As ICT projects go, Callaghan Innovation's switch from legacy Microsoft Office versions to Google's G Suite is not huge, but it is something of a flagship for the public sector.
Among agencies, Callaghan is almost alone in the decision to adopt G Suite, which went live recently, while almost every other agency is moving deeper into Microsoft's world with Office 365 and Teams.
These shifts to modern workplace technologies acquired a new sense of urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, supercharged by the sudden requirement for remote working and collaboration functionalities.
The shift was part of a larger effort to eliminate legacy silos and create a more data driven and agile organisation.
"This phase includes a number of optimisations to our network, identity management platform and mobile security solution," a quarterly report to the end of June 2019 said.
"In parallel, we defined user requirements for our new data architecture, grants platform and defined our overall strategy and approach for process optimisation; starting with a programme of work to map our current processes before kicking off a continuous improvement programme."
The agency's 2019 annual review noted the roll-out had been delayed to "ensure a user-led change experience and [to] embed the new ways of working G Suite will enable".
At that time, the project was scheduled to start in April 2019 and to be completed by July 2020.
Estimates for Budget 2020 revealed the project had again been rescheduled, to start in June 2019 and complete in June 2020. The project budget had also increased, from $960,000 to $1.6 million.
Callaghan Innovation CEO Victoria Crone told Reseller News yesterday there were several reasons for the delays.
Firstly, Callaghan was standing up its digital programme at the same time with limited resourcing.
"That added a few months," Crone said.
Second, the level of Callaghan's "technical debt", or legacy, was also higher than previously thought.
"Our previous system was in worse shape than we thought so it took a bit longer to get all of the mapping from the old system into the new system."
Thirdly, the original plan was to roll G Suite out to around 90 per cent of staff, but in late 2019 a decision was made to roll it out to the entire organisation, with a few Microsoft licenses remaining for certain specialist users and applications.
"That probably added another month," Crone said.
Finally, there was a big focus on using the platform shift to change the way Callaghan operated. Rather than just deploying new email or calendar tools, the aim was to shift towards a more collaborative way of working and co-creation.
"We put a lot of effort into our change practices and how we drove through the opportunity for this new tool to take us into a far more flexible way of operating."
That also involved using other tools such as Kanban app Trello and chat and meetings app Slack, in part to enable agile practices such as sprints.
On top of that a planned launch was also delayed because it would have coincided with the end of the financial year.
"There was a range of things," Crone said "There wasn't anything in there for me that was exceptionally concerning.
"It was just part of going through an incredibly old system and how we transition into a new one."
With COVID-19, document collaboration and sharing was turned on early to bring in the benefits of collaboration.
Crone said there were no major issues in the switch over, though some users had to adjust to new ways of doing things.
"We've been really focusing on how we change the way we are working in terms of real-time collaboration," she said.
"That's probably the area we are seeing the most benefits in the speed at which the organisation can work now with real-time creation and document sharing."
Crone said for other agencies considering a shift, a change to Microsoft Teams would have been very similar. As must effort would have to have been put into the change on either platform to deal with legacy and to ensure the targeted benefits were achieved.
Public sector organisations do need to change the way they are working and become more agile, Crone said. Going to G Suite forced that prompting Callaghan to think about changing the way it worked rather than just doing a Microsoft upgrade.
Crone added that the roadmap to machine learning and artificial intelligence was stronger in G Suite, and Callaghan was already seeing those benefits with AI built into the Google email platform delivering prompts and draft responses.
"That's where we think the real benefits are going to be," Crone said. "It's great to get the collaboration out there.
"Yes, you could do that with Teams, but we've really forced our teams to think about how they are working and we've got a really strong pathway to AI and machine learning which over the next decade are tools to unlock productivity further."
Reseller News reviewed Office 365 rollout projects reported in the public sector and while many were brought home on time and on budget, there were several that were not, including projects at ACC, the Human Rights Commission and NZ Customs.
Talking about "technical debt", the Ministry of Health, upgraded from Lotus Notes to Office 365 in a project budgeted at $1.1 million that ended up costing $3.3 million.