The New South Wales Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC) was looking for a more efficient way for Catchment Management Authorities to process Property Vegetation Plans (PVPs). Recognising the need for specialised technical advice, DECC worked with Microsoft Services to develop a solution that provides one user-friendly interface where employees can access landowner and geospatial data as well as scientific assessment tools. The solution can also be run in an offline environment so when fieldworkers return to the office, information is synchronised back to the core databases at the Department with automatic creation and tracking of follow-up documents. This solution will provide a platform for the Department to build on, as well as resulting in improved fieldworker and landowner satisfaction, simpler quality assurance and greater accountability.
Formed in 2007, The Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC) cares for and manages land and water resources in the state of New South Wales. Its vision is to manage a sustainable, healthy environment for the entire NSW community and it manages a portfolio of natural and cultural resources across land and water, including biodiversity, soils and native vegetation.
Headquartered in Sydney, DECC has 5,200 employees across the state. It also works with 13 Catchment Management Authorities and approximately 400 environmental officers who conduct environmental assessments statewide. These assessments are usually in response to landowners seeking approval for a property vegetation plan to allow them to manage native vegetation resources.
In the past, employees found the software solution used to assess the PVPs difficult to use as assessment tools and geospatial data were not integrated. This often resulted in time-consuming and repetitive data entry, making it hard to aggregate and report on data consistently.
Managers at the State agency level were also frustrated. With data stored across multiple systems, they had no single view of landowners. This hampered informed decision making and effective resource allocation. And at the highest level, directors and policy makers were frustrated because they could not clearly see the combined impacts or benefits of native vegetation management at a local, regional and State level. Nor did they have the data they needed for up-to-date modeling.
So, even though improved science and policies had been developed to improve sustainability and the environment, the Department lacked a consistent, centralised and transparent system.
Tom Grosskopf, Director Vegetation and Biodiversity Management, comments: “We recognised that we needed a fully integrated system that would provide Catchment Management Officers with a simple, standardised way of completing their assessments and then updating this information to our core databases to maintain an up-to-date picture.”
Believing themselves to be a suitable candidate for assistance under the Microsoft Government Innovation Fund, DECC applied and was successful, based on the breakthrough nature of the solution required.
DECC’s IT team worked with Microsoft Services to successfully deliver an integrated solution using a suite of Microsoft and other technologies. Microsoft Services acts as a strategic partner on complex or innovative solutions built with Microsoft technologies.
It provides expert IT consultancy and deep knowledge of Microsoft technical methodologies and can draw on established partner relationships to help customers achieve a successful outcome.
Microsoft engaged Gold Certified Partner Readify to help design and deploy the solution. Working with Microsoft as a cohesive team, Readify helped determine the most effective solution design, seamlessly integrating geospatial data and customer relationship management capabilities to create a modern smart client that’s intuitive to use.
The Microsoft Services team started by looking closely at DECC’s business requirements. John McCarthy, Engagement Manager from Microsoft Services Australia, says: “One way Microsoft Services adds value is by helping customers articulate and
|One way Microsoft Services adds value is by helping customers articulate and unify the ideas they already have. Once we understand their business vision, we paint the technical vision to match. Then we help them get there.|
|John McCarthy, Engagement Manager, Microsoft Services|
unify the ideas they already have. Once we understand their business vision, we paint the technical vision to match. Then we help them get there.”
At first, DECC was looking to rebuild spreadsheets to make them easier to use. But DECC soon understood it was possible to develop a more holistic solution that would enable the executive team to realise a broader vision of streamlining processes to improve service to landowners and insight into natural resources. As John McCarthy explains : “The solution we proposed was different to where we had all started. By integrating a range of technologies, it addressed a broader set of business problems. The executive team realised this would help DECC become more customer focused.”
At the cornerstone of the solution are two databases. First, the Department’s Oracle database containing geospatial information, including environmental information such as the location of threatened species, salinity, etc. Secondly, a Microsoft® SQL Server® database that holds the landowner details.
Microsoft Dynamics® CRM, a customer relationship management system, extracts data from this database and presents a single view of landowner interactions with DECC that includes emails, the status of applications, associated tasks and actions. This one customer view can potentially be shared across agencies and Departments down the track.
The most impressive part of the system, however, is the user interface. This presents catchment management officers with all the information they need. From one screen they can launch a window showing geospatial mapping alongside landowner details and a suite of seven scientific tools used to make assessments on salinity, biodiversity and other environmental prerequisites needed to grant approvals.
Because this system can be used by officers in the field without a network connection, it enables them to bring just the data they need, through a function that ‘cookie cuts’ geospatial maps around rural properties they intend to visit and exports them to a Smart Client, resulting in small file sizes that are much faster to load. These maps can be annotated by officers as they go and are automatically updated in the system when they return.
The new solution standardised the ‘look and feel’ of the assessment tools. The assessment tool now uses a ‘wizard-like’ approach to step officers through the assessment process, but they can also navigate freely enabling them to complete the tasks in the order that is most logical at the time. Once the zones for the requested activity are digitised on the map and the assessment tools come back ‘green’ (OK to proceed) an agreement can be generated in Microsoft® Office Word and printed for the landowners and the Catchment Management Officer to sign.
When an assessment is completed, all assessment data is synchronised back to the core systems automatically, meaning that data only ever needs to be entered once and is always up to date. Most importantly, it is also standardised so that assessments are always filed in a consistent manner. The system then automatically generates a task list indicating which steps are needed to complete the assessment.
Approvals and documents can be initiated, tracked and managed automatically through a process-driven workflow that is orchestrated using Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Alerts are automatically generated in the systems with reminders for follow-up and next steps ensuring that the approval process is swift and seamless. The status of approvals can also be seen at a glance so that landowners can be kept informed, if they call, providing a truly customer-centric solution.
The ability to extract relevant information from the CRM and geospatial databases was achieved using the .NET technologies of the Windows® Presentation Foundation (WPF), Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and Windows Workflow Foundation (WF).
Working with DECC’s IT team, Microsoft Services provided architectural and project management capability to design and develop the solution. Integrating all the technologies required was a complex task that called for specialised technical skills. Microsoft Services pulled together a broad team of partners to build and integrate the components, liaising with them to manage delivery.
John McCarthy says, “Introducing a major technology change into any organisation is always going to be hard and there were plenty of challenges along the way. The team really pulled together to meet them. Through all the challenges our strong project management skills, technical methodologies and focus on the outcome were essential to achieving the final result.”
Tom Grosskopf comments: “The system is a quantum leap from what we had previously and, as you would expect with such a profound change, professional development for officers in the Catchment Management Authorities was essential to its success. Several hundred people have now been trained in the system and it is being embraced by catchment management and DECC officers alike.”
With access to the information they need in one easy-to-use interface, catchment management officers can carry out assessments faster and more easily. Tom Grosskopf says: “We’re reducing red tape by having an integrated solution that deals with all of the components of an assessment in one place.”
Quality Assurance and Accountability
Another key benefit has come from establishing a standardised method of assessment and reporting across the Catchment Management Authorities. Tom Grosskopf explains: “With one uniform system and methodology we can better manage Quality Assurance. And because information is continually updated by the Catchment Management Officers, DECC is able to provide accurate public reporting with greater transparency of information – an important part of good governance.”
Simpler, standardised reporting has enabled managers to follow up on reports on a regional basis and track environmental issues, such as native vegetation planning, salinity, water use and biodiversity across entire areas.
Tom Grosskopf intends to leverage the system in many ways as a complete picture is built off by officers in the field: “Ultimately my vision is to be able to paint the big picture and link government environmental incentive payments to a map that shows constituents exactly how their tax dollars are being spent on preserving our natural heritage.”
Powerful decision support
One of the chief benefits of the solution is its ability to bring together spatial information so that officers can record and report on environmental change using maps. Tom Grosskopf comments: “This solution has the potential to help inform us when preparing our annual Land Clearing Analysis across the State. We use SPOT 5 satellite imagery to see changes in vegetation cover, but we can compare this data to our approvals mapping to relate the two. By highlighting areas of concern where there is no approval we can investigate whether change has been caused by drought, fire or inappropriate land clearing.”
A flexible solution
One of the most important benefits of the system is its flexibility. By deploying a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) DECC can now leverage it in new ways to improve business processes down the track. Per Ostman, Microsoft Solution Architect, comments: “They have created an architecture for plugging in just about any modules that require customer and geospatial data both offline and online. There are currently two modules; one for property vegetation plans and one for private native forestry and DECC is currently working with other agencies to investigate further applications.”
On-call access to specialist skills
Working with Microsoft Services helped DECC access technical skills in partner organisations and achieve a well-coordinated delivery across multiple vendors. Microsoft technical resources, expertise and tested methodologies were always a phone call or a click away.
Tom Grosskopf concludes: “We now have a practical solution to our current problems and a foundation to deliver additional services in the future. The .NET platform has given us the ability to deliver new modules and Web services down the track.”
Microsoft Dynamics CRM
Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 is a fully integrated customer relationship management (CRM) system that enables you to easily create and maintain a clear view of customers from first contact through to transaction completion. It enables you to easily manage cases and interaction, knowledge bases, service scheduling and more across an organisation or between multiple agencies, with built-in workflows and approval processes.
Microsoft Services helps customers and partners discover and implement high-value Microsoft solutions that generate rapid, meaningful and measurable results. As the consulting, technical support and customer service arm of the world’s leading software company, Microsoft Services enables the successful adoption, deployment and use of Microsoft solutions and technologies for all customers, from the individual to the enterprise.
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For more information about Microsoft Government Innovation Fund visit For more information about the Department of Environment and Climate Change, visit www.environment.nsw.gov.au or call +61 2 9995 5000