By Gloria Lombardi

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) are responsible for maintaining registers of drivers and vehicles. This information helps the Government to improve road safety, reduce vehicle related crimes, support environmental initiatives and limit vehicle tax evasion.

Today, their customers expect to receive excellent online services, to communicate digitally – from a simple email enquiry to being able to participate in web chats on driving licence fees – so the agency really needs to ‘be digital’.

However, to deliver these and other top services, DVLA have a challenge: “We need our staff on board and in possession of digital skills. They have the knowledge of how the business works but not necessarily the skills to translate it into service delivery” says Communication and Engagement Manager, Simon Cromwell.

That is not to say that they don’t have the appetite to change – it just needs to be presented the right way.

Faced with this challenge, Head of Internal Communications, Christopher Elias and Cromwell came up with the idea of hosting a hackathon to help DVLA colleagues understand the importance of working digitally. They needed to illustrate hands on what ‘being digital’ actually means.

The event was run at the end of July. Results indicate that the effort was more than worthwhile.

Hack days to raise interest in digital solutions

For three days the DVLA’s atrium was buzzing. Developers, graphic designers and product people worked intensively with senior management, clerks, policy and call centre staff. Divided into small teams, they were tasked with generating new ways of solving a problem, or improving a service, through the use of technology.

In close proximity for the entire event, not only did the groups share and discuss ideas, make presentations and demos, but they also came up with new prototypes. “For example,” says Elias, “they developed a new quick and easy online service to let clients pay fines by using a simple reference number. At present, people can only pay fines like these over the phone. It requires dozens of call centre workers to process them.” The CEO himself Oliver Morley recognised the value of that product, which DVLA will adopt in near future.

Digital is a team effort

The objective of the hackathon was not only about producing innovative customer solutions. “We wanted to show our colleagues that everyone has a role to play in a digital DVLA,” comments Cromwell. “Hosting the hack was a great opportunity to demonstrate that digital is first and foremost an attitude, not an exclusive activity for coders and tech heads. It’s about changing behaviour and the way we think.” adds Elias.

In fact, with actual hands on experience, the less confident people in using digital media could quickly realise the value of agile development. “They could see technology not as a barrier but an enabler to deliver business solutions through the right skills and mind-set. They quickly saw that they didn’t need to have technical skills to be able to deliver something digital – you just need the idea and the right people around you.”

Bringing together employees from different levels of the organisation was also key. “What we achieved was collaboration in abundance. It was great to see different departments working together seamlessly. There was no time for politics or hidden agendas. It helped to overcome silos and made people find new ways of working together,” notices Cromwell.

In a true spirit of cooperation, commercial partners joined the event too. “Their involvement was the final piece in the jigsaw. It enabled us to illustrate the future DVLA model for change delivery and service support.”

Digital conversations – Yammer

At the outset, to introduce the hackathon to employees, Cromwell and Elias used Yammer. They began to populate the feed with content four weeks before the event. That was an effective way of warming up the audience and making the face-to-face gathering more productive. “The social network helped to stimulate interest, and strengthened the relationships between the ‘cynics’ and the advocates,” says Elias. “While the former were voicing their opinions against new ways of working, the latter had the chance to talk about their benefits.”

“At the end, it was remarkable to see some of the less enthusiastic employees becoming very excited.”

Yammer was also instrumental in keeping momentum at the actual hackathon, with staff posting presentations, pictures and the many ideas generating from brainstorming.

Twitter and #dvlahack

During the event, staff were also encouraged to join the conversation on Twitter via #dvlahack. “In three days, they generated thousands of tweets, sharing their learning and expressing their feelings toward the event,” comments Cromwell. Comments included:

“It’s really exciting being part of the #DVLAhack .You can feel the buzz in the room-ideas and concepts-integration between business and IT”

“Brilliant to see business areas, in house IT teams, SMEs and big IT suppliers all getting stuck in #dvlahack”

“Enjoying the hands on Java session at the #dvlahack this morning!”

“It’s amazing to see a change in how staff think of digital after seeing #dvlahack. Never have been done by writing about it. #icexcellence”

“Amazing to collaborate with so many professional’s to achieve a common goal in such a small amount of time #DVLAhack pretty inspiring!”

“Enjoyable, intense experience at the #dvlahack, developing innovative solutions using agile, benefiting both the agency and our customers.”

Digital is a journey

The hackathon ticked all the boxes when it came to demonstrate what roles and opportunities in the future DVLA look like. “By its very nature, it showed how quickly things can be achieved when skills, attitude and sound business understanding come together,” comments Cromwell.

Elias believes this experience can be inspirational for other Government organisations too. “Many institutions are still primarily paper-based. But, to make services efficient and effective for users, we all need to move on. A hackathon like this can be a good place to start.”

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate