of this series, I’ll dive deeper into particular tools that can help your public sector organization build a better connection with constituents. Stay tuned!