Hi tech beats isolation

Typical of many communities in Australia’s Outback, Ashburton must come to terms with problems associated with its remote location, large geographical area and a dispersed population living in a number of towns, on pastoral holdings or in Aboriginal communities.

With advances in Information Technology moving at a rapid pace, the Shire of Ashburton has been at the forefront in using IT to improve communications, a key means to address issues of living in a remote locality.

“Within Council, we have used IT to overcome problems of staff often separated by 400 kilometres,” said Gary Clark, Manager corporate Services. “Five years ago Council owned only two PCs, now staff and Councillors are networked with everyone online.”

With the push for change initially came from Councillors, staff readily took up this challenge placing Council at the forefront of state of the art technology.

“All Councillors have had laptops since 1998 making us one of the first in Western Australia to make this move,” Gary Clark said. “Agendas and minutes are now emailed to Councillors. This information is available on Council’s website which ensures the community is in constant touch with matters Council is considering.”

For meetings with its neighbouring Councils across the Pilbara region, video conferencing is used saving Ashburton in excess of $35,000 per annum in charter flights.

Civica’s Authority software is used across a range of Council’s operations. The Shire of Ashburton will shortly implement Civica’s complete e-services solution. This will provide residents and ratepayers with the option to streamline all their payments to Council quickly and conveniently via the Internet. A high proportion of people in the Shire are connected to the Web, particularly in the mining towns. Council also provides Internet access at its Library, and there is a Telecentre at Onslow. As well as Council’s current manual Customer Access Request System, Civica’s e-services will soon enable residents to log on to place a request and then track its progress.

Ashburton is also the first Council in Western Australia to introduce online management reporting. Using a program developed by MES Pty Ltd, all managers are in constant touch with how each area they are responsible for is progressing against budget forecasts.

The manager can use the system to drill down to areas, supervisor and individual officer, greatly enhancing regular monitoring and ongoing accountability across the organisation. This is a great advantage to managers who often have staff located at various places across the Shire.