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Sydney Water finds lockdown silver lining with change management transformation

Sydney Water’s newly deployed Business Experience Platform (BxP) touches more than 3,000 people across the organisation. It’s a significant digital platform promising to deliver an important impact.

While it’s live now, there were some hairy moments when, three days into the 17-day long cutover plan for the new platform, Sydney went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sydney Water’s plans to have teams of people walking the floors to support staff as they transitioned to the new system were immediately thwarted. However, a combination of Microsoft Teams, an AI-infused Teams chatbot and an internal call centre allowed the transformation to proceed without a hitch, and paved the way for a new era of change management at the organisation.

Leveraging SAP’s S/4 HANA enterprise resource planning platform, Sydney Water’s BxP reflects General Manager of Digital and Chief Information Officer Dominic Hatfield’s focus on using digital platforms to create seamless and frictionless experiences for employees and customers.

As Hatfield explains: “There aren’t many people in our organisation that this program hasn’t touched in one form or another.

There are over 3,000 people across Sydney Water that are now using the BxP platform in some way.

Led by Head of Digital Business Programs Sridhar Pydipati, Sydney Water’s BxP project team was based at Homebush in Sydney’s west and leveraged IT professionals based far and wide, including in India.

“We have a very diverse organisation attacking this program. And of course, that required us to be pretty nimble when COVID hit”, says Hatfield.

Planning for the project was completed pre-COVID, but thanks to Microsoft Teams and the ability to continue to collaborate remotely, it was completed within the original timeline.

“We met the committed delivery date set two years prior, despite COVID and during multiple periods of lockdown. It was a phenomenal effort,” says Hatfield.

“Teams enabled us to ensure that we could collaborate effectively across the organisation, which was critical to the success of the program, and never more so than when the 17-day cutover began and Sydney’s lockdown was announced three days in.

“The entire planning for cutover for the project assumed that everyone would be onsite. There were walls of paper with thousands of lines of checklists with highlighter pens going through it. People would come in to work as a team, connect and collaborate, and talk through issues, and then we were suddenly met with a massive curve ball as to how we could do that remotely.”

Hatfield knew there was no other option but to switch to online collaboration and virtual change management. In a day and a half, Sydney Water’s project team came up with a plan to not only manage the cutover during lockdown, but also handle change management for 3,000 people while the entire company was working from home.

A group gathers around a table having a meeting in an office
Sydney Water’s new BxP platform is delivering important impact across its 3000 staff.

Teams-driven change management

Instead of having teams of people physically visiting Sydney Water’s 3,000 employees and 80 sites, the organisation established 10 chat rooms using Teams that everyone could access to get help, ask questions and learn more about the new system.

Noemi Javier, Manager for Products Capability Services at Sydney Water, says: “The chat room data was captured in Microsoft Forms and reports were generated in Microsoft Power BI. These were set up within four days before going live with BxP.

“We also leveraged Teams’ conversational AI bot (Power Virtual Agent) that integrated with a number of knowledge bases and could provide responses directly to people’s questions as they came to grips with the new system, which leveraged multiple sources of information.”

Sydney Water was able to deploy all this in just 10 days.

Rachel Anderson, Head of Shared Services at Sydney Water, says: “While the technology was the enabler, it’s really about the interactions between our employees and using that technology to share information in a time-critical way.

“We used Teams plus the chatbot – we called it InfoM8. We had a team of people answering phone calls in the traditional way as well, and they also used InfoM8 to answer people’s questions.

As new questions were posed by employees and then answered, that information was made available to everyone via Teams and InfoM8, helping to solidify the change management process.

“From a customer experience, I think it was pretty seamless. They didn’t see all of this going on behind the scenes. They just knew that we had the information at hand and it was updated dynamically,” says Anderson.

Sydney Water calculated that using Teams and the chatbot reduced the number of calls coming through to the call centre by 41 per cent.

“From early July to the end of September 2021, there were 15,382 visits to the Teams chat rooms – an average of 240 per day – and 2,553 questions posed and answered,” says Javier. “This changed our mindset in how we support the organisation in the future.”

Two males in a safety uniform at Sydney Water
Sydney Water calculated that using Microsoft Teams and the chatbot reduced the number of calls coming through to the call centre by 41 per cent. (Source: Sydney Water)

Teams was also used to keep Sydney Water’s executive communication channels open, with Hatfield, its General Manager of Finance and even its Chairman using the platform to engage with employees working remotely during lockdowns.

The full BxP change management support model was used for four months, and the call centre has since been wound back. However, Teams and the chatbot are still available to support staff at Sydney Water who have questions about the new platform.

According to Anderson: “It actually worked so well that even if we were 100 per cent in the office next time around doing this project – although I’m not sure many companies will ever be 100 per cent in the office again – I would still advocate for having this combination of Teams and other solutions because of the accessibility.”

Instead of waiting for Sydney Water’s change management team to come to an employee’s office or desk, Teams and the chatbot provide an instant fingertip response to a question. Anderson says the self-serve change management and online collaboration has also enhanced workforce agility.

“People have realised that they’re more agile than they thought they were. Fifteen months ago, all the employees were working in an office; within 48 hours, they were all working from home,” she says.

Teams has been a critical part of that, and Microsoft generally. It has opened a whole new world to all our employees that enables them to see how they work differently. The implementation of BxP has been a catalyst and accelerated that change.

It’s a business transformation that wasn’t envisaged at the start, but one that has been warmly welcomed.