A pivotal decision to migrate Wayss to cloud-based Microsoft Office 365, including Teams, enabled the largest provider of family violence response and housing and homelessness services in the southern Melbourne area, to quickly pivot and allow staff to provide services remotely when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020.
Wayss had embarked on major digital upgrades to transform their service delivery at the end of 2019. These included new telephony and video conferencing capabilities to coincide with moving to new premises, communications and knowledge-management improvements, as well as the migration to Office 365, which had thankfully already taken place when lockdown began.
“We often reflect on what would have happened. We are an essential service and we would simply not have been able to operate if we had still been in that old environment. The fact that all our files were in the cloud was a real help, especially given the sensitive nature of our information," says Wayss CEO, Liz Thomas.
Despite this, and as with most digital transformations, it has not all been smooth sailing. Problems with the telephony system implementation, communication issues, trying to operate during a pandemic all whilst moving offices have provided challenges. However, being resilient, flexible and committed to learning along the way has been critical to reaping the rewards.
Wayss is a growing organisation, with funds under management growing from $7M to $20M in the five years to 2019. Staff numbers are increasing from 160 to 200 in 2021, and whilst staff are skilled in the human services they provide, they are not (necessarily) IT specialists.
When Liz took the interim CEO role in March 2019, she commissioned a corporate diagnostic review which revealed that service infrastructure hadn’t kept pace with the organisation’s growth and that technology was outdated and had become a risk.
“The biggest limitation on our services was our technology”, Liz says.
For example, Wayss was reliant on an independent contractor to support their IT infrastructure, whilst data management required manual administration and excel spreadsheets.
“We were also about to move offices, so it was the ideal time to act”, says Liz.
Liz had heard of the Infoxchange Group, and her experience in corporate environments meant she had a good idea how a skilled IT partner could address their needs and what a reasonable cost would be.
The Infoxchange Group suggested an approach that included the creation of a long-term IT strategy with data management, cloud-based systems, workflow management and cyber security at its core.
The proposal met cost expectations and the Infoxchange Group have been supporting Wayss with their transformation since October 2019.
Work undertaken so far includes:
- moving to Microsoft Office 365, including Teams for internal and external communications
- upgrading file storage and a basic implementation of Sharepoint
- implementation of Teams Telephony and installation of video conferencing software as part of the move to new premises
- a quick pivot to providing laptops to staff, after a pre-COVID decision to provide desktops for staff proved to be the wrong call.
Still to come
Liz says that the organisation is now moving to a business-as-usual way of working where it will be able to maximise the full potential of their technology investment.
“We are just drawing a breath now, and saying ‘where were we?’ with our ICT upgrade”, she says.
- Strategic planning was paused whilst the organisation shifted to crisis mode during 2020, so the long-term strategy is now being completed.
- Work is underway to upgrade SHIP, the Infoxchange Group’s client and case management system to a more sophisticated and tailored version. This will include workflow management to effectively manage their 20,000 clients.
- Liz would like to prioritise creation of a more comprehensive SharePoint to provide an intranet to support better communications across the organisation’s ten different locations.
The migration of the telephony system – a critical enabler for Wayss, which takes calls from people in crisis – has proved to be the most challenging upgrade.
A breakdown in communication meant phone calls were routed to one, central phone number rather than to individual phone numbers. This created a bottleneck at busy times and resulted in clients being unable to reach the services they needed in a timely way.
On reflection, Liz puts this down to a lack of shared understanding of needs.
“In this sector, there is not a shared language. Our learning from that is there needs to be an internal team responsible for interfacing with IT providers, and to be responsible for change management”, Liz says.
The telephony issues are being resolved, but have highlighted that technology, whilst a great enabler, is still reliant on humans to communicate well for it to be successful.
Advice to other not-for-profits
We asked Liz what advice she would give to other not-for-profits who are thinking about embarking on a digital transformation journey.
Make sure you have a member of staff to serve as a conduit between the organisation and service providers. They need to be IT savvy and able to speak the language of technology, but also have a deep understanding of the needs of the organisation and priorities of the service users.
There needs to be a project management and change management overlay otherwise you won’t get the most out of it.
Think carefully about training. Adults learn mostly by doing, so one training session in a new system will not be enough for most staff to be able to adopt it. Think about how staff can learn ongoing on the job, and how to effectively change processes and habits.
Have a disaster recovery plan and a business continuity plan for IT and keep it active.