Community Collaboration with Microsoft Teams


Our communities are the home for many small non-profit organisations that often rely on donations to provide services to those in need. The people who work in these organisations come from all sorts of backgrounds and share a common goal to help others. They are often constrained by skills, budget or time.

Towards the end of 2019 I was invited to take part in a project lead by Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) to develop a collaboration space for Mana Ake, an organisation that is a collaboration between 13 Canterbury based NGO’s. The objective was to improve collaboration between the member organisations.

This project was less about technology and more about people. Yes, it was a Microsoft Teams implementation and had it’s technical challenges, but the real story is about people and empowering them through the use of technology.

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata

What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.

Planning

The project involve 150 end users from 13 organisations. Each person was on average a member of 6 Teams. The CDHB team created a spreadsheet to capture requirements for teams and their memberships including email address for the people who would be invited to join.

Licensing was a key part of the planning. The objective being to minimise the long term operating costs but had the required licensing to meet Mana Ake’s functional and security requirements.

Implementation

The IT Instructure requirement was primarily Office 365 and Azure Active Directory. We didn’t need device management because almost all users were connecting as guests. Each member organisation provided computer equipment and this is where we saw a wide range of devices including some which were quite old or low spec.

With the exception of a small group of Admin users who have accounts in the tenant, all other users are guests. This results in some limitations in functionality including:

  • Team logos don’t appear for guests
  • Guest users don’t have profile photos
  • Unable to schedule a meeting
  • All guests have the same access level in a Team

Microsoft Teams was provisioned using PowerShell scripts to create Teams, add Guests and send invitations to the end users. Scripting is a big time saver but also ensures consistency when implementing sites.

Training

We found that almost all training material provided by Microsoft focused on licensed users rather than guests (fair enough), so we developed our own training material in the form of short videos and training exercises. Our material was guest user focused.

We focused on bringing everyone up to a basic level of skill as the level of IT literacy was often very low and lifting everyone together was more important than developing a few higher skilled people. The objective was to build a collaboration platform for everyone.

Training focused on three basic features:

  • How to have a conversation
  • How to work with documents
  • How to have an ‘instant meeting’ (Meet Now)

We also covered logging in and navigation to ensure our users could login and find the things they need to do their work.

We repeated the same training messages through group training sessions, training exercises. Supporting user guides and video content covering the same topics is available to everyone.

The outcome

The outcome has been positive, we can see people at Mana Ake embracing the tools. The benefits are being realised but as with any environment it isn’t perfect. The point is it enables people to work better for a stronger tomorrow.

The key is to bring everyone on the journey, developing skills together so they can better serve the community they support. Many years ago while doing an Outward Bound course I learnt the importance of taking everyone on the journey at the pace of the slowest team member. In that context, arriving first meant waiting for the last team member to cross the line before you got a hot shower and dinner!

Not everyone learns at the same pace and so the friendships and connections built from the training workshops and collaborating together are important. If we lack the confidence to call for help, we don’t and this is another good reason to focus on the people before we get all techie!

Covid-19

Having the tools to work together remotely is something we have been hearing constantly for several months now. The joke is that “Covid-19 is driving digital transformation” and I think there is an a truth in that statement.

The Teams usage stats show the sudden increase in usage as New Zealand went into lockdown. When I look at this graph and compare it to other organisations I work with, Mana Ake ramped up usage immediately, where as others with the tools already in place took another 5-10 days to see this sort of increase in usage. This is the hidden benefit of having these tools before a crisis occurs.

ManaAke Teams Usage

The Team

The project Team included an Implementation Team from the CDHB and members of Mana Ake,  IT technology Consultancy from CCL, and my team at Stratos.

Call to Action

As an expert in your field, you have a set of skills that can he used for the benefit of the community you live in. A small amount of time can make an enormous difference those who help others but they are often working to a very tight budget or other have other constraints that make it difficult for them to take advantage of modern technology to deliver outcomes to those in need.

Please look into your local community and see what you can do to help. It’s very rewarding.

 

 

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