Defra buys £1m ‘safe workplace’ software to support return to office

Technology offers functions including managing PPE inventories and keeping tabs on staff vaccinations

Credit: Nick Ansell/PA Wire

To prepare for employees returning to the office, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has spent £1m on specially created software that allows tracking of metrics including inventories of personal protective equipment and staff vaccination status.

The department has signed a £1.01m three-year contract with IT reseller Softcat, which will deliver software from vendor ServiceNow, which specialises in workplace-management technology.

The deal covers 23,000 licences of the software company’s Workspace Service Delivery product, which incorporates its dedicated Safe Workplace suite of applications. This set of tools includes programs for measuring the readiness of employees and buildings for returning to office-based work.

It can also provide data on an organisation’s stocks of PPE, such as face masks, and embed links for ordering more, as well as tracking staff vaccination status and the proportion of workers that remain in quarantine. Embedded indoor mapping systems from specialist software house MappedIn also supports users in travelling round their workplace in a socially-distant manner.

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According to company literature: “ServiceNow provides HR, IT, and workplace teams the tools they need to prepare for a safe working environment with health screenings, socially distanced floor maps, and automated escalation procedures for any potential outbreaks, and flexible workplace reservation options to help navigate an employee’s return.”

Surveys and feedback tools also allow managers to monitor employee sentiment about the working environment, and any concerns about safety or processes.

The ServiceNow licensing contract – which is labelled “Return to Office – Workspace Management Solution” – came into effect on 31 March, and lasts until 30 March 2024.

The 23,000 licences covered by the deal is enough for the vast majority of the workforce of the department and all its arm’s-length bodies. The most-recently available figures, for February 2021, indicate that 26,239 people are on Defra’s payroll.

This includes almost 5,400 that work for the main ministerial department, and a further 20,000-plus that are employed across four executive agencies and nine other various non-departmental bodies.

The single biggest employer is the Environment Agency, which has almost 11,000 staff, while the Animal and Plant Health Agency, Natural England, and the Rural Payments Agency all each employ more than 2,000 people.

Other Defra-group entities include Kew Gardens, the National Forest Company, and the Sea Fish Industry Authority.

Departmental headquarters are in London and, according to the department’s jobs website, its other biggest offices around the country include locations in York, Reading, Weybridge, Worcester, Peterborough, Crewe, Newcastle and Bristol – where the Environment Agency is based.

“But our people work flexibly, remotely, from different offices and from home”, it adds.


Sam Trendall

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