Rolling out iCON 2.0: Lessons in change management
iCON 2.0—a messaging and collaboration system for teachers—was launched in February 2019. Find out how GovTechies and officers from the Ministry of Education ensured a pleasant user experience and a seamless transition to the new system.
A decade ago, the mobile phone was primarily used for calling and texting; access to the internet was limited to browsers on a desktop computer. With the advent of smartphones, however, the interface between people and the digital world was completely overhauled.
Unfortunately, some online systems built for desktop browsing have not aged well with new technology and changing user habits. For example, webpages meant for large desktop screens became grotesque and difficult to navigate when viewed on a smaller smartphone display.
This was a problem faced by teachers in Singapore when they started logging in to the Ministry of Education’s (MOE’s) messaging and collaboration system—known as iCON—on their mobile devices. “Users found that the dashboard for iCON did not render nicely on their smartphones or tablets, with all the links becoming very small and hard to click,” said Mr Samuel Ng, Senior IT Consultant, MOE ITD. He is one of the GovTech officers based in the Ministry of Education tasked to give iCON a facelift. Given the technicalities involved, Mr Ng and his colleagues from GovTech were tasked to drive the development of iCON 2.0.
Mobile is our Friend
The first order of the day was to make iCON mobile-friendly. “This meant that the text on iCON’s pages had to adapt to varying screen sizes, which was not difficult to accomplish technically,” shared Derrick Lau, Senior IT Consultant. Furthermore, after holding focus group sessions with teachers, as well as Information and communications technology (ICT) heads of department at schools, the iCON 2.0 team discovered that teachers preferred clickable icons instead of text-based hyperlinks when accessing the various features of iCON, such as email or cloud storage. This was also implemented with relative ease.
Complex password made easy
The true challenge came in October 2018, when a manual governing ICT platforms was updated and it mandated an increase in login password complexity. By October 2019, all accounts must be secured using a 12-character alphanumeric password. MOE teachers were using an eight-character password to log in to iCON. “When we saw the announcement of the new password policies, we had to make a call: do we launch iCON 2.0 with the current policies or do we implement the new policies later? In the end, we decided to bite the bullet and code the new password policy into iCON 2.0 before rolling it out to the teachers,” Mr Ng explained,
Handling a ‘big bang’ transition
Beyond implementing the new password policy at short notice, the team anticipated a greater challenge in getting teachers to adopt iCON 2.0. Acknowledging that not all teachers are equal in terms of IT savviness, the team began putting together change management plans to reduce the friction of transiting to the new system.
“It was a ‘big bang’ change, meaning that the switch to iCON 2.0 was to take place overnight, and for all 45,000 users at once,” said Mr Ng. “If we do not handle the transition correctly, the MOE’s IT helpdesk would probably be overwhelmed by calls from teachers asking to troubleshoot login issues.”
The team shared some of the plans they put in place to effect a relatively seamless switchover to iCON 2.0 when it was launched in February 2019, with 70 percent of teachers successfully using the new system by the afternoon of the following day.
1. Mental preparation is key
Before the actual launch of their product, the team leveraged multiple communication channels to inform teachers about the imminent switchover to iCON 2.0. For instance, in addition to sending out emails, the team put up posters in schools highlighting iCON 2.0, to increase awareness about the product.
“It’s also crucial to help the end users understand that we are not trying to make life difficult for them with this new product, and to show them there is a real need for it,” shared Ms Lee Soon Lan, Senior Assistant Director, MOE ITD.
2. Embed in-app prompting
While an instruction manual for iCON 2.0 may be helpful for some users, others may need more ‘personalised’ guidance in setting up their accounts. Thus, the team included intuitive prompts and error messages in the app that appear as the user navigates through the login process, said Ms Lee.
Moreover, if users do not meet the password complexity requirements, they will receive instructions on how to create a more robust password and be able to gauge if they are getting closer to the necessary complexity level.
3. Get user feedback early
In line with agile development practices, the team went through multiple iterations of iCON 2.0 in consultation with the system’s end users — the teachers. In fact, a few of the iCON 2.0 team members are teachers themselves. Working with the end users often allows problems to be surfaced and addressed earlier on in the product development process, thereby helping to prevent deployment bottlenecks downstream.
4. Train the trainers
When carrying out a ‘big bang’ adoption of new digital products, it helps to train up a cadre of ‘technical ambassadors’ within the organisation who will be able to provide on-site troubleshooting services to end users. In the case of iCON 2.0, the team relied on the ICT managers of each school. This way, should self-help guides and in-app prompting fail, users will have someone to turn to for advice on the spot. Helpdesk personnel will also not be overwhelmed by calls from frustrated end users.
5. Seek management’s support and guidance
Lastly, the management’s involvement in the project could not be overstated. The management provided many valuable feedback during iCON 2.0’s development process. The feedback and suggestions led to a better user experience and change management process during iCON 2.0’s rollout.https://www.tech.gov.sg/media/technews/rolling-out-icon-lessons-in-change-management