The SVR 'Intranet' Project
The previous article talked in general about ‘Office 365’, the Microsoft cloud-based collaboration facility which was chosen as a possible communications solution for the railway and which has been trialled over the last few months.
Just to remind you, the two main objectives of the project are to provide a real-time collaboration facility for key personnel, and to provide a method of communicating information to volunteers in general.
Office 365 has three major components:Exchange
, which provides a full email facility for users. These users will have an email address of the form ‘...@svrlive.com’, and will benefit from calendars, tasks, and contact lists. Much of this information can be shared with other users, and can be accessed via the internet, using a browser, or via the Outlook client software. Smart phones can be set up to synchronise with the system.
Lync, which provides instant messaging, ‘Lync’ calling (which includes an audio and video facility, and on-line meetings (which can be planned and arranged in advance). Users who are not part of Office 365 can be invited to these meetings, which they can access via their web browser. Using Lync you can share a program, a PowerPoint presentation, your whole desktop, take part in polls, and work on a shared whiteboard. This facility has already been used quite a lot between the small number of users currently on the system, and the sharing / remote control option has been used to change configurations and to provide support. Lync also provides ‘presence’ information throughout the system, so a user is aware of the current status of other users.
SharePoint, which provides a structure of websites and allows storage of a wide range of content. Access to this content is governed by the user’s permissions within the system. This is discussed in a bit more detail below.
More than just one website
‘SVRLive’ (http://www.svrlive.com) is the most visible part of the system at the moment. Although theoretically under trial it has provided a lot of information promptly to a widening audience. This is a ‘public’ website, accessible to anyone over the web, and contains information which in the main is not available on the main SVR site. We have experimented with delivering some operational information and have made some difficult decisions about confidentiality along the way. In general, feedback has been good, and some constructive comments have been made by a variety of people who access the site. Many of the people providing feedback are from the wider railway ‘community’ - enthusiasts who are neither members or shareholders.
We have tried to concentrate on providing information in a timely fashion - in most cases you will see content on ‘SVRLive’ first - and the site’s associated Twitter feed (which now has over 70 followers) is instrumental in informing the audience.
You can look forward to more information and innovation over the next few months.
(https://svronline.sharepoint.com) is a secure SharePoint site (in fact a collection of sites) which must be accessed via a user ID and password. As with ‘SVRLive’, this site collection is accessed via the web and can be considered as the company’s ‘intranet’.
During the trial period, progress has been made on three major objectives:
The Master Diary
This is currently configured to store information (for a particular day) about:
- The train service (and associated information, such as Duty Officer, footplate experience courses etc.).
- Any saloons and charters.
- Any engineering possessions.
- Any movements to or from the main line.
- Any dining trains.
- Any filming operations.
- Any other events on or around the railway.
There is a web page for each month which shows relevant information from the diary.
In addition, the diary is linked directly to two Excel spreadsheets, one for providing ‘service summaries’ to go out with Traffic Notices, and the other for rostering Duty Officers.
Notice Board Issues
This is a SharePoint document library with a Word template attached to it. Working Members will be aware that Notice Board Issues gained a new format some time ago. New issues are created using the template, and ‘metadata’ applied to the item so that the content can be searched for and categorised simply, so that items posted on physical notice boards can be controlled.
Over the last few years the company has been required to improve the documentation that underpins the way it operates the railway. A lot of work has been done on standardising the format of documents, and improving the quality of our printed documents. The Safety Management System provides a structure for numbering and organising the documents which define our procedures and policies, for instance.
The Corporate Documents Library underpins this, and provides secure central storage for all these documents. It contains the templates that are used to create new documents, and stores 14 separate items of information about each document, which will allow us to search or browse for documents quickly according to multiple criteria.
There are 35 documents in the library at the moment, and more are being added on a regular basis. All new documents which are governed by the Safety Management System will have the new formatting applied, and will be stored in this library.
Around 70 key members of staff, both paid and unpaid, will ultimately be able to access the system and use the features of Office 365 mentioned above. There will be two levels of functionality, and the company will pay for this on a ‘per user, per month’ basis.
More importantly, maybe, it is possible to offer access to other people, who would be allowed to use ‘SVROnline’ only, for free. There is only one caveat, and that is that these users must have an email address that is of the form ...@hotmail.com, ...@live.com, or ...@msn.com.
Now that would appear to be bad news - but you can get one of these addresses for free. At the moment (Office 365 only went live last summer) its early days, there is some disquiet about this, and Microsoft may accept any email address in the future. On the other hand, one of these email addresses means you are in Microsoft’s system, so you can change your password at any time, and still have access to ‘SVROnline’. Once you have used this email address to gain access, you can just use it to log on to the system. Or maybe not, because one of the things you can do is to set ‘Alerts’ on parts of the system, which will send you an email when something changes. It could tell you, for instance, when the latest roster is available, and give you a link direct to the document, ready for download. This is another reason why you need to be part of the ‘Microsoft system’.
*** Stop Press ***
Microsoft have just announced that as part of the second update to Office 365 we will be able to allow users access to the system by using their own email address, so removing the restriction above. This would be achieved by associating an email address with a 'Windows Live ID'. Details are sketchy at the moment, but the update will be complete by March 2012.
So, what happens next?
Well, that’s really the subject of the next article, but I can give you a few pointers now.
Our initial focus is on finalising the Master Diary, establishing the Corporate Documents library and promoting document management in general, improving the way we use the system to impart timely information to a wide audience, and delivering operational information to working members.
Beyond that, we need to gradually widen access to the system, ensuring that we support users at all levels along the way, and continue to add new content and new collaboration opportunities to the system.
It’s important to remind everyone that this facility, like any other part of the railway, will be monitored on a continuous basis this year. If it delivers against the objectives and provides value for money it will develop and improve - and contribute to the overall health and success of the organisation. Please take every opportunity, therefore, to get involved, use the system, tell us how we are doing, and what you need from the system. A lot of people have taken the time to do so in the last few months as we have trialled ‘SVRLive’, and every comment has proved to be valuable.
Next time - Priorities, and the Implementation Plan.