Viva Topics: Harnessing knowledge to unlock public sector productivity gains

In a world of rapid change, harnessing knowledge empowers people to act quickly, and organisations to drive efficiencies and cost savings; facts that are perhaps more important than ever given the volatility caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ever-increasing pressure on public services.

It’s no wonder then that public sector organisations – whether in local government, healthcare or even central government – commonly cite issues in finding the right information at the right time for all workers. Staff often have difficulty trusting the search results they get when they search for knowledge using the tools they have, and they also have difficulty finding the right people to talk to, in order to gain the knowledge they need.

As a result, it takes too long to get up to speed – whether in a new role, a new team, a new project or even a new topic. It’s too hard to find relevant content, answers, and experts. And it’s too hard to connect and manage all your knowledge across organisational – or even departmental – boundaries.

“Knowledge management is undoubtedly a problem that’s impacting public sector productivity,” explains Ruben Hugo, Content Services Lead at Agilisys. “As soon as you move staff onto projects, or onboard new staff, time is lost trying to get them up to speed.

“A typical scenario that we see in public sector organisations is one where a new recruit joins, starts asking questions of everyone, and needs a lot of support. You could have maybe five or more people helping to onboard a new starter, which is a significant use of resource. I’m not saying we shouldn’t help new starters, but if we can make the process more efficient, we should. If you can make it easy to find information, you can add value to the onboarding process and free up time for more humanised activities.”

Ruben points to the increased churn of public sector staff, due to the pressures of the COVID crisis, as the reason why this issue will only grow over coming months.

“Latest statistics suggest there’s an increase in public sector recruitment – it has more than doubled in some organisations – as a result of people having difficulty coping during the crisis. The use of resources will obviously increase accordingly.”

Typical knowledge challenges faced by public sector staff, according to Ruben, include:

  • up to 33% of employee time lost searching for knowledge
  • employees don’t know what information to trust
  • key members of staff may be unavailable due to illness
  • authorities have access to vast amounts of content but that does not equate to knowledge
  • knowledge transfer within organisations is expensive
  • tacit knowledge is hidden or lost causing a continuous knowledge drain
  • experts (or SMEs) are difficult to locate
  • silos conceal information reducing access to knowledge
  • without access to all the available knowledge the wrong decisions may be made
  • onboarding new starters is expensive (up 29% in LRG in 2020)

“Whenever people join a new organisation or move to different departments or projects, there will be a knowledge gap. That’s obvious as we’re only human,” adds Ruben. “For example, there are probably new acronyms they haven’t encountered before. Certain technologies they maybe haven’t used, or specific initiatives within the organisation that are all new. You can lose a lot of time looking for these or, worse still, end up in a situation where the new starter misunderstands what they’re doing because they’ve resorted to Googling the topic.”

Ruben continues: “In most public sector organisations, there are also the issues of knowledge silos. These are relatively normal in the public sector and in some cases, these can be intentional, but there are others where you need to cut across the silos to gain sufficient information, knowledge and insights. This is another example where the latest Microsoft tools are needed to enable effective knowledge sharing, especially when external line of business (LOB) applications and records management systems are in use. There needs to be a mechanism to harvest this information and use it alongside all of the knowledge that exists within Microsoft 365.”

11 ways viva topics and sharepoint syntex will transform your organisation

Viva Topics

That mechanism according to Ruben is Viva Topics, the newly launched Microsoft product (part of the project previously known as Project Cortex). Viva Topics is one of the four modules of the newly launched Microsoft Viva, the employee experience platform built on Microsoft 365 that harnesses human ingenuity across the hybrid world of work that we find ourselves in as a result of COVID-19.

The product has been designed to digitally reimagine knowledge sharing and learning, using AI to automatically organise companywide content and expertise into categories, products, processes or customers. Topic cards are automatically surfaced as people work in apps like Office, SharePoint and Teams, in a way that ensures human ingenuity is harnessed.

Ruben says: “If you compare the situation mentioned earlier with a solution where you receive an email with an acronym in it, you hover over the acronym, and there’s a topic card that displays the information to you immediately, the process is much more effective. Then, if you need more understanding, you can reach out to the identified experts, rather than going around the houses and asking five, six or seven people, interrupting their workflow.”

Before and After Microsoft's Viva Topics

Ruben, who worked closely with Microsoft as its SharePoint Syntex and Viva Topics products developed, as well as with an Agilisys local authority partner on a private preview, says this latest product has the potential to deliver substantial cost savings as well as driving productivity gains. In fact, using this work, which helped Agilisys become one of just 17 global partners to be awarded launch partner status for Microsoft’s transformative enterprise content and knowledge product, he has calculated estimated savings for a typical UK local authority with around 3,000 employees:

Estimated savings for a UK local authority with Microsoft's Viva Topics

“While these savings don’t include implementation and licensing costs (approximately £136,800 per annum for an authority with 3,000 employees) the savings are significant. Even if we are conservative a local authority could achieve £800,000 in savings per year,” explains Ruben.

“This is all the more important given local government is facing increasing service demands whilst suffering from prolonged real-terms budget cuts to the tune of 28% since 2011. This is a key driver for efficiencies and the need to achieve more with less resources.”

Ruben concludes: “The good news, however, is that alongside the SharePoint Syntex product launched last October, we now have an exciting opportunity to realise the true promise of knowledge. This will empower people, fuel innovation and accelerate learning, while all the time delivering strong return on investment.

“Given the current situation and the fallout from the COVID crisis, this is a very welcome opportunity.”

Modern Work: Knowledge and Insights

Discover how Microsoft Viva Topics will help your organisation?

To help you find out how Viva Topics can drive efficiencies, cost savings and smarter ways of working for your organisation, Agilisys offers a Readiness Assessment. Designed specifically for the public sector, these sessions establish how your organisation can benefit from both Viva Topics and its partner app SharePoint Syntex, highlight specific use cases and provide a roadmap detailing how to extract maximum potential from the products. To find out more, get in touch.