How design thinking and digital are helping Vision Australia collaborate

CMO of the not-for-profit organisation shares how its latest digital communications investment is not just breaking down organisational silos, it's also improving customer experiences

A digital communications overhaul aimed at improving the way Vision Australia staff collaborate has also delivered a host of customer services benefits since its launch.

The not-for-profit organisation, which provides blindness and low-vision services to Australians affected by vision impairment, recently embarked on an intranet project in order to reduce reliance on email communication and help employees better collaborate anywhere and anytime on any device.

Its CMO, Megan McAlpine, told CMO the previous intranet was difficult to use and not mobile optimised, a challenge given 25 per cent of employees work out of the office. With 15 per cent of Vision Australia’s 800-strong workforce vision impaired, and 28 offices to connect, there was also a need for tools that allowed more cross-functional ways to engage across the business.

“We couldn’t interact together or with clients, information was very difficult to navigate, and it wasn’t aligned with our goals of breaking down organisational silos,” McAlpine said. “We also wanted to link what we do as a business back to the customer experience as an organisation. That’s central to the decisions we made.”

The intranet work stemmed off a company-wide decision and strategic plan introduced three years ago to better realise digital and IT systems and adopt new operational practices that could break down organisational silos while better serving customers.

One of new elements in how Vision Australia approached the intranet work was its adoption of design thinking. McAlpine said the methodology is being employed across developing digital assets through to bringing cross-functional teams together to collaborate around customer experience. Teams also engaged with clients, ran workshops and worked in an interactive was to identify any potential barriers.

“There was a specific refocus around our need to collaborate better to deliver a higher level of customer experience,” she said.

The intranet project took about two years, with the new platform launching in March. The IT department took charge of technology infrastructure, while communications and marketing teams led the customer experience component as well as communication and engagement activities.

Vision Australia brought on digital consultancy and solutions provider, Squiz, as a technology partner for the first time, adopting its Squiz Matrix digital content tool to ensure accessibility of content as well as provide support metrics. It's also using Funnelback Enterprise Search.

“We have specific requirements around 15 per cent of our workforce, so accessibility was very important to us,” McAlpine said.

A key component was adopting a social media-like approach to groups, sharing and compiling information, she continued.

“We recognised our staff use social media in their personal lives, and we wanted to replicate that as a familiar way to collaborate,” McAlpine said. “To understand that, we needed people across the organisation to support development of the business requirements and that’s where design thinking came in.”

The intranet includes formal and informal content and allows teams to create private and public communities. At time of writing, 43 groups had set up within the intranet, and staff connected in each can like, share and submit information.

As an example, McAlpine pointed to a current brand repositioning project group set up by the marketing team.

“Rather than emailing, a lot of communication is now via those groups, and staff have the intranet open all the time,” she said. “It’s about seeing information through to getting notifications when colleagues are connecting with you, to using that as a communications forum. It’s easy for everyone to see the thread.”

There’s also functionality for videos and podcasts, and McAlpine said her team is looking at how to create more engaging, flexible and fun content.

An initial barrier was getting people to converse in what can be a public forum. To help, a number of executives committed to talking about the intranet meetings they attended, as well as interacted in a live environment. Having mobile access also allows teams to connect anywhere with a laptop or mobile device.

“Often it’s the one-to-one or one-to-small group communities that get people using this for the first time,” McAlpine commented. “Then naturally they start engaging with it. It’s so aligned in how we operate with other communication channels we use.”

Customer service extension

But it’s how the intranet is helping in an external client environment that’s really brought the significant benefits to light.

McAlpine that Vision Australia’s clients can often become socially isolated as a result of vision difficulty. One of the ways the organisation combats this is by supplying more than 40,000 audiobooks for their use. However, many are challenged with how to access them.

Thanks to the intranet, staff can help clients download a book on the spot. “It’s life changing – that’s the difference a platform can make to someone,” McAlpine said.

Other metrics that reflect the success of the intranet include average monthly and daily page views (140,000 a month or 1900 per day so far), as well as the growth in user groups.

McAlpine also pointed out projects like this don’t have an end date. Next priority on the list is sharing key business metrics across the organisation, such as KPIs, through dashboards in the intranet portal.

The intranet is just one in a series of digital-led projects for Vision Australia, all of which now run off the back of a design-led approach. The organisation has worked with external partners in order to build its design thinking knowledge.

Another major project underway is an overhaul of its website.

“That’s a big project, so we need to take time to explore user groups and use cases for the website build,” McAlpine said. “We’re also constantly thinking about other product and services offering and where digital transformation sits in that mix.”

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