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Hornsby Shire Council completes ‘impossible’ cloud transition on time, on budget

Hornsby Shire Council has mapped out its long-term vision and strategy that weaves around the key themes of ensuring the area remains liveable, sustainable, productive and collaborative.

To do that it needs to serve the needs of its very diverse population of around 150,000 people, more than one in three of whom was born overseas. More than two thirds of the Shire is made up of National Park, but it also has busy high-rise corridors and suburbs spanning the area.

Delivering a broad mix of services efficiently and effectively is a priority for Hornsby Shire Council, which has recently completed an impressive modernisation project involving the transition of a range of on premise applications into Microsoft Azure. While this cloud transition delivers immediate efficiencies and benefits, it also sets the Council up for accelerated innovation in the future.

When Sharon Bowman, Manager of Technology and Transformation for Hornsby Shire Council first canvassed the idea, she was told that it would be difficult to achieve – not least because the undertaking was scheduled in the midst of a global pandemic.

Turned out those concerns were unfounded; working with Data Addiction and supported by Microsoft Fast Track, the Council has largely completed the transition and is now reaping the first round of benefits from being in the cloud.

Reduced complexity

When Bowman took on her role in 2020, the immediate challenge was to assess, then fix some of the technology challenges that people were facing. Except for a couple of SaaS applications – including Microsoft 365 – most Council systems were on premise and proving somewhat unreliable.

Portrait shot of Sharon Bowman
Sharon Bowman, Manager of Technology and Transformation, Hornsby Shire Council

“One of our strategies moving forward is to reduce complexity and part of reducing complexity is to try and reduce the number of different moving pieces,” says Bowman. As an existing user of Microsoft 365, and mid-way through the deployment of Dynamics 365 Customer Insights, which was being supported by Data Addiction, it made sense to consider Microsoft Azure as the platform to underpin the transformation to the cloud and further reduce the complexity.

According to Bowman; “The migration to Azure piece was incredibly quick and we had some fairly tight timelines which we had set ourselves because we did want to decommission our on premise infrastructure – we had some end-of-life issues.

“The cloud transition piece was probably about four months in total. Everybody in my team was saying that that they didn’t think that we would do it.

“The Data Addiction team just absolutely powered through, kept everybody on track. It was really, really well project managed.

“After the first couple of weeks we realised that everything was running really smoothly and we had so many other parallel projects going that I basically just said to everybody, ‘look, just keep me informed and let me know if anything needs to be escalated’.

“Then all I did was looked at the weekly reports and everything was green and I didn’t really need to pay very much attention to what was going on with that project at all,” she says.

According to Ben Johnson, Managing Director, Data Addiction:

Our mission is to use Microsoft to make a difference.  Both our team and the team at Hornsby Shire Council, believe we have achieved exactly that and we are proud of our partnership.  Because we are specialists in Azure, we have the privilege of being able to reduce the cost and complexity of transformations like this. It’s a great outcome.

“We pride ourselves on building solutions that make the most of our customers’ data to deliver the insights that allow employees to do their jobs well and deliver exceptional service to their customers.

“We are working with Hornsby Shire Council on precisely that trajectory and now have robust, high performance and trusted cloud foundations in place that will allow them to accelerate innovation and modernisation.”

Hornsby’s initial cloud transition is just that – a lift and shift to the cloud, which then sets the Council up for further modernisation planned down the track.

Bowman notes; “It went incredibly smoothly and has just been really brilliant, on time, on budget.” It has also delivered operational benefits to Hornsby Shire Council’s IT team through reduced complexity and ‘single pane of glass’ for operations. The team no longer has to manage ongoing maintenance of the 92 virtual machines using multiple on-prem systems; instead the rationalised set of servers can be managed easily using tools in the Azure cloud infrastructure provided by Microsoft.

This simplification and reduction in overheads has been one of the first benefits, with more anticipated as innovation gathers pace.

For example, Hornsby and Data Addiction are working on a proof of concept dubbed ‘citizen on a page’ that will leverage the Azure cloud to collect and interpret all the information that Council has about a resident in order to understand and then tailor the best services to meet that person’s needs.

Bowman explains; “We are working with our customer service team to pilot use  of this ‘single view of the customer’ at the front line, and then also having a look at how we can use it to give better information to our executive team and managers about the customer experience we are delivering.”

Instead of having to trawl through multiple systems the solution collates everything and serves up an holistic view of the resident.

It’s just one of the concepts on the drawing board being led by Hornsby’s team focused on digital and business transformation. A recent audit revealed as many as 500 largely paper-based forms used in Council processes, many of which Bowman believes will be able to be streamlined, digitised and modernised using Microsoft Power Platform, in order to help bring the Council’s vision for the future to reality.

Senior Couple Holding Hands
By leveraging the Azure cloud to collect and interpret all resident information, the Council is better able to tailor its service to meet that person’s needs, from all walks of life (Source: Getty)