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How the WA Department of Transport switched 75 per cent of its staff to remote work in one month

With around 2 million direct customers, the Western Australian Government’s Department of Transport (DoT) plays a vital role in delivering services for people across the state.

These services include licensing for vehicles, boats and drivers; managing boating facilities; and regulating on-demand transport, freight and ports, marine safety and aviation activities.

The DoT employs about 1,400 people and has 23 centres across metropolitan and regional areas of Western Australia. Within the department sits a Business Information Systems (BIS) unit of around 110 staff, which its Executive Director, Christian Thompson, says is “essentially a large app development shop”.

“We usually complete between about $13 million and $22 million worth of application capital development work a year, keeping up with the changes in legislation required to support the licensing systems in WA,” he explains.

“Everybody with a driver’s licence or a vehicle is a customer of ours. We have around 2 million Western Australian drivers’ licences, and we’ve just clocked over 1 million online customers.”

The BIS unit also focuses on helping other divisions within the DoT deliver better services to the public. This includes ensuring effective information technology services and solutions across the department, and enabling staff to be more productive and better connected.

Turning to Teams Phone

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the DoT went from having all employees working in the office to 75 per cent working remotely in less than a month.

To help staff embrace the new way of working and minimise the impact of COVID‑19 on productivity, the department needed a modern, mobile-enabled phone system that could connect over internal and external networks. Thompson says Microsoft Teams Phone was the perfect solution.

“The roll-out of Microsoft Teams Phone was the most critical for us during the pandemic. It’s really transformed our business,” he says. “No one would believe three years ago if we said that we’d have 75 per cent of our staff working from home for 6 months.”

Heng Farm, Director of Infrastructure Services at the DoT, agrees that Teams Phone has been vital for enabling remote working and maintaining staff productivity during the pandemic.

“It gave us the ability to conduct a lot of important meetings and instantly share documents during these meetings. We could also easily communicate with team members through the chat function,” he says.

The BIS unit has also deployed Teams Phone to replace some of the department’s phone infrastructure, which was reaching the end of its life. Thompson says this has helped the DoT create hybrid and activity-based working (ABW) environments at some of its larger offices.

“Our newest office in Fremantle is configured specifically for an ABW environment. Everybody enjoys working there. People sit at a different desk each day,” he says.

“Then we’ve got other offices in Osborne Park and Central Perth that have embraced what we call a hybrid working environment, where we operate a clean desk policy, we’re on Teams Phone, and there’s an ability to work remotely for part of the week.

“We were pretty old school and our upper management were somewhat reluctant to embrace remote working. To their credit we’ve now gone from that environment to seeing Hybrid working as a key element to not only retain staff, but to attract new employees.”

In addition to Teams Phone, the BIS unit has leveraged Microsoft’s Azure Virtual Desktop service so that DoT employees can access on-premise services securely from a remote location.

“We have implemented multifactor authentication for all users, so we try to make it as safe as possible,” Farm says.

Exploring new opportunities with Microsoft

Like all WA Government departments, the DoT uses a number of Microsoft services, and is constantly looking to adopt new capabilities as they become available.

“We move together with Microsoft,” says Farm. “Whenever there are new technologies, we embrace them as opposed to looking at different vendors.”

The department recently added Microsoft 365 E5 Security capabilities to its Microsoft 365 E3 licence. It is also interested in unlocking the staff productivity and wellbeing benefits that Microsoft Viva can provide.

“More broadly at an IT level, we are driving a three-year program to be completely cloud based. That means the primary goal is actually to shut down our two data centres and deliver everything from cloud-based solutions,” Thompson says.

His advice for other government agencies and organisations that are on a similar journey is to leverage Microsoft’s ability and willingness to provide better opportunities.

“We did some work with Microsoft specifically around Teams Phone that reduced our cost, which was really useful,” Thompson says. “And a lot of that comes from regular and open dialogue with the Microsoft crew. We don’t always agree, but it’s a good, robust discussion that I’ve found really useful in terms of opening opportunities up for us.”