Local govt association boosts customer focus, knowledge management

Local Government Association of Queensland taps hosted Dynamics, SharePoint 2013 in technology refresh

The Local Government Association of Queensland is in the process of upgrading its CRM system and rolling out document management software as part of a customer-centric technology refresh.

LGAQ is a peak body for local government in the state and counts as members 77 local councils. Although the current technology refresh is the product of an 18-month process, its origins stretch back even further, said LGAQ's manager for internal business development, Jake Boyle.

Five years ago, local government in Queensland went through a process of amalgamation, reducing the number of councils from 150 down to, at the time, 73. LGAQ took the opportunity to review its organisational structure and how it engaged with councils.

"Traditionally we'd provided products and services and then gone out to members and looked for ways we could apply them," Boyle said.

"We've pretty much turned that on its head and decided to look at what our members needed and then found products and services to meet those needs. It was just a subtle change, but quite revolutionary internally."

Key to the organisation's renewed customer focus is developing an intimate understanding of members' needs in order to deliver products and services in a timely manner, Boyle said.

However, "the tools that we had at that time — our CRM and our document management systems — were outdated and probably a little bit cumbersome and clumsy," Boyle said.

The "bread and butter" of the organisation is policy and advocacy work on behalf of local government, Boyle said, but LGAQ also provides products and services that meet gaps in the market for members.

For example remote and regional councils may struggle to access specialised legal services, HR and IR consulting and training services.

LGAQ can connect councils to these services and also owns a number of service providers that operate at arm's length from the organisation, including group-purchasing organisation Local Buy, IT service provider Resolute IT, and call centre provider Propel.

In addition, the organisation provides access to subject matter experts that can provide historical policy and legislative information.

LGAQ's operations rely on the segmentation of its members. The organisation breaks its membership down into bite-size groups that face common challenges or operate in common environments, in order to identify products and services that can be rolled out to them. For example councils in areas with significant resource industries may struggle with housing shortages.

"Having an understanding of those issues as they arise and sharing that information across the organisation was the critical factor in looking at a CRM, but also being able to dig back into the history was really important to us because issues come and go with each new council and they're often cyclical," Boyle said.

Boyle cites as an example problems with flying foxes that came to a head towards the end of last year. "It isn't a new issue — it pops up every once in a while," he said.

"The ability to go back in time and look at documentation, look at decisions and policies of the past to help inform where we are today and where we're going in the future is quite valuable."

The investment in document management is designed to make it easier to surface and share this kind of historical knowledge and prevent any loss of IP due to staff turnover.

The current rollout came after six months of market research, Boyle said. LGAQ has been "stung" in the past with some technology decisions and as a result it "had some pretty strict criteria for selecting new systems," Boyle said.

One of the most important criteria was internal acceptance of the new applications: "Making sure that our staff would be not only behind when we implemented new systems but keen to use them and keen to get value out of them."

"In the past we had some very clumsy, cumbersome systems that were confusing and essentially turned people off the [software]," Boyle said. "Obviously with CRM and document management systems, a lack of acceptance of those systems pretty much undermines their value completely."

In addition the organisation sought systems that would integrate well with each other.

In the end LGAQ tapped Queensland-based IT services company OBS for the rollout. OBS is implementing a hosted version of Microsoft's Dynamics CRM for LGAQ as well as SharePoint 2013 for document management.

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Boyle said the hope is not just to deliver information but "genuine intelligence" to the organisation. "We want to be able to look at trending topics or trending issues. We want to look at information that will allow us to be proactive rather than reactive."

"There's a component of working in government that requires you to be responsive on a regular basis," he said. "But there is also a component where we can see the issues rising in areas or across the state and we can start developing policy and advocating for our members on a proactive basis. This is something that our members not only appreciate but they need — they need us to be standing beside them, not a step behind them."

The familiarity of staff with other Microsoft software, such as Office, was a factor in the decision, as was the ability to easily integrate the two new systems.

Cloud is also playing a role in the technology refresh, Boyle said. SharePoint will be hosted in a private cloud and LGAQ is looking at Microsoft Azure for DR and backup.

The decision to investigate cloud was spurred in part by Brisbane's 2011 floods, which inundated the ground floor of LGAQ's offices.

"We had two drivers there: One was the protection of our own data and having that secure and safe and recoverable offsite, [but also] we want to show local government across Queensland what's out there — what other options they've got," Boyle said.

"We try to break a little bit of ground for local government, so looking into newer technologies like cloud solutions was important to us."

"While we're a private business we also want to make sure that what we do is in-line with what our members do," Boyle said.

For that reason, the organisation is sticking to the same regulations that govern local government's use of cloud in the state, Boyle said.

"Even though we're not a government organisation, we do try to mimic the environment that our members exist in. We want our members to be able to say, 'Well if that's the way you guys do it, we can learn from your experience.'"

"There are a lot of technical issues that we're still trying to iron out there, particularly protecting the data that we host on behalf of local governments and that's currently being finalised," Boyle said.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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