Apps help safely reopen workplaces - and keep them open. Advertorial from Hitachi Solutions.
With the government urging workers to return to their offices, employers urgently need to consider how they can do this safely and responsibly. This challenge will be especially complex for local authorities, whose workplaces are both numerous and varied, and need to allow access not just to staff but to visitors too.
Tim Kidd, head of public sector at Hitachi Solutions, is very aware of the specific needs of the sector: “Authorities need to have an audit trail so that if procedures ever come under scrutiny, they can evidence the steps and stages gone through and demonstrate that good practice was applied.”
Hitachi Solutions has already helped more than 30 UK authorities with their responses during the COVID pandemic, using Microsoft platforms and cloud services. One major initiative, the Vulnerability Hub, helped provide support for citizens who were shielding; a second helps councils deal with COVID outbreak management and local contact tracing. Now, Hitachi Solutions is launching a third programme to manage the return to work.
The solution developed by Microsoft has four modules. The first, a location readiness app, helps quickly determine the readiness of different locations to reopen, allowing employers to efficiently manage the process using data such as COVID infection rates and the availability of supplies.
A location management app helps employers keep their locations open, providing tools to monitor key metrics such as occupancy and safety procedures. An employee health and safety self-service app allows staff to check whether a location is open, and receive a day pass after completing a self-screening process. And a workplace care management app allows organisations to actively manage COVID- 19 cases and identify hotspots for safety improvements.
They also allow organisations to monitor how their staff feel about everything from their safety to communication from management and why they want to return to the office.
Hitachi Solutions was selected by Microsoft to help clients use one or more of these solutions, including rapid deployment, training and configuration to their specific needs.
The applications are built using the Microsoft Power Platform – a ‘low code/no-code’ development platform which allows users to build any type of application very quickly, giving councils the flexibility to adapt as and when their needs change.
This is very much about putting the skills into the hands of the local authority
Tim Kidd, head of public sector at Hitachi Solutions
As Mr Kidd explains: “Rather than the usual lead times of many weeks or months to build new systems, we are often talking about a small number of days to design and build the application and then to refine it over time. When we were working with councils on the Vulnerability Hub, changes were often being applied in 30 minutes to a couple of hours, and we were frequently turning these requests around on the same day.”
A key benefit of the low code/no-code approach is that it enables a high degree of self-reliance within a council’s workforce, allowing staff to quickly gain the skills to adapt the technology themselves.
“This is very much about putting the skills into the hands of the local authority, and not about them having to keep coming back to suppliers for expensive changes,” Mr Kidd adds.
The technology platform is underpinned by “a very secure and scalable data repository” which allows councils to understand where their data is, and control which types of users can access it.
Because the apps are built on top of common data sources, platforms and tools from Microsoft, this offers something very different to the traditional local authority approach of buying many individual systems for specific processes, each based on different technologies that don’t easily integrate and are both difficult and expensive to change and support.
But as with so much else that has come out of the pandemic, Mr Kidd sees a bigger and more profound change at work.
“It’s a new mindset,” he says. “Traditionally, whenever local authorities have wanted to do something with IT, it is seen as long and drawn-out. Recently, many have experienced rapid delivery of these solutions in response to the pandemic and can take forward valuable lessons about what can be achieved when the right people, ways of working and technology come together.
“It’s an enabler of change – the ability of local authorities to take a different approach to problems and see real, valuable results in a short period of time.”
Hitachi Solutions is offering free workshops to help councils understand how these solutions could work for them.