A Partnership to Cover all Angles in Modernising New Zealand’s Largest Water Company

 |   Microsoft New Zealand News Centre

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As the only water provider to Auckland’s fast-growing population, Watercare delivers around 379 million litres of water to 1.7 million people every day. Watercare partnered with The Instillery to embark on a journey of consolidating and optimising business processes through the upgrade and building of new infrastructure. The end goal is to empower staff and drive true business risk reduction. Supported by Microsoft Azure, Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Teams, Watercare emerged invigorated by a dynamic system of collaboration and with newfound confidence in agile working capabilities.

Investing in collaborative solutioning

Watercare’s legacy corporate Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provider was expensive and too rigid to keep up with the company’s growth and its workforce needs. “We were looking for something more affordable that offered public cloud scalability,” says Rebecca Chenery, Chief Digital Officer of Watercare. “The legacy provider didn’t have the business agility or the service catalogue that Microsoft Azure offers, which enable us to integrate corporate and customer facing systems.” This prompted award-winning cloud and automation consultancy The Instillery to approach Watercare, helping the water company migrate away from its old system and existing provider.

In addition to avoiding the massive cost burden, Watercare wanted to focus on business risk reduction. This is vital for a public sector organisation. When discussions began, other benefits like remote working came to the fore. “We wanted to use technology to give our staff more freedom, untether them from their desks and get out of their way,” Chenery explains. “This meant putting in their hands collaborative tools that would help us reach their and our desired outcomes.”

These goals were made achievable by a shared risk model between The Instillery and Watercare, which allowed for a rapid migration to Microsoft Azure. Instead of having employees commute to headquarters, Watercare began communicating and collaborating over Microsoft Teams. The platform facilitated seamless and secure mobile workflows during New Zealand’s COVID-19 lockdown. “It opened doors to frictionless collaboration and fostered engagement without having to rely on physical presence,” says Chenery. “The decision to move to Microsoft Azure and Microsoft 365, specifically Microsoft Teams and all its capabilities designed for Work From Home (WFH), modernised our pace of work entirely.”

Adapting to the necessity of WFH

“While we were already using Microsoft solutions, digital collaboration was limited,” notes Chenery. But the New Zealand government’s call for organisations to set up WFH during the COVID-19 lockdown was the perfect time to test Microsoft Azure’s promise of speed and flexibility. “We basically said to our employees, ‘Try Microsoft Teams, it’s pretty intuitive. We’ll run sessions on more advanced features but give it a crack.’ And it was phenomenal that people were able to use it so easily.”

Ryan Joe, General Manager of The Instillery, adds, “The migration also threw the doors wide open on accessing a whole suite of new Microsoft services and applications. It also meant that some of Watercare’s existing team could be freed up to make human connections, rather than having to worry about operationally managing the new system.”

If initially challenging, the intense pace of deployment in fact helped to prompt the transformation. Chenery muses, “If we had gone through change management with flexible work as an ‘eventual aim’, things would have been slower. The Microsoft suite, its intuitive tools and capabilities empowered people to become digitally literate very quickly, with less support and training from us, which has been fantastic. It enriched the whole experience, and we embraced it in a much tighter timeframe than we would or could have otherwise.”

On the technical side, the new digital solutions smoothed the transition to WFH considerably. “Our leaders were able to connect with people and step into their leadership role without having to be physically present. It completely revolutionised our business, our thinking and how we work. But it’s crucial for team members to be able to engage with one another, so we also needed a balance with face-to-face interaction,” affirms Chenery.

Thanks to Microsoft Azure, the lockdown didn’t slow down business. From data backup, regardless of location, to data integration with Active Directory bringing more centralised management and robust security, Microsoft Azure extended the domain controller reach like no other cloud computing service. Chenery marvels, “We immediately saw improved security and support practices. Operating expenditures reduced significantly. Also, by starting with a clean slate technically, we’re now set up to build on it.”

Joe notes that, “it was an upgrade to a stable, scalable, modern solution, and in the migration we were able to mitigate any kind of operational risk in the existing IT teams.” Staff were inspired by the easy integration between applications. “People have taken to building their own surveys in Flows and sending them out to the rest of the company, which speaks for itself,” relates Chenery.

“We moved from aspiring to ‘maybe introducing WFH at some point in the future’ to realising that actually, there’s no reason to not do it now. And best of all, having it work. There are huge benefits. People are more productive, saving time, avoiding tiring commutes and costs associated to it. Remote working is better for the environment as well as for people’s general wellbeing. Feedback has been very positive. We’ve experienced an intense time but have been able to maintain a connection with the world via digital channels.”

Partnering for unified outcomes

Ultimately, it was the cohesion between Watercare, The Instillery and Microsoft that drove the project forward. “To suddenly pivot and focus on getting people to Work From Home really quickly was phenomenal, and this was only possible because we all came together with a clear vision of the outcome,” reports Chenery. “We were one team aligned with the same idea of ‘How can we help?’ ‘What more can we do?’”

Joe also states that “Watercare, Microsoft and The Instillery worked together and supported the project’s decisive success factors.”

“The Instillery was really, actually able to focus on a commitment to business innovation as opposed to just doing ‘lift and shift migrations.’” Chenery notes. She also applauded Microsoft for “being beside us, wanting to fully grasp our problems and then helping us understand how the different tools and capabilities could solve these problems. This is a huge part of delivering great outcomes for our customers. No one person has all of the answers, but strong partnerships certainly bring us that much closer.”

The combined digital team believed that gaining insights through automation and monitoring would lead to a better employee experience. To get the ball rolling, they brought on board stakeholders from across the organisation. “It’s crucial that they be actively part of the journey, rather than feeling like this is all being done to them,” shares Chenery. “It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the technology and forget who you’re creating solutions for. Technology in and of itself doesn’t solve problems. People solve problems.”

Data mining for the future

Watercare is now looking to bring older systems into Microsoft Azure, further scaling and modernising applications. Migration of key business systems like SCADA to Microsoft Azure is also on the horizon. So is process automation and data, especially since Watercare operates the whole business chain from catchment to tap. “As an incredibly data-rich organisation that runs expensive and extensive control systems, we’d like to draw data from numerous widgets, like billing from smart meters, for practical purposes. It’s gold we’re not mining to the fullest yet, and we’re excited about transforming it into insights,” says Chenery.

Joe concludes that “it all came down to the foresight of Watercare upon consultation with The Instillery and Microsoft that prepared them for the day when digital apps enabling Work From Home would become indispensable. We now look forward to working with the data and exploring its full potential for the business and its users.”


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