The Gympie region has seen fast population growth and recognising the potential future challenge, Gympie Regional Council decided to proactively invest in their IT infrastructure to help the council better serve it’s growing population.
A large project over four years and counting, Gympie Regional Council in collaboration with Rapid Circle, undertook the ambitious project with notable milestones being the move away from on-premises reliance, moving their identity to the cloud, their move from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams and on-prem files to SharePoint.
This large project impacted around 550 employees, and as part of this technological infrastructure upgrade, there was also a change management and training program carried out across the council’s departments to help each employee get the most productivity benefits out of their investment in the M365 suite.
Blessed with the best of what Queensland has to offer, the Gympie region stretches from idyllic coastal towns to inland rural areas. With a less than two-hour drive to Brisbane, only 45 minutes to Noosa and some of the most affordable housing in Queensland, it should be no surprise that their population has grown significantly over the last few years.
Gympie Regional Council consists of a hardworking, dedicated workforce who are responsible for the regions management, such as: water and wastewater infrastructure, over one hundred parks, almost 3,000 km of roads and provides customer services for over 50,000 residents. The council employs around 550 employees, three hundred of which are in administrative, or in desk bound roles, with the balance being outdoors workers who support the public infrastructure of the area.
A true testament to the Gympie region’s lifestyle and the council’s fantastic workplace culture, we interviewed two key stakeholders in the project who have highly impressive tenure. Peter Bailey, Coordinator of ICT Operations who has been with Gympie Regional Council for 27 years and Kristy Mitchell, Organisational Change and Communications Officer, who has worked for Gympie Regional Council for 16 years.
Gympie’s IT infrastructure, like that of many regional councils, faced challenges due to outdated technology. On par with a lot of other local government infrastructure, Gympie was running Windows 10 and managing it through SCCM and traditional on-premises group policy.
Daily technology issues were leading to communication issues and departmental silos. For example, administration teams were using Skype for Business, running Windows 10 with 2016 Office and were primarily still using desktop computers. On the other hand, the outdoor/ field employees faced different challenge. Whilst many had email set up, they weren’t using it, making it difficult to access a team member when they were out on location, leading to the reliance on calling personal devices.
Although a phone call is easy, it can waste time Kristy explains: “Calling everyone was wasting time, because if you’ve got to relay a message to a group, you’re making six phone calls to reach them all.”
There was a lot of issues in general, just with doing the basics. Your day-to-day functions were harder than they had to be. Communication was harder. You’d have trails of conversations in emails that you wouldn’t be able to find. This made working across different programs difficult, as there was a multitude of different areas and drives, you needed to go to, to find the right information. We knew we needed to reign in the spaces that we were working in and bring everyone back together.Kristy Mitchell, Organisational Change and Communications Officer, Gympie Regional Council
From an infrastructure perspective, Gympie operated almost 100% on-premises including their identity, email and their active directory (AD), which had limited amount of synchronisation, and from a security perspective they were working without MFA or conditional access. The ICT team at Gympie had previously organised audit reports and recognised that these items were the big tickets they needed to address first.
Ready for a change, the ambitious and innovative regional council set to make several changes to help them overcome their challenges, listing a Request for Quotation (RFQ), to assist with key projects mentioned in their audit report. With our level of engagement and commitment to excellence, we won that contract and subsequent RFQs, helping them with their Modern Workplace project over multiple engagements.
Rapid Circle set to help the council build a solid foundation, offering a roadmap and governance session to ensure they were fully prepared for their next goal of taking on M365.
“Our SOE was out of date and needed a lot of work. So rather than just upgrading what we had, we took the opportunity to go to the next level. The big driver for us was moving to M365, so we wanted to capitalise on that on that ecosystem as effectively as we possibly could, and we knew, the more devices that you have in enrolled in that ecosystem, the better it performs.”Peter Bailey, Coordinator of ITC Operations, Gympie Regional Council
After the completion of the initial cloud and security foundation projects (Exchange, Identity, AD and MFA to achieve NISTSF security framework compliance), the next project was moving from on prem management of all windows devices to Intune management of windows devices.
This work made way for the ‘Modern Desktop project’, a staged roll out of upgrading to Windows 11 and adopting M365. They used this as a vehicle to roll out all the M365 apps, including Microsoft Teams, OneDrive and Microsoft Defender for Endpoint.
Because Gympie was moving to a greenfield environment, it allowed us to align our values and to implement next gen protections without the risk of impacting legacy applications or existing technical debt. Gympie was also the first customer we had that took advantage of the new Defender for EndPoint Plan 1 licence, which had recently been bundled with M365 E3, which made it a cost-effective option to onboard and secure their devices and gave them a pathway to upgrade to more advanced EDR workloads as required.Lee Stevenson, Senior Security Consultant, Rapid Circle
As part of the ‘Modern Desktop Project’ Gympie went through with a fleet refresh for their employees in early 2023, setting everyone up for success for a hybrid way of working.
The challenge was the legacy corporate applications, so they went for a full Intune managed model where they used Microsoft Autopilot for imaging of existing devices and Dell for their brand-new fleet. “Dell will ship your device and you plug it in and it’ll start configuring itself and they’ll have an out of box experience without the ICT team actually having to image the device in traditional ways”, says Bailey.
Most of the organisation was quite excited about move. This project was really easy to promote because you’re going to get Microsoft Teams and Skype for business was broken. You’re going to get the latest Word, Excel, etcetera! Where it was more challenging was things like changing passwords to passphrases.Peter Bailey, Coordinator of ITC Operations, Gympie Regional Council
To mitigate risk, the ICT department created a ‘Testing Lab’ where they brought employees in from across the council to test all their corporate applications against Microsoft 365, to check that they still integrated correctly and generated letters.
Bailey notes: “Those people had to give up many hours of their time to come in and test, and if that test failed and we had to go back and fix and then get them back into test again. This requires a strong relationship with the business. To Rapid Circles credit, they were really flexible with this, when one of the tests broke, we had to redirect the project to a slightly different configuration and that was no problem for Colin.”
Like any large-scale IT project, there will be people who embrace it and others who find change more challenging, so it’s paramount to involve people from outside the IT department to help deliver the project.
To bring the council with them and create a feel of shared ownership, Gympie enlisted 20 ‘Business Unit Champions’, engaging the changemakers around the organisation and involved Adopt and Change consultants from Rapid Circle, specifically Jenni McNamara who’s demonstrations, training and evangelism of M365 encouraged excitement from around the organisation.
“As this project involves moving to a modern way of working, it is critical our most valuable resource, our staff, are brought along on the journey. We engaged (Rapid Circle’s) professional change and adoption consultants to ensure we not only had the technical infrastructure in place, but also the change management and training processes to help us all get there together. The Executive Leadership Team encouraged all staff to take every opportunity to attend training and coaching sessions to assist in making us a future ready council.”David Lewis CEO Gympie Regional Council
As they went into communicating about the project and began the training, the project team emphasised that it was not going to be easy. “It’s not going to be a simple change for some people, and we started with that. We don’t expect you to know everything today or hear everything. We expect you just to try and just keep moving forward” says Mitchell.
Gympie is a future ready Council and their Modern Desktop project is mostly complete, with new devices, software and infrastructure which is able to support hybrid and flexible work.
Our work with Gympie Council serves as an example of how a regional organisation can successfully modernise its IT infrastructure and enable a modern workplace with the right planning, strategy, and execution.
“Working with Gympie Regional Council on their Intune management project was a fantastic experience. They’ve taken every opportunity to embrace cloud concepts and architecture throughout the project, pushing the organisation toward a future of modern management.”Colin Nicholson, Client Technology Partner, Rapid Circle
Gympie Council is leading the way, setting a new standard for modern work in regional Australia.
“We’re getting some feedback from other councils saying “Oh jeez have you’ve done that? You know we haven’t quite done that yet!”
“We might have been slightly behind the times, but then we leapt ahead.”Peter Bailey, Coordinator of ITC Operations, Gympie Regional Council
Onboarding employees is an important part of any change, and in recognising this adoption and training were a major focus as part of the modernisation of Gympie Regional Council.
The amount of effort and consideration Gympie and Rapid Circle put into their change management strategy was incredibly important to the success of the project agrees Mitchell. Twenty plus year tenure is not uncommon at Gympie Council, employees enjoy the familiarity of their day to day and many people specifically live in regional Australia to live a life away from the fast-paced hustle and bustle of the city.
Rapid Circle’s expertise in change management was an immense help in fostering enthusiasm around the updates:
“Having somebody with the adaptability, skills and knowledge of the variety of people that we’re going to be working with was fantastic. What I found with Jenny, is she worked with the audience she had. She would ask the right questions, and it was like she almost knew what they needed before they even spoke. Jenni is so approachable; we could ask the same question multiple times, and because of this lot of staff became very friendly with her. So, having her around, it was like having another one of us!”Kristy Mitchell, Organisational Change and Communications Officer, Gympie Regional Council
Likewise, Gympie’s tech transformation was incredibly rewarding and inspiring for the Rapid circle team.
“What I loved about working with Gympie Regional Council was that they were really open to learning about best practice. They were sponges in the training sessions and clearly wanted to be the most innovative local council in Australia.”Jenni McNamara, Senior Adoption Consultant, Rapid Circle
Whilst a lot of work has been completed, Peter Bailey is under no illusions that the work is done, with many improvements they want to make in their adoption of M365 and their desire to move completely onto the cloud. With more work ahead of them, it’s a good thing that they’re excited about it. “If you’re in IT and you’re not excited by change, then you’re probably in the wrong industry” quips Bailey.
In their own words:
“It’s been a positive experience and I think we’ve got some good outcomes. The great thing about working with a partner like Rapid Circle is you get to tap into true blue experts in a very specific part of their field. You get them in, and they get the work done, and the team were super easy to work with.”Peter Bailey, Coordinator of ITC Operations, Gympie Regional Council
From the experience that I had with Jenni, she provided so much experience and support. She really did work with the individual and I think that was a big part in the success of this. I definitely recommend Rapid Circle.Kristy Mitchell, Organisational Change and Communications Officer, Gympie Regional Council
We asked Gympie Regional Council what advice they would give to another council who was in their same position four years ago, and their advice was simple:
“Find a really good partner, and work with them on it. I also think Councils should talk with other councils. There is value in speaking to other Councils that have been through it. We’re not competing entities in any way. But we’re constantly reinventing wheels and we’re all fighting the same battles! We’re more than happy to speak to other councils about our transformation.”Peter Bailey, Coordinator of ITC Operations, Gympie Regional Council