I had the good fortune to spend a part of my young life in Australia not as a tourist but as an employee of small tour company. Traveling to some of the most majestic cities like Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide and Melbourne, to some of the more rural areas within Queenstown Tasmania, Wagga Wagga New South Wales to Goondiwindi Queensland. I saw first-hand the tyranny of distance in Australia. My time in Australia gave me an appreciation not only of the citizens and the country, but also of the Australian Department of Human Service’s story.
It’s tough to bridge the divide between people who have access to amazing services in a big metropolitan city, versus the people who live in a rural town and don’t have the same access. This is a familiar story to thousands of people who are living in remote and indigenous communities in Australia’s outback who often travel an entire day and up to 300 kilometers (186 miles) to access healthcare, disability, or employment support.
In of the summer of 2015, we sat down with the IT staff at Australia’s Department of Human Services (DHS) who told us they wanted a more innovative way to connect with citizens in remote places to deliver important services to them much faster. The task was tough because DHS employees conduct tens of thousands of interviews each week from hundreds of different service centers.
To bridge the distance gap and make sure more citizens can receive more personal and faster access to services, Australia’s Department of Human Services (DHS) worked with the Windows team and Microsoft Consulting Services to upgrade 44,000 existing and new devices in just four months to Windows 10 enterprise. It’s the largest global commercial deployment of Windows 10 in the Asia-Pacific region to date – a record deployment for a government agency with the unique complexities of the DHS, not to mention an organization that has 1500 internal line of business apps that required compatibility testing.
“Our last operating system upgrade of desktops and devices, took us almost three years,” commented Mike Brett, General Manager, ICT Infrastructure at DHS. “Upgrading to Windows 10 Enterprise proved surprisingly straightforward. By using Windows 10 in-place upgrades we started initially running 20,000 Windows 10 devices in just five weeks,” said Brett.
“Upgrading to Windows 10 was one of the most seamless rollouts we’ve ever seen and the level of app remediation was marginal.”
As part of the upgrade to Windows 10, DHS wanted its employees to be able to conduct interview video calls with citizens, no matter where they were located across the country. Having visited a fair amount of Australia, I appreciate how immense and spread out its people are, especially across the rural outback. Previously DHS had a solution using iPads.
“With our iPads the screen size didn’t work for us, the sound quality was poor and using Wi-Fi connections on those devices didn’t really work for us. The other requirement required use of peripherals and that didn’t work so well with iPads. In the end, the overall experience was a barrier and frustrating to our citizens.”
By creating a universal Windows 10 line of business app, DHS assessors have been able to easily interview people remotely using a broader range of devices and monitors for video calling, which solved a huge challenge of not only reaching citizens, but reaching them immediately. The pilot program on Windows 10 known internally at DHS as ‘Express Plus Connect’ (EPC), can be opened on any connected Windows 10 PC on the DHS network to allow employees to set up video calls, schedule appointments and generate reports. DHS assessors simply login with their DHS identity and can manage all aspects of an interview without customer input, and can bring additional experts into the interview for health consults.
“Previously, assessors would schedule back-to-back interviews for a specific day, then travel 200–300 kilometers inland,” says Kylie Martin, Service Center Manager for the Charters Towers Service Center, Indigenous, Regional, and Intensive Services Division at DHS. “The early pilot results in Queensland show assessors can proceed with a claim as soon as the customer reports a problem. And they aren’t just reacting more quickly, they are taking on more cases because they don’t have to arrange travel around each appointment. With EPC, people in rural places are starting to experience the same quality of service as we provide in big cities.”
“The EPC on Windows 10 pilot provides a level of service that Australian citizens have simply never experienced before. They really feel cared for, not just by the officer in front of them, but they’re connecting with people who speak their language.”
Check out what the team at DHS has had to say about the new solution:
“When I meet with Windows customers, I always ask them: what compelled you to upgrade to Windows 10? Ken Simpson, Project Leader at DHS shared, “The improvements over Windows 8, such as the user interface and remote access, made Windows 10 very attractive and we’ve seen less incidents/defects observed. The OS quality has really increased. But two things stood out, Windows as a Service would help make our environment easier to maintain, because software updates flow continuously from Microsoft. It would also make us more agile because we could take what Microsoft provides and repackage it to provide a better service to our employees.”
Complementary to DHS’ efforts, the Australian Federal Government (AFG) is working to ensure government services are more agile in responding to political, economic, and environmental change. In fact, the AFG has committed to improving access to health services, with an emphasis on expanding access via digital channels. The National Broadband Network (NBN), an Australian national wholesale-only open-access data network, is making it possible for this digital connection between public service providers and patients to take place.
DHS is also leveraging Cortana Intelligence, using machine learning and cognitive services, to build expert systems empowering its employees to respond faster and more effectively to citizen queries to better serve Australians.
Now Australians who have experienced disaster or misfortune can get help faster with less travel, while DHS continues to improve the speed, quality, and increase efficiency of services in remote areas. I could not be more proud that the Windows team and Microsoft Consulting Services has a part in helping DHS’ meet its on-going commitment and service to the people of Australia.
“Good on ya to the entire team at DHS and Microsoft”
For more detailed information about Australia Department of Human Services Windows 10 deployment, check out the case study here.