Authority to replace BlackBerrys with ‘secure’ Windows Phone 8.1 operating system.
Nottinghamshire County Council is set to provide staff with thousands of devices running Windows 8.1 as it tries to improve workforce mobility.
The authority is currently pilot testing the Microsoft operating system on 20 Lenovo ThinkPad tablets, and expects to roll out 2,000 of the devices – as well as 1,000 Windows Phone 8.1 smartphones – to staff by December 2015.
A year ago, the council was using 400 iPads and a number of BlackBerry phones as it sought to increase the ability of frontline staff to work outside the office, but users complained about the differences in the two operating systems, and their differences to the 7,000 Windows 7 desktops used in offices.
Ivor Nicholson, ICT service director, told CBR: "Staff also wanted to access their normal Office-type functions. From a user perspective, while they wanted a touchscreen device they also wanted a similar experience across the desktop, as well as the tablet device and smartphone as well, and that’s what pushed us in the Windows 8.1 direction."
With Exchange replacing Lotus notes, as well as the council introducing SharePoint and Lync for collaboration all in the last two years, Nicholson said Windows 8.1 was a more logical choice.
"In terms of support the iPad has been very difficult for us," he added, "whereas because we’ve invested heavily in Microsoft it’s quite easy to put 8.1 into our directory environment and provide remote support."
While some iPads will be retained for a small number of iOS-specific applications not available from Microsoft, Nicholson said the authority was looking at low to mid-range Nokia phones as replacements for its BlackBerry deployment.
"When we went with BlackBerry we didn’t have a lot of choice because it was the only provider that met public sector requirements at that time," he explained.
"What we’ve seen of the Windows 8.1 devices is they certainly meet the requirements, and we can get much better deals and tariffs on them."
The pilot group of adult and children’s social care workers appear to have reaped the benefits of Windows 8.1.
They were able to perform initial assessments on vulnerable adults and children 90 minutes faster than before simply by completing the forms at their charges’ homes, without needing to return to the office to type them up.
That contributed to a 20% decrease in travel time, while Nicholson attributed a 16% rise in productivity to the ability to work remotely – workers attending court are now able to make use of the hours spent waiting during a hearing by using the tablets to work.
Other unintended benefits included being able to take pictures of housing problems such as faulty stair rails, to avoid unnecessary follow-up visits from staff, and vulnerable children being able to express their feelings and thoughts by drawing pictures or writing on the tablets.
The results have made IT keen to provide the technology to other departments to see how they could benefit from it.
"That’s really why we want to roll this out much more widely in the organisation," said Nicholson. "We’ll move on to teams like Highways and Trading Standards next. Our managers work very flexibly as well these days, so they will be further down the deployment."