HK Productivity Council overhauls communications on cloud

Agnes Mak, Managing Director, Hong Kong Productivity Council (credit: CWHK)In its 50th anniversary, the Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC) overhauled its communication systems to refresh its mode of work and to maintain its lead in the industry.

The HKPC operates with 700 employees working in five business units, three internal support functions (finance, human resources, and marketing and communications), one research and development center, plus two offices in the mainland China.

"Our business is to lead the industry in the forefront," said Agnes Mak (pictured), executive director, HKPC. In August, HKPC launched the Industry 4.0 demonstration center to demonstrate the concept of smart manufacturing and its supporting technologies. Yesterday, the HKPC announced to form strategic partnerships with scientific research institutes in Germany and Australia to support Industry 4.0 development. This Friday, the HKPC will launch Inno Space, a Government-commissioned platform that supports local startups and young inventors to commercialize their technological and innovative ideas.

Aged communication mode

"HKPC should be leading the industry in technology adoption in the forefront, but we had been used rather backward [communication] tools," she said. "When I first joined the HKPC in 2012, I found it had been using an on-premise email system," she said. "Despite being very stable, it could not keep up-to-date with the latest IT advancement."

For example, Mak found some of the versions of HKPC's previous email system have become obsolete, and many of its existing functions were not suitable for HKPC's use. "To upgrade our previous email system, we would need to upgrade our hardware, purchase new software licenses, plus allocate manpower to maintain and back up the system."

Being an on-premise email system, Mak needed to carry with her a notebook or tablet, and connect them to the internet to access her work emails." Mak frequently attended external meetings, yet she still needed to approve a lot of HKPC documents. "To urgently obtain my approval on paper documents, my secretary would need to track me down and arranged for a driver to deliver the documents to me."

Also, being also a technology consultancy to its business partners, the HKPC consultants need to maintain close communication with their supervisors, but who may not always be sitting at their office desk. To discuss matters relating to architecture drawings or mechanical designs, for example, the consultants would need to photograph them and attach them in emails for their supervisors' review. "All these created a lot complexity and confusion, and was not time-efficient either," Mak recalled.

Cloud-based communications

To overhaul its mode of communication, the HKPC reviewed most major email systems in the market, and decided that the new email system must enable email access via smartphones, instead of available via webmail only.

About one year ago, HKPC decided to adopt Microsoft Office 365 for its cloud-based delivery, flexibly subscription mode, familiar user interface, and the integration of various office applications including video-conferencing, corporate chat, cloud-based file storage and management.

"The adoption of Office 365 brought us obvious cost-savings on manpower, as it did not require us to upgrade our hardware or to purchase any new software license," Mak said. "Office 365 is utility-based, thus we pay for the service on a yearly subscription basis. Also, we can benefit from automatic version upgrade. This contrasts with our past experience when we needed to install new versions on each of our computers or laptops," Mak said. "Now it's a hassle-free experience."

Integrated communication tools

One major business function of the HKPC is to provide technology consultancy service to its clients, including Hong Kong enterprises that have relocated their operations or production lines to mainland China. "To maintain close communication with our clients, we now use Skype, which I found it very convenient to use," Mak said. "Instead of requiring a tele-conferencing system, HKPC can now link the conferencing parties on the internet to communicate on Skype."

HKPC is open to the use of WhatsApp by employees to discuss non-business matters, but it prefers an enclosed social media channel for corporate use, i.e., Yammer. For instance, the HKPC has organized large scale seminars for all staff to celebrate its 50th anniversary. During its one-year preparation, the staff would discuss matters quickly and in a casual manner on Yammer. "This saved us a lot of back and forth communication if we were to communicate these matters through email," Mak said.

With over 700 staff members, HKPC has colleagues with shared English names. And it could easily cause confusion when emails are sent to the wrong intended recipient, such as "David Chan," for example. "Now that when I write an email using Office 365, my colleague's photo pops up on my screen and I can be sure not to send my emails to the wrong person. This brought much convenience to our daily work," Mak said.

As for mailbox size, each HKPC staff is allocated a 50Gb mailbox, but only 5Gb is currently provisioned. While the backup of emails are handled by Microsoft Hong Kong, HKPC's IT staff will save a copy of the communication for documentation and for compliance with the seven year documentation retention requirement.

Since the implementation of Office 365 one year ago, Mak reported that all of the 700 HKPC staff are now using Office 365. It has organized 27 training sessions and Mak found that her staff were able to pick up the new email system fast.

As regards change management from the previous on-premise email system to a cloud-based system, Mak said she received no complaint about Office 365 so far. "It is not always easy to change to a new system. But we need to change, refresh our mode of work, and adapt to the new digital era," she concluded.