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Processes Undergo a Sea Change

Processes Undergo a Sea Change

How the Maroochy Shire Council has met the demand for infrastructure and services from its fast growing population.

Out with the old and in with the new. It's a sentiment that can send shivers throughout an organization and chill the heart of the most seasoned IT executive. But at Maroochy Shire Council everyone kept their cool during a high-risk business process overhaul and are now reaping high rewards.

With Australians continuing to flock to the coast in pursuit of the beach lifestyle, the past six years have been extraordinarily turbulent ones for Maroochy Shire Council. The council has endured no less than six organizational restructures and seen the entirety of its core systems replaced as it tries to steel itself to become as dynamic, daring and determined as it knows it must be to meet unprecedented demand for infrastructure and services being created by an ever-expanding population on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, 100 kilometres north of Brisbane.

At the same time, knowing that Australians' thirst for a "sea change" has not been quenched after a decade and is not expected to be for at least two more, the council has been driving to transform itself from a traditional local government organization to one that is far more customer- and output-focused.

All that change has left the council's processes, in the words of business process architect Wayne Bunker, in a "mess". For one thing, all those shiny new core systems were implemented in a rush in response to Y2K and then the introduction of the GST and other pressures, leaving no time to examine the associated fundamental business processes, some of which had not been refined since their introduction years before.

"The existing processes have been around for 20 years, and when we introduced the new systems we basically adopted whatever processes were associated with the system," Bunker says. "There was no pragmatism around these things. For example we'd introduced job costing and we hadn't been pragmatic about it from the point of view that if you bought a packet of nails for two dollars, they would charge nail by nail to particular jobs. That was just ridiculous - the cost to charge that was like $72. That's an extreme example, but it is an example of what did happen."

For another, in a largely paper-based environment lacking any organizational standard for process or procedure definition, existing processes had been documented in Visio, 4TQ, Word and even Excel - if they were documented at all. Throw in the fact that many of those processes were poor and inconsistent and it was clear to Bunker and many of his colleagues that the Shire Council had a great deal of ground to make up.

"Over the years we've talked to each business area about their processes and they said everybody else's processes were poor or inconsistent. Of course no one sees any problems with their own processes. Still, it was all over the place. Some areas of council have quality assurance, others don't, and it was just not consistent, what we were doing," he says. "Our processes are also constrained by the paper-based environment. Working in an electronic environment will allow us to change the way that we work. We will be able to work in parallel with a single source of information instead of sequentially. We will also be able to move information around the distributed organization quickly.

"Slowly we're getting there," Bunker says. "We've had a bit of a change in the guard here: a new executive team came in here about October last year [2004], so with them coming on board they've taken a new approach as well."

Now the council has started an analysis of all existing processes, classifying the information sources for those processes, documenting employee roles and security and designing and modelling new processes for the entire organization. It has selected a business process management (BPM) system, defined the required metrics, looked at the requirements for automating its processes and workflows, defined required data entry standards and is forming governance groups for each process area. It recently went live with its first BPM implementation - based on an electronic document management system - after a successful pilot, and will progressively roll it out to the rest of the organization.

Bunker says the changes will position the council to respond far better to the needs of its clients in the years ahead. "Now this is our opportunity to catch up, to go back and to say: 'Okay, well we've got all of these core systems, and the systems are fine, but are we using them as effectively as we can and what are our actual processes above those first of all, and how can the system continue to support that?"

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