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Posted: 2/9/2014
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Canterbury Regional Council (Environment Canterbury) 'Business as Usual' for Quake-struck NZ Council After Rapid Lync Rollout

After a magnitude 6.3 earthquake devastated Christchurch, New Zealand, 300 Regional Council employees had no place to work. IT staff remotely deployed Microsoft Lync to employee desktops and laptops enabling them to collaborate from their homes and temporary offices via video meetings and shared desktops. As a result, the Regional Council coped with a vastly increased workload, re-routing public transport through shattered streets and arranging disposal for millions of tons of demolition waste. 

* Without Lync we would have ground to a halt. Getting Microsoft Lync in fast meant that in the critical months after the earthquake, we were able to make decisions quickly. *

Alan Warne
Team Leader
ICT Operations
Canterbury Regional Council

Business Needs

When New Zealand’s second-largest city, Christchurch, was hit by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in February 2011, one-quarter of the city-center buildings were damaged beyond repair. Soil liquefaction left hundreds of city and suburban roads unpassable, and with urban infrastructure severely damaged, the New Zealand government declared a state of national emergency.

Canterbury Regional Council (Environment Canterbury), responsible for water, building and planning, public transportation and civil defense, was particularly hard hit. Its main office in Tuam Street suffered structural damage and was inaccessible. Inside were the servers and desktops used by 300 of the council’s 520 staff, as well as the PABX network the organization depended on to make phone calls.

As engineers tried to retrieve essential databases, executives at the Regional Council faced an immediate challenge: how to get 300 staff working together again when there was no prospect of them re-occupying a main office building for months—possibly years.

“In the immediate aftermath, some staff were re-assigned to temporary offices around the city, while many just worked from home with whatever desktops or laptops they could get hold of,” says Alan Warne, Team Leader, ICT Operations, Environment Canterbury. “We focused on getting everyone connected to our old IT virtual private network, while staff members used personal mobiles for all calls. With the road system smashed, regular meetings became logistically impossible.”

Collaboration became impossible just at the moment the Regional Council’s workload soared. The earthquake caused approximately NZ$40 billion worth of damage, which meant staff had to arrange for the disposal of millions of tons of demolition waste. They also needed to re-establish public transport services through shattered streets. Says Warne, “We needed top-grade collaboration tools, fast, or we would grind to a halt.”


Almost immediately, Warne began a trial of the unified communications platform, Microsoft Lync Server 2010, hosted on virtualized servers. He deployed it remotely onto employee devices using Microsoft System Centre Configurations Manager 2007, issuing pilot users with cameras and headphones.

“Lync gave us all the elements of physical collaboration we needed – voice, video and desktop sharing – and it was easy to set up on a wide variety of devices,” says Warne. “The Presence feature showed when a colleague was available for consultation, which gave home-working staff a sense of proximity. We also integrated Lync with Outlook calendars, which meant staff members could start to plan their days around each other.”

Video conferencing proved vital for teams that had previously worked intensively with each other, and employees quickly adapted to virtual meeting rooms. The Lync desktop-sharing feature meant that plans, permits, timetables, bus routes and schedules could be worked on in real time by all team members, almost as if they were sitting around a table.

“The pilot was an unqualified success,” says Warne. “Staff who had spent up to four hours travelling for one meeting, now stayed at home. “We rolled straight from trial to deployment, rolling out Lync as fast as we could get hold of headsets and cameras. Meanwhile, many employees downloaded the Microsoft Lync App onto their mobile phones, so they could remain fully in touch when travelling was a necessity.”

* Getting Lync in fast meant that in the critical months after the earthquake, we were able to make decisions quickly. *

Alan Warne
Team Leader
ICT Operations
Canterbury Regional Council


With easy-to-deploy voice, video, and desktop collaboration, Environment Canterbury staff rose magnificently to the challenges of the Christchurch Earthquake. Working from a succession of temporary premises and home locations, they quickly organized temporary public transport routes, managed the disposal of huge quantities of rubble waste, and distributed critical geospatial information to civil engineers and planners.

Instant mobility
Despite a total absence of rollout planning, Microsoft Lync delivered essential collaboration capabilities, fast. This saved valuable time as staff struggled to work without any of the office resources they were used to. “At a stroke, Lync eliminated the need for travel,” says Warne. “In the early days after the earthquake, it meant we could just carry on, and get through our work— even though as a workforce we barely met each other.”

Natural collaboration
According to Warne, the key factor in maintaining productivity was visibility. “Microsoft Lync was not a shock to the system, and our staff adapted to video collaboration straight away,” he says. “Presence was the key enabler. Teams that were used to working in the same physical space, found that they could still collaborate intensively, because they could see from minute-to-minute who was available and who wasn’t.”

Coping with an increased workload
As a result, Regional Council staff members coped with a huge rise in demand for their services. “Without Lync we would have ground to a halt,” says Alan. “Getting Lync in fast meant that in the critical months after the earthquake, we were able to make decisions quickly. For example, we managed a sudden surge in requests for geo-spatial mapping services from civil engineers, who needed to know much the ground had shifted.”

Reduced costs, enhanced reliability
Environment Canterbury has now decided to build its future communications around Lync, and recently upgraded to Lync 2013. “Now we can federate meetings with external parties, and with Lync SIP [Sessional Initiation Protocol] trunking, we’ll be able to dial straight into the public phone network from our desktops,” says Alan. “When we do eventually move back into one main office, using Lync will cost less than installing a new PBX, and hopefully make Regional Council operations more disaster-proof.”

This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
Solution Overview

Organization Size: 520 employees

Organization Profile

Canterbury Regional Council (Environment Canterbury) delivers local government services to the Canterbury region of South Island, New Zealand, waste disposal, public transport routing and environmental planning.

Software and Services
Microsoft Lync Server 2013

Vertical Industries
  • Resources & Environment
  • Local Government Agencies

New Zealand

Business Need
  • Disaster Recovery
  • Business Productivity
  • Business Intelligence and Reporting
  • Cost Containment
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Human Resource Management
  • Mobility
  • Support and Services
  • Unified Communications
  • Business Critical
  • Team Collaboration
  • Service Delivery

IT Issue
  • Personal Productivity
  • High Availability