When Hearing Australia surveyed its staff about the new way of working forced on them by the COVID-19 pandemic, the message that came back sounded loud and clear; nine out of ten wanted at least some of the changes to be permanent.
The organisation’s rapid embrace of cloud computing and Office 365 meant that for the organisation’s personnel required to work remotely, the transition to home-based working went better than they expected. Now the overwhelming majority want to be able to work from home for at least one day per week.
Hearing Australia operates in around 166 permanent hearing centres as well as visiting sites across Australia and is the nation’s largest provider of government-funded hearing services for children, young adults up to 26, adults with complex communication needs, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, pensioners and veterans. Hearing Australia is here for all Australians; including those who don’t qualify for the Australian Government Hearing Services Program.
Mike Brett joined the organisation as Chief Information Officer in 2019 with the intent to transform the IT function into a proactive and strategic part of the organisation and to develop the roadmap for Hearing Australia’s digital transformation.
Key to that was the need for a way for people within the organisation to be able to communicate with one another and collaborate regardless of their location.
As a corporate Commonwealth entity, established under the Australian Hearing Services Act 1991, the organisation was able to take advantage of the Common Cloud Commitment (CCC) agreement that already exists with Microsoft. It meant, says Brett, that at the end of 2019 Hearing Australia was able to start the rollout of Office 365 across the organisation and start to implement Dynamics 365 as the organisation’s core processing requirements.
Previously, Hearing Australia had an on-premises data centre and was using Office 2016 and Skype for Business. The project also included the migration of all mailboxes from on-premises Exchange Server 2016 to Exchange Online. Now it uses Office 365, has rolled out Teams across the organisation, and is implementing SharePoint online as well as Dynamics 365. The organisation is also benefitting big-time from Microsoft Office 365’s accessibility features such as live captioning and subtitling in real time.
According to Brett, not only does the digital transformation and embrace of cloud computing provide a new platform to connect employees, it helps to address version control and compliance challenges. “From an efficiency point of view, it certainly made a difference,” he says.
While Hearing Australia led the project itself, it worked closely with Microsoft Consulting to ensure a swift transition to the cloud. Brett explains; “The view was we wanted to move quickly, and we were quite aggressive in the timeline. We wanted somebody who truly understood the product.” He had already sketched out the change management program to ensure that the transformation went smoothly for employees.
This was December 2019; by early 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world, the timing looked especially prescient. Hearing Australia was able to rapidly spin up a work from home model to keep both employees and clients safe and well. According to Brett; “Our Enabling Services Office was able to make a smooth transition to working from home, stay connected to colleagues and remain able to help our centres to continue caring and supporting our clients during this challenging time.”
The experience also brought into sharper focus Hearing Australia’s plans to create online client engagement opportunities, providing virtual audiology services and tele-services.
Traditionally only about 1 per cent of all client engagements have been conducted remotely; during the pandemic people were able to use various forms of technology to connect remotely, and according to Brett; “At the peak of the pandemic, remote appointments were closer to 40 per cent.” While that level of remote engagement was born of necessity, he believes that tele-audiology will be a channel that will be used more extensively in the future.
Hearing Australia personnel have also lauded the accessibility features which are built into Office 365, as well as the ability to use Teams to conduct virtual face-to face meetings and actually see one another speaking.
To gauge how effective the digital transformation was for Hearing Australia’s end users it conducted a survey that revealed 91 per cent of people working remotely found that Office 365 had made the transition to working from home much better than they expected, and 90 per cent were keen to use the platform in order to work from home at least one day a week. They don’t want to go back to the old ways of working and they want to keep the technology.
Besides supporting the new way of working, Brett believes that the move into Azure and cloud services will accelerate Hearing Australia’s ability to deliver new services using tele-audiology to deliver better outcomes and client experiences.
There is still work to do in terms of decommissioning legacy systems, stripping out complexities and moving more on-premise applications into Azure which Brett says will deliver greater flexibility and scalability as well as; “Access to new, innovative software.”