Faced with some of the most far-reaching changes to the water rights space in more than 100 years, Goulburn-Murray Water (G-MW) used technology to navigate the associated complexities.
Since the introduction of the National Water Initiative (NWI) in 2004 and Commonwealth Water Act in 2007, the Australian water entitlements sector is estimated to be worth $25 billion — $4 billion in Victoria alone. Both aimed to provide a national blueprint for water reform, including a long-term strategy for how Australia manages, measures, plans for, values, prices and trades water. In Victoria, the implementation of large scale water reform in 2007 under the Victorian Government’s blueprint for water reform, ‘Our Water Our Future’, rewrote the way water entitlements were managed, traded and accounted for across the state.
With more than 700 staff, G-MW provides water-related services across more than 68,000 square kilometres in the Murray Darling Basin. As one of the country’s largest rural entitlement managers, it had several priorities when tackling the sweeping changes to the industry.
First up, the organisation realised it needed to position itself to adapt to future legislative changes and drive improved efficiency within its business processes through enhanced business information systems. To achieve the objectives, in 2007 G-MW implemented two solutions from enterprise software provider TechnologyOne: TechnologyOne Financials and Property & Rating.
“When it came to navigating change, getting it right from the start was critical,” says G-MW business systems manager,” John Vise.
“It was important to choose a mature system that could handle future changes and migrations, so the organisation wouldn’t have to turn to consultants for advice and support.
“What we were looking for was a complete technological solution that would transform our business to meet specific legislative demands, streamline our customer management system and preserve a high level of customer service.
“If we didn’t evolve with these changes we were simply going to be left behind and unable to deliver quality information and service to customers. Staff also needed easy access to all our corporate information to help with business planning and to produce multiple reports.”
To tackle the ongoing complexities of water delivery rights and entitlements, G-MW decided on the Property & Rating system. According to Vise, it delivers integrated management of property, land leases and address information via an advanced database, promoting customer service and combining the regulatory framework with revenue and billing capability to boost administration facilities and facillitate greater control.
However, because Property & Rating is a billing engine, the original focus was not predominantly on customer relationship management. This changed as the project progressed, and it is now an integral part of the system, with G-MW able to set up system workflows to ensure its constituency complies with relevant regulatory obligations.
“We knew all of the obligations under the Act and understood what we had to do,” Vise says.
“What we couldn’t really cater for was how the market was going to react — the applications solicitors might make and how we would process those applications. As such, our main requirement was a system that would flex and bend to accommodate changing requirements.”
During the six-month implementation phase, TechnologyOne agreed not to charge for any changes G-MW might make to its business requirements. In turn, G-MW worked with — rather than against — the software as much as it practically could.
“If they needed us to change the way we conducted business because it suited their software, we would as far as possible do so,” Vise says.
“Anyway, we were in the process of changing the environment in which we operated, so in a way it suited us. For example, TechnologyOne has a property-based accounting method, whereas our previous system was statement-based. TechnologyOne could not supply that, so we agreed to change to property-based accounts.
“The whole process was seamless, from initial consulting on our business requirements, to implementation, training and uptake. The solution wasn’t just handed to us with an expectation that we would work it out for ourselves. Instead, the provider worked closely alongside us to ensure it could be used in the real world.” From a business perspective the project was expected to pay for itself in five years. It only took four.
“To put a monetary value on efficiency, all you need to do is compare figures from pre-TechnologyOne systems in 2006 to post-TechnologyOne in 2007,” Vise says.
“We went from spending $150,000 on processing drought rebates in 2006 to just $10,000 in 2007.
“Ultimately, we are spending less time on data and administration and more on taking steps to improve the value of service to customers. Technology has been critical to ensuring we were not only able to navigate, adapt and evolve to what has been some of the biggest changes to face our industry, but to ensure we continue to do so.”
Indeed, G-MW now operates in a flood — rather than drought — environment, which has brought more policy and regulatory change. An upgrade to the system is due next calendar year, with TechnologyOne already well advanced on research and development.
It is just as well, as water is now a national issue and historically G-MW has only dealt with it on a state basis.