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RSL Queensland shoots for major transformation with Office 365, Dynamics 365 and Microsoft Teams

Most centenarians slow down a little; not RSL Queensland.

The iconic Australian organisation is marking its 100th anniversary with a technology transformation. The overhaul is intended to provide the platform for business growth that will ensure the RSL can support the needs of its members and veterans now and in the future.

Leveraging Microsoft Azure, Office 365, Dynamics 365 and Teams, CIO Simon Button is building a flexible, scalable platform. It will initially serve the more than 200 RSL employees throughout Queensland – but the branch has ambitions to make it available to the thousands of people working and volunteering with the RSL nationally.

Working with a team of around 50 IT professionals and Microsoft partner Avanade, Button is also one of the pioneer users of Microsoft Teams in Australia. He is using the technology to create a rich digital workspace where people can collaborate and develop the information platform that will support RSL Queensland in its goals for 2020.

With an ageing membership, the organisation is looking to grow its community; diversify and build revenue streams; evolve its culture; more effectively partner with government; and support other ex-services organisations. Button says the technology transformation will create a platform to underpin the RSL’s five strategic pillars on which its 2020 vision is founded.

“When I joined, we were running small, on-prem data centres and MYOB as our financial system of record,” he says. What Button needed was a flexible, scalable information platform that would allow anytime anywhere access. RSL staff members needed to use the systems when working with veterans in their own homes.

“Twelve months ago, our people could not work from home or in the field. We want to empower employees anywhere anytime and as close to customers as we can,” he says.

By June this year, the organisation also plans to upgrade its hardware portfolio to run Windows 10.

Deploying Office 365, Skype for Business and SharePoint allows employees immediate access to all the information they need to communicate broadly across the organisation and effectively expedite results for veterans and members. The RSL currently uses a fleet of Surface Pro4s and SurfaceBooks and is considering how Surface Hub could enhance communications across the widely dispersed RSL community.

RSL Queensland operates across 10 districts and 260 sub-branches. Skype for Business is being rolled out across the district network to enable real-time video-conferencing and the capability to Skype veterans from anywhere within the state. “The next piece is having Skype for Business on our mobile devices,” says Button, adding that this will deliver additional flexibility.

Button is considering using Surface Hubs to allow real-time collaboration in the district centres, which host veterans and members, offer gym facilities, and provide access to Department of Veterans Affairs personnel and psychologists, though he says it is still early days.

What is far more mature is Button’s project to overhaul RSL Queensland’s core system and ensure it can scale securely to match the organisation’s growth ambitions.

After performing market analysis and due diligence, Button settled on Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 as the platform for the future. “What we really liked and what was compelling for us was the cloud ERP plan and the aggressive investment Microsoft was making in that ecosystem,” he says. “It was the best-of-breed to run our operating model.”

It also offered the opportunity to scale.

More than 200 people work for RSL Queensland’s headquarters, and 10 districts and 260 sub-branches report to it. Over time, the information platform being developed by Button will be extended to these organisations, their employees and volunteers.

Button also wishes to extend access to other state RSLs. “In three to five years, I expect most states to run these systems, enabling thousands of employees and volunteers to provide much-needed services directly to the veteran community across Australia,” he says.

Teams transforms workspace

The transformation project began in July 2016, and the finance and people management systems were across and live in Dynamics 365 by December. As Button says, “This was not the end game but the start of a multi-year activity.”

One of the most important initiatives now underway is the overhaul of RSL Queensland’s National Lotteries system, which is also being transitioned to Dynamics 365. Button explains, “This is the largest not-for-profit lotteries business in Australia, generating significant surplus that we pump directly back into the veteran community.”

Lotteries has hundreds of thousands of active players already. To ensure it has a sustainable financial future, Button and his team are creating an entirely new operating model based on Dynamics 365. With workloads spread across Microsoft’s two Australian Azure data centres, Button is assured of the system’s resilience and security, which is critical for such an application.

Teams provides the digital workspace for developers engaged in the transformation project. The tight integration of Teams with Office 365 also ensures that the team can communicate and collaborate in a secure digital workspace with access to in-context content.

Offering a secure environment where shared information and communications are encrypted in transit and at rest, Microsoft Teams has allowed Button to retire Slack for inter-team communication.

“It’s primarily been used for the project teams and the Lotteries project. They were using Slack but as soon as Teams was announced, we were an early adopter. It’s really bringing SharePoint to life. There are really tight connections around document share and real-time collaboration and the opportunity to get off email.”

Button is now looking forward to extending the use of Teams to external partners such as Avanade. He says it is a great way to communicate in a highly agile manner around project work.

He also envisages wider deployment of Teams across the RSL head office, districts and sub‑branches to facilitate communication and collaboration.

“Because we are a very decentralised operating model through the three tiers, there is a lot of difficulty sharing knowledge across the organisation. SharePoint has helped, and having Teams on top of that – allowing collaboration and talk around issues in real time – that will be a key use case for us.”

Future opportunities

In tandem with the ongoing technology transformation, Button is bringing data warehouse and big data analytics to life in Azure to deliver greater organisation and customer insights to RSL Queensland. That data collection, coupled with Azure machine learning technologies, will provide RSL management with better member and veteran insights and the opportunity to better understand the needs of lotteries players. “By using data to better understand the needs of the veteran community, we can ensure we are delivering the best possible front-line services to veterans and their families,” he says.

“Microsoft’s strategy around Azure and Dynamics 365 and Office 365 is really compelling and brings a different capability to my team. It means I can drive front-line value rather than back-office IT functions.

“One of my high-level principles is to stay in the wake of Microsoft, to be as agile as possible and remain as close as possible to where Microsoft is taking these platforms. That way we can use the value as it is unlocked and contextualise it for our organisation.”