Public Services > Central Government

Harnessing knowledge in the Department for Education

Mark Say Published 22 December 2011

Harnessing knowledge in the Department for Education

The DfE's Information Workplace Platform has integrated information, collaboration and business services to support its activities

It was in 2008 that the Department for Education (DfE) began to think about changing its approach to knowledge management. An information audit combined with pressures to reduce operational costs and improve service levels, and the view that its intranets were in need of a revamp, prompted the move to create a new approach to harnessing all the recorded and tacit information held by its employees.

It responded with a knowledge management strategy, one of the key features of which has been the development and evolution of the Information Workplace Platform (IWP), which provides integrated information, collaboration and business services to thousands of employees. The department has held it up as an important tool in supporting a broad transformation of its activities.

Alexis Castillo-Soto, portfolio manager in the DfE's business solutions unit, says: "What we have done is to make information and knowledge as valuable as financial data. Every department goes through certain times when information is needed as quickly as possible, and 'the right information at the right time' was one of the mantras we wanted to embed."

The IWP, which was launched in 2009, has been based on five principles: user centred design; an integrated user interface; a single information architecture; AA compliance with the web accessibility initiative; and embedded records management behind all systems. The aim has been to deliver what staff need and respond to feedback, supporting a more widespread transformation within the department.

Along with these was the need to implement solutions that automate as much of the information management process as possible, but give users as much control as possible over the information.

The development team used Microsoft's SharePoint 2007 web application platform as the basis for the system - making it the largest implementation of the software in government - and the emphasis on business needs led to divide the range of services in four business segments: day to day services that support business as usual activities; supporting services to ensure security and compliance; cross-government services that support partnership working; and project specific services.

There are a number of tools that support staff working together. The staff directory includes a feature which indicates whether an individual is online, providing a link to the instant messaging service to encourage good communications. Each individual can create their own My Site page, including a photo, a description of their role and location, their current and past projects, colleagues, links and interests. This enables staff at different locations to find each other and work together. Access to more specialised functions and collections of information is determined by job role.

The platform is managed by the DfE's CIO group its IT department which works on a principle of trying to deliver what staff can make regular use of on a day-to-day basis.

A communications campaign was instigated to support the implementation. It included a viral marketing campaign through blogs, discussion forums and other social media channels, and a training campaign that included individual sessions, group workshops, and online tools. It is now used throughout the DfE.

Tim Wright, the department's chief information officer, says: "IWP is a transformational service it has allowed the CIO Group to proactively address business need through extensive consultation with our customers."

Castillo-Soto says an example of this has been in providing a workplace within the IWP for teams involved in schools interventions. The development team were able to use elements of the platform to set up an area that met the business needs without going for the type of bespoke system that would previously have been necessary.

Changes to the platform are supported by a continuous dialogue with a network of 'IWP champions' among DfE staff, who test out new services and help raise awareness. In addition, a user group of 200 contribute ideas to support its evolution, providing feedback to ensure the platform meets the changing needs of each business unit.

The team is now looking at function and design changes to be launched during 2012.








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