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Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) votes 1 for cloud first transformation

It’s election day in Victoria and voters are going online to the VEC’s website to look up their nearest polling station. Demand is steadily rising – the visitor numbers are doubling and doubling again. 

By 10.30am the system’s slowing, risking voter frustration. 

Jonathan Underwood logs onto Azure, cranks up capacity and the system is flying again. 

As Underwood, CIO at the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) notes; “The scalability was there, we used it, then we dropped it back off. It was perfect, it was a textbook example of why you want to be in the cloud.” 

As the independent and impartial statutory authority, VEC conducts State elections, local council elections, and maintains the electoral enrolment register. 

VEC’s Strategy 2023, sets out a roadmap for the Commission that requires it to be “change-ready”, and prepared for whatever legislative shifts may be in the wings 

Over the last couple of years Underwood has led the digital transformation at VEC. This has seen key systems move to Microsoft Azure with the full cloud migration scheduled to be completed early in 2020. The organisation is using Office 365 as its workplace productivity platform, and Dynamics 365 to manage its political party donations register, and service desk with more to come. 

This cloud-centric IT strategy enhances VEC’s agility, ensuring it is able to respond rapidly to legislative changes with no sacrifice of integrity or security.  

In fact, the move to Microsoft’s three clouds has substantially improved the security posture of the organisation while reducing the burden on Underwood and his team.  

“The more I use the built-in security of cloud, the more I reduce my risk. There are about 10,000 various things I need to monitor and control with an average server application. By putting the application in the cloud, I reduce my workload by half. Using a cloud platform contributes to risk reduction. 

The VEC is also working on a major security project with Microsoft to ensure adherence to the Australian Signals Directorate’s Essential Eight recommendations for cyber security. 

According to Underwood; “Moving to the Azure cloud and Dynamics 365 has helped us achieve our security goals and ensured we have met the timeframes. The clean design and simplicity is a boon, as is the fact that Microsoft continually updates and enhances the system. 

My team can now be so much more effective and innovative. Rather than completing four projects a year we are now handling 50-60 projects delivered with improved speed and quality.

Substantial cloud transformation 

Underwood acknowledges it’s been a pretty substantial transformation after a decade during which many of VEC’s IT systems languished. “It was like stepping back in time. So, there was plenty of opportunity to introduce new tools to improve and support mobility, innovation and modern working. 

Many VEC systems were on premise, more were bespoke or had been developed inhouse. Consequently, any sort of modernisation, even upgrades, were challenging – but it was critical that VEC undergo a transformation in order to be able to respond nimbly to any legislative change. 

The first test of the transformation plan came with the introduction of new legislation in Victoria regarding political donations and disclosure. The laws introduced a cap on donations – and also the requirement that any donations of $1,000 or more must be disclosed online in real time. 

The VEC had six months to get ready. With Dynamics 365 as its CRM platform, it hit the target.  

Besides handling political party donation data, Dynamics 365 underpins the VEC’s service desk and Underwood plans to migrate complaints management to the platform shortly. 

One of the key benefits of moving to Dynamics 365 is the speed to delivery he says.  Before selecting Dynamics 365 as its CRM, the VEC had considered both building and buying a solution. According to Underwood; “Dynamics as a platform was not just the most costeffective solution, (it was) the better solution. 

It’s much quicker because you’re not doing development from scratch. It’s speed and cost. Had I gone the development path, it would’ve probably taken three times as long and five times the price. 

VEC also uses Office 365 as its productivity platform and is implementing a new intranet site and document management system using SharePoint. Underwood also recognises Teams as a key support to encourage communication and collaboration in the previously heavily siloed organisation. 

He has a Teams adoption program on the drawing board to encourage more people to use it, but already different groups have been adopting the tool organically. ”The extent to which  Teams has been embraced has been off the scale,” he adds.