Future Directions - By Manager Information Services, Aaron Jurd, Central Highlands Regional Council, Queensland

Article image - Future Directions - By Manager Information Services, Aaron Jurd, Central Highlands Regional Council, Queensland Council staff unpack the new Microsoft Surface Hub in the Emerald chambers.

Sixty thousand square kilometres, 30,000 residents, 380 staff members and more than a dozen offices, depots and work sites – welcome to the Central Highlands Regional Council.

As one would expect, these characteristics of our vast and diverse organisation have often presented a challenge for effective and timely communication.

But from little things big things grow – and grow they have for us here in the Highlands.

Earlier this year, our council was named one of the top three local governments in Queensland for technology adoption by Telstra.
We were also the recipients of a state-of-the-art Microsoft Surface Hub recently, the second of these digital collaboration devices to be delivered in Australia.

So how did a medium-sized rural council with just five Information Technology staff get here?

One word: partnerships.

Over the last few years, our organisation has built strong working relationships with major industry players such as Telstra, Microsoft and Insync Technology to develop a robust platform for embracing technology.

In 2015, we ditched our dated telephony system and rolled out a new unified communications system, the software-based Skype for Business. This project involved replacing more than 300 council desktop phones with wireless headsets and earpieces.

Within a few months, every corner of our organisation was connected, not only to each other but also to the world.
This system soon became the base for a suite of other plug-in applications, including video conferencing, screen sharing, and the ability to live-stream our council meetings. These functions have already increased the efficiency and productivity of our business phenomenally, providing integrated, real-time tools for collaboration.
The roll-out has also helped close the gap between us and our metropolitan counterparts, reduced travel time for staff in remote areas and offered another level of transparency between council and the public.

Now, thanks to this established network, we also have the capability to just pick up the latest technology on the market and literally plug it in – like the Surface Hub or Office 365.

Our focus can now start to transition towards adoption and strategic planning, rather than figuring out how something is going to work or if it’s even possible.

Because of our partnerships, the world is our oyster – the future is whatever we want it to be.

With the infrastructure we need already in place, the organisation can continue to challenge, embrace and innovate in the fast-paced environment we find ourselves in.

While all of these things cost money, our council believe it is an area worth investing in.

Recently Cotton Australia was able to utilise our video conferencing set-up to deliver a talk by a local farmer to classrooms all over the state.

You can’t really put a price tag on that kind of interaction and that’s only the beginning.

Council is really excited to be at the forefront of what has been dubbed the third industrial revolution and we can’t wait to see what comes next.