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Use of third party digital tools

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In line with Civil Service Reform and wider government policy, the Department of Health encourages its staff to use internet tools that aid productivity or provide useful functionality. But staff should be aware that tools provided by third parties do not have equivalent levels of security or availability as tools provided by the department.

Digital tools include:

  • secure internal tools (eg BMS, MEDS)
  • external facing tools and channels (eg the DH website)
  • third party tools (eg Dropbox, Twitter)

The department's December 2012 digital strategy sets out how the department will give its staff the knowledge, skills, tools and confidence to embrace digital opportunities to deliver better health, better care and better value for all. At the same time, the health and care system has committed to becoming Digital First, and technology and the role it can play in improving health and care is one of the Secretary of State for Health’s four major priorities.

In an increasingly digital world, DH staff will have cause to use a wide range of digital tools and social media as part of their jobs. They must, however, be careful to choose the right tool for the task and ensure they follow the appropriate guidance.

This policy addresses the use of third party digital tools by DH staff.

Why use third party tools?

As set out in its digital strategy, the department encourages staff to exploit the potential of the internet by making use of digital tools and techniques in their day-to-day work.

There are many to choose from, and tools like Yammer and Dropbox have the advantage of being tested and improved by thousands of users and communities around the world. These tools have become market leaders because they provide the service their users want. And given the range, proliferation and accessibility of new internet tools, a tried and tested third party tool will often provide the solution of choice for a given task.

These third party tools are usually free to use, and the department rarely needs a contract or licences for staff to use them. But although free to use, they do not come with the same assurances around availability, security or ownership of the content that a contract might provide.

Whilst using the best, proven, market-leading tools mitigates some of this risk - there are, for example, few availability problems with YouTube - third party internet tools are not appropriate for hosting sensitive content or content for the record.

Security and ownership of content

Third party internet tools do not provide the levels of security required for working on restricted content. Nor are they appropriate for content that needs to be filed for the official record. In these cases, staff should use secure, departmental tools such as the government secure intranet (GSI) or MEDS.

When posting content to a third party internet tool, DH staff should assume that this content is in the public domain. Staff should not use third party tools to host any content that should not be in the public domain.

Tiers of exclusivity

Most third party internet tools do offer different levels of exclusivity for content:

  • Some third party tools enable users to post fully public content. Content posted to Twitter is in the public domain as soon as it is posted.
  • Some tools provide more limited access to content. Most Ning content is only available to a specific community of users invited by the owner of the group.
  • Some tools provide exclusive access. Yammer groups are usually associated with a specific email extension, so that only users within a single organisation can access the group.

Regardless of the tiers of exclusivity on offer, when posting content to a third party internet tool, DH staff should assume that their content is publicly accessible.

Example: Yammer

Yammer is used corporately by thousands of organisations, including government and public sector organisations such as the Department of Business Innovation and Skills and the Food Standards Agency. Users benefit from an interface and functionality that has been tested with thousands of communities around the world.

Yammer is a very useful internal communication tool for sharing non-urgent-but-interesting content within the department, without interrupting people or filling up their email inboxes.

Like Twitter, users follow people in order to see what they are saying, and can ‘unfollow’ people they do not want to hear from. Users can run polls, share links and documents, upload images and files, post a question or comment and collaborate on draft documents in real time. And Yammer provides different ways to access content, including browser extensions, iPhone, Blackberry, Android and desktop apps, facilitating working on the move and remote working.

By default, Yammer conversations are restricted to users within an organisation (users need to validate their account from their official email address). Users can also create invitation-only team or project groups for more exclusive conversations and assign themselves administrator status. The group administrator is responsible for ensuring all users follow the appropriate guidance, and for deleting user accounts when people leave the group.

Within DH, Yammer does not replace official correspondence, secure email or other official channels. Nor should it be used for restricted information or documents. But in some teams, Yammer has helped reduce information overload for staff by almost completely replacing the use of email for informal conversations and working discussions between team members.

In sum, Yammer is not appropriate for anything urgent or sensitive. Content can be posted in closed groups, but as this is an internet tool, users should treat anything they post there as being potentially public.

Examples of third party digital tools for corporate use

There are thousands of internet tools that DH staff might find useful. Many of these tools provide excellent functionality and user experience. None of them, however, replace the department’s secure internal tools such as MEDS or BMS, and none may be used for restricted content.

Popular third-party internet tools include:

  • For internal communities: Yammer
  • For external communities: Ning
  • For shared To Do lists: Trello
  • For collaborating on documents: Google Drive
  • For making notes on the move: Evernote
  • For sharing video: YouTube
  • For professional networking: LinkedIn
  • For monitoring multiple sources of information: Netvibes
  • For video calls: Skype
  • For bookmarking webpages: Diigo
  • For sharing files: Dropbox

Advice and guidance

For advice about how to make appropriate use of internet tools, please speak to the Digital, Channel Strategy and Publishing team.

For further guidance, see:

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