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Victoria State Emergency Service discovers far reaching flexibility through Microsoft Cloud

The most successful transformations can be the invisible ones; the ones where end users make the transition easily, accessing familiar applications that just work faster, smarter.

Invisible transformations also mean the well-oiled machinery of an organisation rolls on while the foundations for the future are put in place.

For Victoria’s State Emergency Service any IT transformation needs to be seamless. The important work that its volunteers perform can’t be interrupted.

So it was essential that the move to Microsoft Azure was almost invisible for the organisation’s 5,000 volunteers – they were able to access familiar applications immediately, only now at anytime, anywhere, on any device. At the same time Vic SES is positioned to finesse its processes and systems for the future while reaping 20-25 per cent cost savings thanks to the cloud-led transformation.

Vic SES is a not-for-profit, volunteer-based emergency service. Its 5,000 volunteers operate out of 142 local units to help people facing floods, storms, earthquakes, landslides and road accidents across the State. When a major weather event occurs the organisation might receive several thousand calls for assistance each day. When an interstate issue arises Vic SES volunteers may fly in to offer additional support.

Andrew Ferrarese, the manager of information services at Vic SES explains; “Our role is to keep the community alerted, informed. Help them with keeping the water out of their homes, trees off their rooves, saving and looking after people generally.” And given the nature of the task at hand those information systems and support need to be available to personnel 24×7 – disasters don’t just strike 9-5.

The faster volunteers can access information, the faster they can complete callout requests, and the faster the community can get back on its feet.

Aiding the 5,000 volunteers are 180 SES staff who provide support and insights to people in the field. That requires the SES’ information systems to be entirely reliable and always accessible.

In the past the organisation managed its own IT infrastructure, but Ferrarese recognised that by moving to a trusted public cloud he could support the organisation’s current needs, but better position it for the future.

Working with Microsoft partner Data#3, Vic SES has migrated 90 per cent of its operational systems to the cloud with the remainder to follow shortly. Leveraging local Microsoft data centres which have been certified by the Australian Signals Directorate, delivers peace of mind about the resilience of the platform along with the security and privacy of data stored there, while latency and data sovereignty is no longer an issue.

“The key for me is that I have that comfort knowing that it’s local, it’s accessible, there’s a business continuity component to it,” says Ferrarese.

“What we’ve tried to do with this recent move is to just keep it as seamless as possible, so people still see their email and it looks the same, but it’s on Office 365. We don’t want to be seen as anything more than just providing the service…it’s just something that has to work.”

Ultimately he says SES workers need to communicate and to; “Access information and applications on the fly, in the field, wherever and whenever.”

Enterprise architect, Paul Jones adds; “The business need is really around a dynamic organisation that has a lot of staff and volunteers out on the road attending to community needs when there’s a disaster or a declared operation, so we need to be flexible enough to be able to drive a lot of those needs through remote working or a BYOD type of solution. That is key for everything that we look for in a platform like Azure or Office 365.”

There have also been organisational benefits says Ferrarese; “We wanted something that was simple and easy to use and obviously cost was a key consideration. Azure provided that ability where we didn’t need to worry about infrastructure or manage anything at a high cost and be worried about when it expires and licensing. We’re getting a better service for less money.”

About 20-25 per cent less money he says.

Crucially the cloud also acts as a foundation for the future. In the past SES staff needed a dedicated device and login to access the system. If they were in the field and attempted to log in from a Country Fire Association site or Department of Water and Environment office only limited access was possible.

Now the cloud and Office 365 allows anywhere anytime access. Any staff member, any volunteer with internet access and the appropriate authority will be able to access any application.

It also opens the door for additional productivity tools such as Skype for Business, OneDrive and Power BI which will further unlock the value in Vic SES’ data, break down any lingering information silos, and ensure important insights are shared fast and well.