by Divina Paredes

NZ Transport Agency brings Facebook to the office – as a business tool

Oct 29, 2017
Big DataCareersCloud Computing

It is not the place to put photos of your cat.Martin McMullan, NZTA

When the NZ Transport Agency rolled out Workplace by Facebook, a common question from staff was, “Can you see my Facebook profile?”

Martin McMullan, who is director of connected journeys, at NZTA, says they had to explain to staff their Workplace account was “completely separate” from their profile in the social network.

“We had to do some communications around that,” says McMullan, whose team had used Workplace as a pilot collaboration tool before rolling it out across the organisation.

He says the positive user experience has been a key driver for choosing Workplace.

“Really, what we want to do is not to do any training,” McMullan tells CIO New Zealand.

“People just organically got it. The user experience is similar to Facebook so people know how to use it, know how to drive it, which is great. It is a very quick rollout of the technology, you do not have to do any change management.”

Workplace is now being used as an internal collaboration tool by some 1700 NZTA staff across the country.

He says staff post operational news in regional areas, as well as share images and video so others in the company see the challenges their colleagues face in more remote parts of the country.

McMullan shows one such video that has been widely shared across NZTA.

It is from a staff member who keeps the road open for Milford Sound in harsh weather. “His job is to get rid of all that snow,” and this involves working with a team to blast the avalanche.

“People saw he was doing pretty awesome stuff,” says McMullan.

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People just organically got it. The user experience is similar to Facebook.Martin McMullan, NZTA

Stealth deployment

McMullan says his team initially used another collaboration tool. Following uptake by early adopters, he says usage dropped after two to three months due to “clunky user experience”.

At that time, he was working with a team of eight to nine people from different businesses at NZTA, who are based around the country.

He mentioned this initial experience to a friend who works at Facebook at Menlo Park in Silicon Valley. His friend connected him with a Facebook colleague in Singapore, who suggested he consider Workplace and trial it with the team.

His team trialed it for six weeks. “We realised before the six weeks it had much more functionality.”

They then rolled it out to the project delivery team in Auckland, which had around 150 people.

“It was all in stealth,” says McMullan, who spoke with the head of the team for the rollout.

“We gave his team access to it, to let them play with it organically.

“It had a high uptake, there was regular usage and lots of collaboration going on.

“We decided to give it a go as part of the transformation we were going through. We rolled it out to all staff.”

Martin McMullan, director of connected journeys, New Zealand Transport Agency (Photo by Divina Paredes)

Start small, find parts of the organisation that are early adopters

NZTA CEO Fergus Gammie was among the early users, sharing weekly updates on the transformation programme using the Facebook video.

“We help people understand that this is not Facebook [as they know it],” says McMullan. “It is not the place to put photos of your cat. It is a business tool.

“This is a place where we can test ideas and collaborate on problems we are trying to solve across the organisation. We really use it as a collaboration tool, rather than a communications tool.

“It is not going to replace email.” The latter, he explains,is used for official communications.

He says Workplace is good for connecting NZTA staff, as they have people based in offices and in the field.

“With Workplace, you can download it to your mobile phone and communicate whenever we need to. A lot of the time most people are using it on the go.”

On key lessons he can share with other organisations evaluating collaboration tools, he says: “I do recommend starting small, find parts of the organisation that are early adopters.”

“Don’t overthink it,” he says. “Put it in their hands, just test it. Get their feedback and observe the BI dashboard, to see if they are using it or not.

“If you hit the successful criteria, just put it through a few gateways,” he says.

A staged rollout worked for NZTA. “I think if we took it as big as a replacement of an existing system, we would never have rolled it out as quickly as we have.

“The real value is the groups that allow people to share,” he says. “Essentially you get your mini LinkedIn of people sharing posts.

“It is good for connecting people to information, so people will know what is going on.”

He says Workplace is also a crowdsourcing site. “We don’t necessarily control the messaging, it is the business conveying the message of what is important to them.

“Make sure you get senior people who are important from the business to post regularly,” to help kickstart the move.

In the case of NZTA, he says they have a CEO who is “very progressive in technology”.

“He is quite happy to do the video blog,” says McMullan. “Find the right people, no matter where they sit in the structure.”

For instance, no one asked the NZTA staff member clearing the snow at Milford Sound to post the video. He just did it by himself, as he sees the value of sharing it with his workmates, says McMullan.

“It is a very different skill, but lots of people in the business don’t realise this is a service that NZTA does on your behalf.”

Now, says McMullan, “The rest of the business goes, ‘wow, the work he does is amazing’.”

Ben Gould, enterprise growth manager, Workplace by Facebook, says the experience of NZTA highlights the fact today’s workplace, “is about more than just communicating between desks”.

Ben Gould, enterprise growth manager, Workplace by Facebook

An effective collaboration tool can be easily introduced with very little training

“Organisations like NZTA are adopting Workplace in part because 2.9 million Kiwis are already familiar with Facebook, so an effective collaboration tool can be easily introduced with very little training,” says Gould.

Facebook says a year after the launch of Workplace, more than 30,000 companies are using it across the globe.

The organisations include Walmart, Heineken, Spotify, Lyft, and Reliance Group, and Countdown in New Zealand.

Gould says while people work in different ways across the globe, there are common pillars critical to successful deployment of Workplace: Executive engagement, technical integration, group structure, communications strategy, along with early champions and training.

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