Digital Dividend for Georges River Council

A lengthy ongoing program of digital transformation at Sydney’s Georges River Council delivered dividends when the COVID-19 crisis hit in March 2020.

“We were in a very privileged position in the sense that we had the program for our digital workplace pretty much ready to go when the pandemic hit,” said CIO Fresia Segovia.

“We would have liked a softer launch, but it gave us the impetus to roll it out in around a week.”

Georges River Council had undertaken a two year program to consolidate existing business systems after the amalgamation of the former Hurstville and Kogarah City Councils in 2016, combining two vibrant, ethnically diverse communities of over 150,000 residents and businesses close to the CBD, Sydney Airport and Port Botany.

The actual transition plan initially had 108 projects scheduled for completion over a 24 month period. A further 20 projects were added in 2017/2018. This included a migration to TechnologyOne, OneCouncil and Content Manager for records management within hybrid cloud architecture.

“Through that decision-making process, we also prepared Council to be ready to take advantage of software as a service (SaaS), and the leadership team supported the decision in enabling architecture to support SaaS,” said Segovia.

Following the completion of the council amalgamation program in 2018, another three year program commenced to further embed digital operations.

“In the past 30-month period we also established a hybrid cloud architecture, which enabled us to uptake effective and efficient solutions which could be activated when required. If we decide later that we don't need them, they can be decommissioned. Change is much easier than it used to be with respect to on-premises installation.”

“Around 300 Council staff are now working from home and the infrastructure and tools they need to do their jobs was available from the outset. This includes Office365 and the council’s SharePoint Online intranet, known as Rivernet, which has been live for over two years. Microsoft Teams for collaboration had been fortuitously deployed in December 2019, along with CM9 Web to allow records management to be undertaken via web browser, so all staff have access to their records anywhere at any time from any device.

“One of the things we did have to initiate when COVID hit was dedicated training for staff to help them adapt to working online. I believe digital literacy is the biggest issue, in a sense that you can have all the best systems in the world, but if people aren't comfortable or don’t know how to use them, then you're still failing them,” said Segovia.

“We completed about 263 inductions and we're still going. Achieving a good result has to be when staff say ‘this is great’, not when we say we rolled it out.

“Another thing we did was expand our connection to the Internet by doubling the bandwidth to alleviate any pressure points and ensure a smooth experience.”

The push to the cloud has also seen the adoption of LGSS Pulse for corporate reporting, another software as a service provider. Both councils had previously used the PinForce ticketing system for council rangers; one was on-premises and the other was cloud-based, so Georges River Council moved both to cloud.

Council also migrated to the QGIS free and open-source cross-platform GIS mapping application.

“COVID-19 has, in a sense, helped, because there is still an obsession over signatures, an obsession with paper and I think COVID is motivating people to get to the point where they want to engage with Digital Transformation instead of obsessing over printing and signing documents,” - Georges River Council CIO Fresia Segovia.

Essential Services

Staff running essential services are still working from Council offices. These include areas such as regulatory services, and our front-line staff and corporate services are needed to keep our Local Government Area (LGA) well maintained and also provide vital employment in the Georges River.

Unlike Australia’s State and Federal governments, which have postponed all sitting days during the COVID-19 crisis, Georges River has elected to continue holding Council and Committee meetings which are streamed online with community participation via Skype.

Community interaction is a critical aspect of the next wave of Digital Transformation initiatives underway at Georges River.

This will address the large number of manual PDF forms that must be downloaded from Council’s website, filled out and then submitted in person or online.

Digital workflow has been enabled through an application management framework utilising Content Manager workflows integrated within TechOne to enable automation of responses and deliver applications to the correct council officers. This also ensures all applications are related back to the individual property listing. Current printers are Konica Minolta and Canon scanners with CapturePerfect software.

A program is now underway to migrate all of these forms, so they are able to be completed online using TechnologyOne’s eLodge system.

Georges River is also preparing to be among the early wave of NSW councils to allow Development Applications to be lodged via the NSW Government elodgment portal in the July-September quarter.

“We want it to be known that we're a digitally progressive council and we are looking to provide these digital services to our community.”

“We want to make sure that our actions deliver a relevant and viable digital infrastructure framework which will pave the way for future digital advancements, benefiting our community, customers and staff.”

“Since proclamation, the staff of Georges River Council have been working diligently towards a unified city that is a great place to live, work and visit.

“We are regarded as one of the highest performing merged councils in NSW, with a resilient and skilled workforce, engaged community, strong governance and a clear strategic view of the future.

“As a now well-established organisation, we can focus outwards and start positioning the LGA and our Council as a strong and influential entity in Greater Sydney and NSW,” said Segovia.