How Google Workspace helped the RSPCA carry on during the pandemic

The RSPCA, an animal charity group, first rolled out Google's suite of software tools a decade ago. It's still reaping the benefits.

In March 2020, as most UK organisations were scrambling to devise a remote work strategy because of the government’s work-from-home orders, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) had no such challenge.

That's because the animal rescue charity, based in West Sussex but with branches throughout England and Wales, decided a decade ago to do something about its outdated and convoluted approach to internal communications: it turned to Google Apps (as Google Workspace was known at the time).

nick george profile pic RSPCA

Nick George, assistant director IT at RSPCA.

“Novell’s GroupWise was an email system, with some minor workflow built into it,” said Nick George, assistant director IT at RSPCA. “However, not everyone had an email address. Our frontline offices didn't have email or any kind of collaboration tool, so it disconnected them from the rest of the organisation.”

Extending that system to those other groups, George said, would have been expensive — and didn't scale well with GroupWise. Instead, the RSPCA needed something that could be used by everyone and had a really low barrier to entry, so the charity could onboard people without creating a new pain point. 

George and his team were tasked with finding a solution that would work for the 1,600 or so people working for the RSPCA. At the time, in 2011, Microsoft 365 was still relatively new. Although the organization considered Microsoft’s offering, along with Exchange hosting, it ultimately settled on Google Workspace as it offered everything the RSPCA needed and was cost efficient.

In addition, by opting for a cloud-based solution, George knew the system would evolve without him or his team needing to invest time manually chasing and implementing updates.

“If you're used to a really managed and change-control environment, you become very kind of risk averse," he said. "So, one of our big... [steps] into the unknown for us was to be more trusting that a large organisation like Google will be evolving ... with what the mainstream needs are, so that we will remain upside along with that evolution."

Overall, the rollout went smoothly, with the IT team using a “ready, steady, go” approach. The ready phase involved George and his team deploying the platform for themselves so they could understand any issues that might arise and iron them out before the rest of the organisation got access. The next phase involved “super users," employees who depended on having a system of communication in place. Finally, over about three months, the rest of the organisation was onboarded, allowing employees to become comfortable and familiar with the new tools.

The whole system was fully operational by October 2012.

Assisting front line workers during the pandemic

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, George said, the charity had been promoting the use of Google Meet amongst employees; that use, already "significant" prior to March 2020, has grown “10-fold” in the 20 months since.

“We are a nationwide organisation that historically has spent quite a lot of time on the road, and many of our inspectors still do. But we are seeing that replaced a lot with Google Meet now,” he said.

Google Workplace has not only allowed the RSPCA to collaborate more effectively, it has also leveled the playing field between office-based and frontline workers. (The organization currently has about 1,400 workers, about 200 fewer than it did a decade ago.) By handing out mobile devices with access to Google Workspace, employees who have to be out in the field or are constantly travelling remain connected to colleagues at the rest of the organisation in a way that wasn't possible before.

Additionally, for rescue teams that are geographically dispersed, solutions like Google Meet and Google Chat provide an easy way to stay in contact with the head of their team and pass along information about on-going jobs in real-time. “They communicate with our National Communication Centre both by voice, but also by chat, which allows them to clarify points very easily without interrupting the flow of work. It enables people to multitask,” George said.

In addition to using Google's collaboration tools, the RSPCA has also started a re-homing pilot scheme using other tools in the Google Workplace Suite. The public can register interest in re-homing an animal via Google Forms and then have a remote viewing of the pet over Google Meet. The RSPCA has also been using videoconferencing for veterinary and inspection services. In the past, an animal would be taken for a consultation in-person; now an initial assessment can be done remotely — potentially eliminating the need for an unnecessary journey.

According to George, when new workers join the charity, they often come from a Microsoft background. So the RSPCA has developed an onboarding programme that helps people get familiar with the Google suite from day one. Some people still just think of Google as a search engine, he said, and are often surprised to find out it has productivity tools embedded in its offering.

“What we have [with Google Workspace] is a really fundamental productivity tool that is key to our day-to-day working. It has very little overhead for us to run and we don't have to think about replacing servers or fixing things when they go wrong. It's just really transformed that part of that service offering,” George said.

“The amount of equipment needed to run [a] large collaboration suite, if we were to do it ourselves, it would take us away from doing our core job, which is animal welfare,” he said.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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