City West Water (CWW) is one of three metropolitan Melbourne water businesses owned by the Victorian Government. The organisation provides drinking water, sewerage, trade waste and recycled water services to more than 1.1 million customers in Melbourne’s central business district, inner and western suburbs.
It manages $1.9 billion of infrastructure across a service area of more than 700 square kilometres and has around 460 employees.
CWW had an ageing fleet of end user devices and was keen to digitally transform and modernise the workplace. This would introduce modern workplace practices including flexible working, create a standard operating environment for the organisation, rein in the high operational overhead associated with manually managing devices, and support remote working – just in time for COVID-19 as it turned out.
Microsoft (MS) talks to Shubha Sridhar (SS), City West Water Strategic IT Business Partner for Enterprise Solutions about the transition to a Modern Workplace.
MS: Tell us about your journey to a modern workplace.
SS: With a focus on enabling flexible working and improving employee experience, engagement and culture while driving operational efficiency, information management and security capability uplift, CWW was looking to refresh its end user computing fleet and transition to Win10, Office 365, Exchange Online, Teams, OneDrive and SharePoint Online. Partnering with Arinco helped us develop and deliver on the modern workplace roadmap built on the Microsoft 365 suite.
MS: What are some of the business benefits of that?
SS: We’ve seen a reduction in overheads for end user computing, reducing onboarding and device rebuild time to less than 30 minutes with minimal end user interaction. We have automated patching with Windows Update for Business which has allowed us to meet our monthly security baseline requirements, previously a challenge due to manual processes.
We also have unified endpoint management for all devices such as laptops, mobiles, meeting room devices and Surface Hubs.
The rollout of SharePoint Online, OneDrive and MS Teams has greatly improved collaboration and access to information anytime, anywhere, on any device. These tools have helped CWW rapidly enable flexible working and minimise business disruption as part of our response to coronavirus (COVID-19). The new ways of working have also improved information management maturity and compliance to regulatory standards.
MS: How are your employees benefitting?
SS: Based on statistics, we know that staff are actively leveraging Teams for messaging, audio/video conferencing, group chats; information sharing and document collaboration. Our meeting rooms are now modern with Teams Meeting Rooms devices connected with PSTN calling, and mobile Surface Hubs have been set-up for in-office collaboration. Teams Live Events is being leveraged for large group events.
CWW is now able to confidently support all remote and mobile workers. Office ProPlus, Exchange Online, OneDrive, SharePoint Online and Teams ensure full access to corporate data enabling collaboration on any device from anywhere. OneDrive is a reliable backup tool in the cloud for staff to store their personal work-related information offering protection from data loss in the event of hardware faults or failures. Staff also have the added advantage of installing Office ProPlus on five different devices without having to purchase additional licenses.
Intune has enabled IT Operations teams to deploy applications and patches to end user devices without physical access to the hardware which has proved extremely valuable for a remote workforce.
MS: Tell me how Teams helped the organisation through the pandemic?
SS: With the vast majority of our staff now working remotely, Teams has become the core communication and collaboration platform for majority of work-related interactions, conversations and information. Staff are using Teams for messaging, audio/video conferencing, group chats and document collaboration.
MS: How has Teams been embraced?
SS: Teams has proven to be hugely successful, with statistics showing active usage across majority of our user base and more than 50 per cent of our users are accessing Microsoft 365 services on their mobile devices.
Because we were rolling out so many new tools in a short span of time, we invested a significant amount of time and effort in organisational change management as we saw it as critical to the success of our deployment. We made a conscious decision to deploy the technology in stages supported by adequate communication. We found that users were quick to adopt Teams and SharePoint Online as it was very intuitive and extremely easy to use. We saw organic growth commence well before official rollout.
MS: How has workplace flexibility developed?
SS: Prior to implementation of Modern Workplace technologies, CWW staff had the opportunity to leverage flexible working arrangements but were predominantly office based. Some critical business areas like our customer focused call centre teams were office-bound especially since they primarily had desktops. By standardising the fleet to laptops and enabling remote working productivity tools for all staff, the opportunity for flexible working was made available to these traditionally office bound team members who could now work from their homes or other CWW offices.
These initiatives were already in train prior to the coronavirus pandemic, with CWW already geared to introduce new ways of working. We were able to rapidly enable our staff when the ability to work from the office was no longer an option.
MS: You’ve also rolled out Windows Virtual Desktop?
We have piloted SSL Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) as an extension of our modern workplace program to cater for specific user personas as we continue to execute on our digital transformation roadmap. Our pilot has been largely successful with some user groups preferring the WVD solution to traditional alternatives.
We are looking to support user groups with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) requirements, especially consultants, vendors, delivery partners and short-term contractors that need to collaborate and work within the CWW environment but do not necessarily need a CWW issued laptop. WVD will enable us to provide a secure and managed virtual desktop to these users allowing access from any device or endpoint.
WVD will enable us to optimise our hardware spend, consolidate our technologies and simplify our IT management by leveraging our Azure platform investments and tie into our existing security controls with Azure Active Directory.
MS: What led you to select Microsoft as the platform for this transformation?
SS: As a common platform used across Victorian government agencies, we chose to continue our existing partnership with Microsoft. The product vision, architectural roadmap and continued investment in critical services offers CWW comfort that it aligns with our goals for digital transformation to support better customer outcomes.
The usability of tools and ease of deployment along with the large Partner, Developer and Customer networks are some of the added benefits of investing in Microsoft.
MS: Who did you work with from a Microsoft partner perspective to support your transformation journey?
SS: In selecting a partner to bring the program to fruition, trust and confidence were key factors in the decision to engage Arinco as a truly embedded partner rather than just a service provider. Arinco worked collaboratively with City West Water on our journey from the beginning through to execution of our strategic roadmap. The carefully curated program of work included architecting, designing, implementing and migrating the entire end user platform from traditional on-premises to a modern hybrid-cloud Microsoft 365 platform. The work was done quickly but securely, which was of utmost importance to us, particularly at the time. Our partnership with Arinco has been critical to the success of this initiative.
MS: I understand you are developing a knowledge management bot?
SS: Next on the agenda is the knowledge management Teams bot which is still in its early days and yet to be released. We were keen to explore technology to address one of the most common problems around centralised FAQs to service common business queries and requests. The knowledge management bot, which we have named Aquabot, is our first iteration in attempting to address the problem.
The solution was developed in association with Arinco within four weeks and leverages our existing Azure ecosystem that has allowed us to quickly deploy Bot Services and QnA Maker. This is an example of us trying to maximise our investments in Microsoft.
MS: another innovation is your digital metering trial?
SS: This initiative is currently running as a proof of concept. We are looking at usage patterns, detecting leaks and providing insights for customers to view their metering data. We are using Microsoft SQL to store the data and PowerBI for dashboard, reporting and analytics.