Destination Transformation; how cloud and culture help the Department of Finance WA chart its course to ongoing improvement

News story:
Achieving significant and sustained improvement through digital transformation isn’t a one-off sprint – it demands stamina.
Keyboard with finger pressing the enter key.

To succeed, enterprises often require a root and branch overhaul of systems, processes and technology at the same time as they engineer cultural reform.

Sustained success requires that everyone - from the most senior executive to each first line employee – is made aware of the need for, and prepared to be part of, enduring transformation. 

It’s a challenge – and one that the Department of Finance Western Australia, understands very well.

The business

The Department of Finance (Finance) is an influential State Government agency. It is sought out for its expertise in project and contract management, procurement, revenue collection and policy reform whilst also delivering a range of services to the Western Australian community.

Since the introduction of the whole-of-government strategy, Digital WA, in 2016, Finance has shifted its focus to digital platforms to assist in reengineering its business practices, offer staff a streamlined way of working, and ultimately deliver better service its customers.

“Finance is committed to becoming a digital department where we offer fast, reliable and convenient services to our customers,” say Director General, Jodi Cant.

“The transition to the cloud was the first step in our digital transformation. It encouraged us to challenge to ‘status quo’ and look for better, more innovative ways to conduct our core business.

“It has also provided a foundation to mature Finance’s digital capability and the continuous development of the digital skills of our people.”  

The partnership

Andy Wood, Executive Director - Corporate Services, at the Department of Finance led the delivery of the first stage of Finance’s ongoing digital transformation - the transition to cloud computing and the utilisation of Microsoft Azure as its technical foundation.

The transition to cloud computing took time and effort not withstanding a lengthy nine to 12 month planning phase. 

Finance contracted with Microsoft in 2017 with a genuine partnership between vendor and client quickly developing and became integral throughout the process.

“Microsoft, as any good partner will, challenged us and our preconceptions, and that’s exactly what Finance wanted.

“They challenged us on our architecture principals, migration approaches and other solutions we considered before we commenced the process.

“Microsoft also supported Finance’s view that to get true value out of digital transformation you can’t just look at the technology in isolation.  We took a step back to understand the scope of Finance’s digital transformation and what we ultimately wanted to achieve as part of the project.”

Cloud and culture

Finance’s digital transformation started with the transition to Microsoft Azure - a secure, reliable, and scalable on-demand and consumption-based ICT service model, which has provided the foundation for ongoing transformation efforts. 

“Our previous operating model was very heavy and lethargic in that we would buy a piece of kit, we’d put it in place and it would stay there for 10 years and we’d never innovate with it,” said Wood. 

As a result of the move to Azure, Finance is no longer infrastructure owners and operators but consumers of cloud. 

It moved workloads from around 850 on premise servers to 330 virtual servers in the Microsoft Azure cloud and as a result, Finance was able to streamline staff processes, automate repetitive commodity tasks, particularly power scheduling and scripts processing requests, and have the ability to flex to meet changing expectations and demands. 

“We actually removed some of those mundane, non-value-add activities and automated them in the background, which freed up staff to problem solve issues at the start of the project, and now offere time for design thinking or focusing on improved outcomes, creating better customer experiences.” Wood said.

Microsoft Azure also allows for ongoing application modernisation with the added benefit of extended support for no charge for customers running Windows Server 2008/R2 or SQL 2008/R2 in Azure.

The launched of Perth Express Route Edge is also expected to deliver returns to the Department

As new Azure services continue to be rolled out, the Department is well placed to explore them, determine whether they align with its strategic plans, and if so, to deploy rapidly. 

Key learnings

While complete now, the transition to the public cloud was not without hurdles, Wood acknowledges. 

“Our early forecasts and estimates of our requirements were off but our strong focus and commitment to both business and partner engagement helped us as we broke new ground, resolving issues as they arose.”  

Culture and engagement of staff were critically important in the process as was investing as much time and effort in skills, process and culture reform as in technology upgrades.

“The technology and people transformation needs to be done in parallel, which adds further complexity and risk. 

“You’re relying on the existing workforce to effectively get you there, even though the roles of those people may be significantly changed by the systems they are implementing. That’s a really significant challenge for most organisations,” Wood acknowledges.

But it can’t be shirked. “The people question is the hardest to answer but it is absolutely paramount and how well you answer it will ultimately determine your level of success.”

The business also needed to be fully open to changing – even disrupting – themselves, which became a huge challenge throughout the process.

“We can’t just think, ‘oh, new technology, we’ll slap that in and keep doing things we’ve always done’, because we won’t get the results that we expect,” Wood said

“Transformation should breed further change, and ongoing iterative change throughout organisations, which in effect will force them to become more agile.

“That’s the position that organisations need to take when they embark on these journeys; to understand that this will change us. This will change our business to the core. It will change the way that we work and the things that we do, and it will continually change us, if we want to actually continue to deliver more and more benefits and realise more and more opportunities.”

A series of myths regarding cloud security also had to be debunked and executive peers had to be convinced that the cloud would deliver improved workflows and support more intelligent and impactful work processes in the future. 

The technical capability now exists whereby the business will be able to self-service in the future, for example with mobile phone or laptop requests, but the education continues with Wood confirming: “we’re at a stage where we’re trying to build a new culture and embed innovation into our DNA.” 

The importance of a genuine partnership proved a key success factor in the program.

“No organisation can afford to just treat their vendors as vendors, and keep them at arm’s length. If they really want true success, true innovation, that iterative change and improvement, they have to treat them as partners, which means you need to let them into your organisation. 

“They have to understand your organisation and your wider aims, including enterprise data platforms, automation platforms and your future application rationalisation, in order to actually provide the best offerings to help enable and achieve the outcomes strategically that you want to achieve,” Wood said.

Wood found that Microsoft invested itself into the program and challenged Finance’s on its thinking.

“The benefits of having a strategic partner in this space is that we can actually get a whole bunch of smart people in a room to really talk about what possibilities are out there with these new and emerging technologies, and then rapidly spin up proof of value exercises,” Wood said.

A detailed planning phase prior to the Department’s transition also proved integral, however Wood highlights further planning could have been undertaken.

“Ideally, I would have liked more time to validate our architectural designs on an application by application basis, which may have reduced some application performance we experienced earlier in the project,” Wood said.

“As with any project, the more time invested upfront in the planning and detailing phase ensures the execution phase is expedited, and that ultimately proved to be the case for the project.”

Flexible foundations

The responsive, scalable, secure and resilient technology foundations that now exists following the move to Azure allows Finance to focus on continuous improvement, to be more responsive, to embrace activity-based working, and empower teams.

It has also provided ongoing transformation. For example, the move to the cloud has delivered a more complete understanding of, and access to, the Department’s data reserves and as a result, it has established a new data platform in Azure. 

“The size and scope of the possibilities now are absolutely massive. Without good and effective portfolio views and portfolio management, we’d never be able to realise the potential of that value.

“Now, it’s about, ‘how can we actually best leverage the cloud platforms and infrastructure we’ve built, to start delivering value and insight?’ - not only to Finance, but also the whole sector, and most importantly the citizen,” said Wood.

Page reviewed 2 September 2019

Published

27 March 2019