Primary ITO first in class: enabling the future of the people, food and fibre sector through Fusion5

 |   Microsoft New Zealand News Centre

Growing the success of New Zealand’s primary sector through work-based education and training is what Primary ITO is all about. From winegrowing to beekeeping, milking to horse-breeding, Primary ITO supports learners across the entire people, food and fibre sectorFusion5 has accelerated them to the top of their class through their recent migration to Azure and Dynamics 365, helping transform their outdated system into a modern tech platform. 

Responsible for training nearly 21,000 learners situated in 6,000 workplaces throughout Aotearoa, Primary ITO is core to the future of our primary industries. The $50 billion-a-year food and fibre sector isn’t just the backbone of New Zealand’s economy – it’s ingrained in our culture. Our fruit, wine, dairy and wool are renowned around the world, while equestrian sports and fishing are nationwide passions.  

Primary ITO ensures all these industries stay strong by training the next generation of experts, supporting learners in introductory programmes and schools-based Trades Academies, through to apprenticeships and diplomas in partnership with employers and external training providers. It also develops programmes and undertakes assessments.  

But its own outdated IT system wasn’t performing to quite the same standard, making it tougher than it should have been to keep all the wheels of industry spinning.  

In today’s organisations, people expect to be able to access files and work remotely, and they also expect technology to support them rather than act as a barrier to getting the job done. That wasn’t the case with the legacy system, known as Trellis.  

The old information portal was at the end of its life, meaning reporting was extremely difficult. Primary ITO’s tech team were in the awkward position of having to turn down requests for improvements such as task automation because the system simply wasn’t capable. Meanwhile, external assessors had no access, so any results from assessments had to be sent for data entry via spreadsheets, leading to a lot of manual work and leaving the door open for errors. 

There were multiple points of data logged in the system, meaning that users were not always able to find the right answers and relevant information that they were looking for.  It was an arduous process generating multiple spreadsheets, that led to a lot of manual management from every touchpoint and not always the most dependable reports, due to out-of-date or misinterpreted data.  This caused frustration and could be very labour intensive and time consuming.   

It simply wasn’t the resilient, modern tech platform the organisation needed, storing loads of information in different places that made it hard to get a clear picture of how certain things were performing. 

“Not only was it cumbersome and difficult to navigate, but it was also difficult to access remotely, being very heavily customised, on-premises and fragile. For example, importing large files from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority into the system had to be done after hours, due to the lag it would create on the system whilst users were on it, and this had to be done every month. Confidence was being lost in the system’s capabilities,” said Lana Panchenko, Primary ITO’s Applications Development Manager. 

“We saw two options – either to enhance our existing solution in some way, or upgrade to an online, cloud-based platform.” 

Planting the seed 

Primary ITO reached out to Fusion5, a Microsoft Partner with a great deal of experience in tertiary education and training. The team at Fusion5 started with a health check on Primary ITO’s platforms and worked closely with Primary ITO to consult with users to gain valuable feedback and insights into what would make it more efficient and improve experiences moving forwards. 

“It wasn’t just a case of Fusion5 managing the project then giving demonstrations – we were one team solving problems together,” said Cheryl Horo, Account Manager of Student Information Systems, Fusion5. 

They all agreed a Dynamics 365 solution based on Azure cloud was the answer, integrating tools like Power BI and Power Apps to provide one source of truth, making reporting easy and reducing infrastructure costs.  

The first step was migrating to the cloud. Through their connections, Fusion5 introduced Primary ITO to Microsoft’s FastTrack migration service, to accelerate development and tap into specialist advice from the Microsoft team. The time saved with Microsoft’s help customising and developing apps meant a saving on budget as well, with deployment actually happening ahead of schedule! The new Trellis platform was developed with increased functionality, a much easier and simpler user interface, and a brand new Portal enabling assessors as well as training advisors to access and upload information.  

A strong Trellis to support learning and growth 

Simply having a platform in the cloud was a huge milestone. It meant, for the first time, training providers were able to use their devices to access the system wherever, whenever, as well as the ability to enter information as required and download on demand. 

Instead of having to fill in time consuming spreadsheets with enrolments numbers and results, that were out of date by the time they were received, the information can now be immediately entered into the system. 

It’s also saving a lot of admin. There’s less paperwork, thanks to Power Apps automation and easy reporting through Power BI. “With one source of truth, it’s so easy to create reports for the likes of the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) that show actual enrolments vs funding allocated, which enable us to spot any inconsistencies to ensure our funding is correct and registrations are up to date,” Lana says. 

“Power BI has helped to create many more efficiencies and therefore allowing more productivity.  It means training advisers and regional coordinators can spend more time supporting learners and less time on administration,” said Leigh-Anne Buxton, Executive General Manager of Primary ITO. 

There’s also much better resilience in the cloud, resulting in faster turnaround times. The 4-6 hours spent uploading NZQA documents each month is down to just one thanks to Azure – and it doesn’t have to be done when everyone has logged off for the day, because the system can cope!  

And thanks to role-specific model-driven apps, the interface was tailored to give each person the right view and access for their role, making it much easier to find relevant information. 

“Now our people can spend more time engaging with learners and employers, providing pastoral care, and assessment results can be seen in real time because our assessors can access the platform too,” Lana says. 

Above all, there’s an increased confidence in the platform now people are able to find information quickly and easily.  

And now they’re in the cloud, upgrades are quick – and automatic. While old Java scripts and apps had to be rewritten for the new cloud platform, thanks to Azure, Lana was able to upgrade the second wave of apps in just 10 minutes. On the old system, it would have taken months. 

As Lana says: “The best part about this migration is that we’ll never have to go through another painful upgrade again!”   

A complimentary approach 

And it’s not just Primary ITO learners and staff who’ve noticed the difference. Primary ITO has since been approached by other training organisations wanting to adopt the revamped Trellis platform for themselves. All of this will make sharing and reporting information so much easier when New Zealand’s ITOs and polytechnics are all integrated into a unified Te Pūkenga vocational training organisation in years to come. 

“This is a perfect example of our partners and customers benefitting from each other’s skill sets and capabilities, collaborating to create a platform that will support a strong pipeline of talent across all industries and sectors in Aotearoa. Primary ITO and Fusion5 have truly created the template for our vocational training sector to follow, which means better learning experiences, better on-the-job support, and ultimately more resources to upskill the workers of tomorrow,” Microsoft New Zealand Public Sector Director, Emma Barrett says. 

“Primary ITO and Fusion5 have been recognised as first in class, which has seen others in the industry wanting to make the most of this opportunity.” But Primary ITO hasn’t stopped exploring all the possibilities yet. Lana is excited about other features they’re planning to roll out soon, including the ability for employers and learners to develop training plans in collaboration with training advisers. While it used to be hard for learners, their managers and training advisers to work on documents together – which required scanning sheets of paper – the Dynamics 365 platform now lets them create a plan and record goals in one place, to make staying on track (and recording progress) easier.  

“There are so many new tools to take advantage of, to make the user experience better – and now we can make a lot of these changes in-house,” Lana says.