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The Property Council’s IT Revolution
As advocates for Australia’s biggest industry, The Property Council represents a highly diverse range of organisations. From major construction corporations to small, family-run businesses, the interests of the 1.1 million Australians employed by the industry are cared for by The Property Council.
To fulfil their role, the Council’s 120 dedicated employees rely on a small, knowledgeable IT team, supported by Brennan IT.
The Council’s IT team had made a conscious decision to focus on building its website in 2016 to a standard that truly represented its members. In making this decision, it was acknowledged that some infrastructure needs would be set aside until the website project was completed.
As a result, aging technology was impacting applications, and restricting the way that the Council’s staff worked. Users worked on ‘clunky’ laptops and desktops. Collaboration was limited, and mobile working almost impossible. The IT team was not seen in a positive light within the organisation.
‘People in our interstate offices would dial in to meetings by phone, and it was hard for them to feel like they were a part of the group,’ said Helen Harms, Head of Technology and Digital Innovation at The Property Council.
‘If you went to a meeting, you had to print an agenda, take notes, then type them up afterwards.’
Working from home was fraught with dropouts and bandwidth issues. It was, says Harms, a ‘pretty ordinary’ experience.
‘If you wanted to work, you came into the office.’
A refresh of infrastructure, applications and end-user devices was needed to update the Council’s workplace. Harms and her team embarked on what she calls a ‘technology revolution’. While it was a major project, the IT team was clear on its priorities.
‘Everything we did was about implementing collaboration, mobility and flexibility for our workforce,’ said Harms.
‘We wanted to give them the tools to work efficiently, any place, any time.’
Selecting Brennan IT for the project was an easy choice. The Council had an existing relationship with the technology partner, and were a good fit.
‘The individuals you work with can make or break a project, and Brennan IT has a knack of picking the right people,’ said Harms.
‘They are a highly technical team, but very modest, very humble, without the arrogance you sometimes see.’
Such a major contract meant considerable planning, and Harms’ team met with Brennan IT daily for a month to cover every detail. Doing this before contracts were even signed spoke of the trust between the two businesses, said Harms, citing the ‘commitment to excellence’ they shared.
These plans were a vital part of the process.
‘Any project has issues, but if you get the design right, the problems you find during testing will be fixable,’ said Harms.
That design included upgraded disaster recovery and backup services in the Brennan IT cloud, an environment based on high performance, enterprise-level HPE technology. The WAN was upgraded, as were the Windows environments. All end-user devices were upgraded, and Harms said that giving users a choice of devices helped engage them in the process.
‘We tried to choose between buying a hundred Surface Pro tablets, or a hundred laptops. In the end, we said everyone can choose,’ said Harms.
An upgrade to Office 365 supported the shift to flexible working, with users receiving training to help them get to grips with the new tools available.
Organisational culture was also something Harms prioritised, and a change manager was involved early in the project to its conclusion. The change manager worked with champions throughout the organisation to collect data and consider plans. This helped to ensure the change was a positive experience for the Council’s staff.
The project represented a seismic shift for the Council, Harms said, that the workforce was quick to adopt.
‘Our IT revolution was about more than just replacing some infrastructure, it was a change to our organisation’s culture.
‘We can walk around as we work, we have areas with little couches and coffee tables where we can have informal meetings but stay connected.’
True to her focus on the end users, Harms conducted a survey and noted that 82% were very or extremely satisfied with the new work environment. Her team was proactive in addressing queries and providing training where needed to ensure any teething problems were overcome. Every individual in the business received at least three hours of training on the new workplace.
By team, Harms said she means the entire Property Council and Brennan IT group working on the project.
‘Many people actually thought the Brennan guys were from The Property Council, because they were always here,’ said Harms.
‘And when they were asked something outside their project’s scope, they always just helped anyway.’
The devices and training were rolled out just in time for the Council’s Christmas lunches around the country, which were attended by 1,500 people in Brisbane alone. It was a high risk that paid off for Harms’ dedicated team.
‘Someone could take their Surface Pro, show members things on systems – having those tools and knowing they would work was great.’
The negative language about the IT department has ‘completely gone’ according to Harms, and they are seen as a powerful force for helping provide exceptional representation to members. But it is the informal observations that Harms is most excited about.
‘The language people use around the office, like just saying ‘send me a Skype invite,’ or that they are just going to work from home,’ said Harms.
‘It became the new norm in an unspoken way.’