At the far west of the Cumberland Plain lies Penrith. If you head West from Sydney it’s where the city ends; if you head East from the Blue Mountains it’s where the city starts.
Over the next few years Penrith is slated for massive growth with the opening of the second Sydney airport and its surrounding aerotropolis. Penrith City Council hopes to attract up to 55,000 new jobs to the area by 2031, and see the population rise to more than 260,000 people.
To any Local Government Area, this scale of growth brings both opportunity and challenges.
Councils tackle a huge array of responsibilities and provide essential services to residents and businesses. Parks are maintained, roads swept, garbage collected, sporting facilities maintained, amenities serviced and development applications considered.
Until recently Penrith managed all of this without a customer relationship management system (CRM), making it hard to achieve a comprehensive view of all customer engagements to provide timely responses and follow ups when needed.
A customer-centric approach is at the heart of Penrith Council’s vision for the future, to service residents with accurate, timely and pro-active communications and responses. This approach was galvanized by the Council’s “Our Customer Promise” initiative which was implemented across the whole organisation. This promise puts the customer first to drive the organisation’s decision making, to steer the prioritisation of projects, and also coaches staff on how to be proactive, keep it simple, be respectful, as well as listen and respond to the customer’s needs.
With massive growth now in its sights, and to support the Customer Promise, Penrith Council is undertaking a cloud-first digital transformation that will streamline the delivery of services to a rising population and at the same time lift the quality of those services.
Jane Howard, ICT operations manager has been with the Council for three and a half years and leads the team delivering the digital transformation underway. Howard says that the program of work has a customer focus front and central. “That’s very, very important. We want to be able to deliver agile, innovative, and efficient services through technology,” she says.
“Our vision, is for the customer to be kept informed, and receive feedback through the duration of the requests they’ve made of council, until finalised.”
In order to deliver against that vision Penrith has deployed Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Service, initially to support interactions with customers regarding their waste management services. Previously customers with a query – a collection had been missed; a bin had been damaged – needed to call the council’s waste service provider. In a typical year as many as 80,000 such calls would be received.
When Penrith Council recently renewed its waste services contract, it wanted those tens of thousands of requests to be made via the council’s Customer Experience centre.
By integrating Dynamics 365 Customer Service with the waste contractor’s own computer system it is now possible for customers to raise requests on the Penrith Council portal – My.Penrith.City (in Dynamics 365 Customer Service) and have that directly communicated to the waste contractor’s system for action, and each truck or crew also have mobile solutions available to hand.
According to Howard; “Since we went live in July, we registered 16,000 requests from our customers. The majority are still received by our Customer Experience team by phone, but we’ve undergone a recent campaign trying to channel-shift customers from the traditional ‘phone-up council’, to registering them online. This channel is now growing, since starting the campaign and is becoming very, very effective.”
Customers are provided with a request identification number and once the request has been fulfilled or addressed the waste contractor’s system alerts Penrith’s Dynamics 365 Customer Service system and an email is automatically sent to the customer.
“Our point of difference is that we look holistically at end to end business processes to deliver the best possible customer experience.”
Mobility for council workers
Penrith is also progressing a second Dynamics 365 project with Dynamics 365 Field Service that will support its field services crews with mobile access to data and information systems. Currently in user acceptance testing the system will support council crews working on many community services such as tackling graffiti, fallen trees, and maintenance of fencing, buildings, parks and roads.
“We’re integrating regular maintenance data from our assets system for scheduling and work order management.
“We also receive the requests coming in directly from customers, either via the portal or our Customer Experience team.
“These requests along with the regular maintenance activities are assigned to our field crews for completion. This is all electronic and online – no more paper and when the request is from a customer they will be advised when the job is complete, even with a photo attached of the finished job.” says Howard.
Penrith Council has further plans to use Dynamics 365 to support other areas within the business and continue the improved communication with its customers.
“It goes to the core of what Penrith is trying to achieve in terms of enhanced customer service and the delivery of our Customer Promise” says Howard.
Besides Dynamics 365, Penrith City Council uses Office 365 as its office productivity platform allowing council workers “anytime, anywhere, any-device access.
“The most important thing is to be able to deliver new functionality quickly with minimal impact.
“Ultimately, we want all of our business processes to be integrated end-to-end. The experiences we’ve had with our waste program, the experience we’re having with our field services mobility projects is how, we want to streamline processes and applications across all of our functions in council,” she adds.
Penrith City Council selected Microsoft partner Velrada for expertise to assist in the design and development of the Dynamics environment. It was able to bring to the table best practice experiences to ensure the transformation was a success.
“At Velrada, we pride ourselves in our approach of working in partnership with industry and organisations to deliver transformational outcomes through understanding business practices and processes and leveraging appropriate Microsoft technologies to drive change.
“Penrith City Council is a forward-thinking Council delivering a large program of customer-service led, digital transformation and Velrada has enjoyed the challenges and complexities of helping create their Microsoft Platform,” says Dominic Nolan, GM Solutions, Velrada.
With the foundations now in place there are additional benefits to expanding the program, with Council currently working on a pipeline for further initiatives to leverage the successful projects already completed.