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Speaking at the Digital Workplace Conference 2018

I am honoured to have been selected to present at the Digital Workplace Conference, New Zealand in May 2018 and even more lucky to be co-presenting with Keith Williams, General Manager of Marine Rescue Queensland.

Speaking at the Digital Workplace Conference

I will let Keith introduce you to our challenge for a sneak peek into our presentation:

Many people even in Queensland do not realise that Marine Rescue is a charity staffed by volunteers. We have the climate, the Great Barrier Reef and some of the highest per capita boat ownership in the world. In Marine Rescue, there are a total of three and a half paid staff, two of whom are dedicated trainers, leaving one and a half to manage an enterprise that consists of 25 locations, 50 vessels, 1460 volunteers, over 2500 rescues and more than 6000 rescue vessel operations a year. Add to that the burden of running a registered training organisation that is compliant to volunteers operating in a high risk environment and you can imagine that business processes, in particular the way we manage data, all have to be pretty spot on.

When I took over in 2013 I walked into an outdated database system, which bravely managed training records – and that was about it. As I first travelled around the State I discovered a volunteer in Brisbane writing a procedure and then a volunteer in remote Karumba, daunted by the prospect of writing out that same procedure. I knew this was a massive waste of our precious time, purely from our inability to collaborate.

As usual for a manager, I had bigger problems as well. Our training database was old technology, built for another organisation and modified for us by one single helpful volunteer who was drowning in other roles within the organisation. This technology was not coping well with a major change in the training package forced upon us by the Commonwealth Government. We had disparate systems with different logon practices, users from remote areas with marginal internet access and users all across Queensland who specialise in marine rescue vessel operations, not in technology.

On top of this I wanted more. I wanted statistics, I wanted data and I wanted business intelligence. I need this for funding applications and indeed I need this to justify our very existence.

I met Dave Paylor from Empired, an up and coming skipper from Victoria Point, which is South of Brisbane and the nearest neighbour to Raby Bay which was my original home squadron as a volunteer. Dave initially offered to build a SharePoint site for us and I knew this would go a long way towards solving our collaboration issues, as long as we could get non-technical users to accept and use it. Again though, I needed more. I needed a top level integrated product with single sign on to access everything from email, to documents to training records and vessel activity. The only thing I wasn’t bringing to the table was a budget to have such a product developed. As time went by I struggled to simply assist the volunteers.

That’s when Dave Paylor, backed by Empired, including work donated by Empired employees, got to work designing this system for us. In building our new Azure based database system, our email, web site, administration records, training records and activity records are now all integrated with a single sign-on. In 2016 Microsoft introduced direct sponsorship of Office 365 for not-for-profit organisations in Australia, meaning such a professional high level platform was now realistically achievable for us.

So, a new Azure-based app was released by Empired to Marine Rescue Queensland in January 2018 and they finally retired a rather dated ASP application (no not .NET) which was hosted on Windows Server 2003 and using SQL 2005.  Having served well for many years it was definitely starting to show its age.

Every time one of their rescue vessels goes in the water details are captured in this new app such as how much fuel was used, how many people were assisted and how long the vessel was at sea.  It is also used to keep track of around 1500 volunteers along with their training records.

Data quality has long been a challenge for Marine Rescue Queensland with most of their crew members more interested in being at the helm of a vessel than behind a keyboard.  We intentionally took this into consideration when designing the new app and have employed a few different techniques to improve the data which is inputted.

A key example of this is giving something back.  I will try not to get on my soapbox but it has long been a personal crusade to provide something which shows where the data is going or how it is used.  Too often I have seen organisations demand their staff provide all sorts of data but it just disappears into a black hole.  There is very little incentive in that scenario to put any effort into ensuring data is useful or accurate.

Almost every page in the new Portal (or is it a porthole) contains statistics from the database relevant to that page of information.  For example, I mentioned persons assisted above, the page showing the total number of persons assisted for the current month means that as soon as somebody enters a new activation they can see those statistics change so they know they are making a difference.

Encouraging this level of interest in the statistics means that the quality of data is improving – which in turn means that the quality of the statistics is improving.  Now that is a great improvement cycle where everybody benefits. 

Back to Keith for some of the key benefits Marine Rescue have seen so far:

I have a previous technical background myself, enough to trigger an inbuilt fear of the deployment of new software projects. In particular my fears related to a new, highly technical system being deployed across multiple sites, with zero support staff and a non-technical user base. What could possibly go wrong?

In reality the harshest comment made by a user was “I am having a particular problem, but I can see where you are headed with this and the system looks great”. Acceptance has been universal, users are loving the fact that they now only need to remember one username and password. Everything is in one place. Forms to enter data are simple, fast and intuitive. The rollover happened in mid-January 2018. In terms of providing technical support, the workload has now reduced to as low as it has ever been. Data is easy to enter, easy to access and in a word is a manager’s dream.

If you come along to watch our session and learn more about this then do say hello! 

I look forward to seeing you there.

Posted by: Dave Paylor, Team Leader, Portals & Productivity Solutions Office365 | 23 April 2018

Tags: Business Intelligence, Digital Workplace

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