Customer Story

Northern Grampians Shire Council: Improving citizen satisfaction and experience with Google Workspace

Northern Grampians Shire Council

Northern Grampians Shire Council migrated to Google Workspace, enabling Council staff to share data and collaborate from any location, as well as provide timely assistance to local citizens and businesses.

Google Cloud Results

Empowers people and government to move forward together

• Helps deliver a paperless office environment, achieving a 90% reduction in printing costs

• Promotes dialogue between citizens and Council staff through multiple touchpoints such as Google Meet and Forms

• Improves productivity when staff share and collaborate on Docs and Sheets anytime, anywhere, from any device

In 2018, Northern Grampians Shire Council won LG Pro's Awards for Excellence, Innovative Management category, for its successful implementation of a mobile workplace that operates smarter and better serves its citizens using Google Workspace in a Google Chrome browser environment. According to Vaughan Williams, Director Corporate Services, the project was first conceptualized seven years ago when Council leadership pushed for an activity-based workplace to improve collaboration.

As a geographically vast region with two Council offices, Stawell and St Arnaud, located 80 km apart, it can be difficult for a rural area such as Northern Grampians to find staff with specific skills. The Council realized that an activity-based workplace could be more attractive to employees, as it would give them the flexibility to work wherever it was most convenient for them. This type of workplace would allow colleagues to share data and collaborate on projects without sitting in the same office, or even leaving their home. "We wanted to offer an activity-based workplace to be more family-friendly, so that anyone staying home to take care of a sick child could still work," says Vaughan.

The servers and desktop computers that made up the Council's legacy environment, however, were incompatible with its vision for an activity-based workplace. "It just wasn't possible to jump on any device and get access to email and office documents," Vaughan says. To create a system that would give staff more flexibility, Northern Grampians Shire Council turned to Google for solutions. The Council went live with Google Workspace in 2014, before planning and implementing its migration from on-premises to a Google Chrome browser environment. This was completed mid-2017, and the majority of Council devices are now Chromebooks and Chromeboxes .

Stretch Smith, the Council's Business Transformation Manager adds: "We're always looking for innovative solutions to seemingly insurmountable challenges. When it comes to new ideas and opportunities that can potentially move us forward, we aim to be agile, innovative, and responsive."

Less waste, more productivity with Google Workspace

"We're always looking for innovative solutions to seemingly insurmountable challenges. When it comes to new ideas and opportunities that can potentially move us forward, we aim to be agile, innovative, and responsive." - Stretch Smith, Manager, Business Transformation, Northern Grampians Shire Council

Google Workspace offerings such as Gmail have resolved the number one pain point for Council staff, which was time wasted trying to access files. Previously the IT department was handling multiple email-related requests and providing several hours of support every day because employees couldn't access their emails. At the time there wasn't a solution comparable to Google Workspace, and the Council felt it was the clear choice.

"The email client took five to ten minutes to open, if it loaded at all. Five to ten minutes per person, per day, every single day of the year is a massive amount of inefficiency," says Matthew Tulloch, ICT Facilitation Officer. "With Gmail, opening an inbox takes about two seconds."

Desktop computers also took a lot of time from the workday, with some areas reporting up to 30 minutes from login until computers had finished loading up and were ready to use. Replacing existing desktop computers with Google Chromebooks has been helpful for Council staff who have highly mobile roles, including management and officers who work from multiple locations in and out of the offices.

The Council has 12 pick-up-and-go Chromebooks available for staff to book short term to take to meetings or sit with other employees throughout the offices. "The portability of Chromebooks enhances flexibility, allowing staff to move around the office, bring their work with them into meetings, or catch someone at their desk to quickly present something they're currently working on," explains Matthew. "On top of that, Chrome gives us a lightweight, fast, and secure browser, with easily manageable settings via the Google Admin console. For all these reasons and more, Chrome is our first choice."

New staff are now able to begin work quickly, and long battery life for these devices allows them to make the most of their workday on-the-go as well. According to Stretch Smith, the Council's Business Transformation Manager, Chromebooks are quickly and easily set up for a new employee. "And it takes only six minutes to set up a new Chromebox on our network," she says.

In addition to time savings, the Council has also saved on licensing costs and printing costs. Previously, it spent $360 per unit every year, but with Google solutions this cost has gone down to an annual cost of just $168 per unit. On top of this, printing costs have been steadily decreasing thanks in part to the paperless document sharing enabled with Google Workspace. The Council now spends less than 10 percent of what it used to five years ago. "Internally, we're now operating almost entirely paperless. We integrate these savings into new applications to do more," says Stretch.

Improving collaboration at every organizational level

"With products like Google Docs, we can create a document, share it, and collaborate in real time. That may seem like a small improvement, but when you multiply it across everyone in the organization, it's major." - Vaughan Williams, Director Corporate Services, Northern Grampians Shire Council

Staff at Northern Grampians Shire Council create and edit numerous documents every day, from agendas and minutes for meetings to community engagement plans. Document version control was previously a big challenge. The lack of collaboration and document control meant employees had to wait for feedback on documents before they could move on to the next step. "With traditional productivity tools, you can share a document, but you're not able to edit at the same time," said Vaughan.

With Docs, Sheets, and Slides, the Council is now working collaboratively, just as it had envisioned, viewing and tracking revisions easily, even as the document changes over time. From the lowest to the highest levels of the organization, staff are seeing the benefits of being able to access everything within one Drive. "With products like Google Docs, we can create a document, share it, and collaborate in real time," says Vaughan. "That may seem like a small improvement, but when you multiply it across everyone in the organization, it's major."

"Google technology makes our workplace much more flexible," says Matthew. "We can work together from different locations, and IT easily onboards new employees with a Gmail account and Chrome browser access, no matter their location or platform."

The Council encourages internal communication by using Sites as its intranet. With Google Sites, it can develop subpages for specific content, such as IT, HR, Budgeting, and Social Club. These subpages give staff quick and easy access to specific corporate information, and allow everyone to keep abreast of project updates, which contributes to the Council's vision of collaboration.

In light of its newfound collaborative working style, Northern Grampians Shire Council has made sure to keep documents shareable but secure, by using Google 2-step verification across all accounts. Thanks to this security measure, the Council is able to confidently allow staff to log in to their Google Workspace accounts on any device, and the potential for unauthorized access to data on Council systems is kept reassuringly low.

Engaging local residents and businesses

"Google technology makes our workplace much more flexible. We can work together from different locations, and IT easily onboards new employees with a Gmail account and Chrome browser access, no matter their location or platform." -Matthew Tulloch, ICT Facilitation Officer, Northern Grampians Shire Council

With cloud-based infrastructure and devices, Northern Grampians Shire Council is now better positioned to interact with the local community. It has achieved deeper community engagement by getting residents involved in the planning process at various stages, enhancing face-to-face interaction, and enabling staff able to share community input remotely without heading back to the office.

The Council found Forms useful for direct customer engagement for customer surveys and consultation, as well as internally for quick data collection. Thanks to timestamps and input history, staff are able to track when information was entered, and by whom. By switching from paper documents to online forms, the Council can easily meet compliance with auditing requirements and government records management regulations.

Using Forms, the Council created an online form to seek input from the community for its budget in 2018. The move made a dramatic impact, with more than fifty responses received by sharing a link to the form in social media posts, a press release, and the Council website. Vaughan was surprised by the "miracle" level of response.

"In the past, we might get one person giving feedback on our budget, or sometimes no one," he says. "It's easy for people to connect with us via Google Forms as it's such a simple tool. And because it's an embedded product, we don't have to use an external survey tool. Most staff know how to create it because it follows the logic and flow of everything else in Google Workspace."

The Council also invited residents to use a budget simulator on a mobile interactive display during community budget sessions in 2018. This data was then collected and used in the budget development process.

Council staff are also using Google technology to meet with shire farmers and discuss first and last mile road projects. It takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to travel from the Stawell Council offices to the more remote parts of the shire. Previously, people just wouldn't be able to attend those meetings, but now they can join live sessions from wherever they are through Google Meet. Engineers share data with the farmers on Docs and Sheets during the video call, and are able to refer easily, and address any questions and concerns about projects.

"Because we're working with the cloud-based technology offered by Google, we're able to present information and proposals to farmers, obtain their feedback, and share that data with our team right away," says Vaughan.

Blazing a trail forward with Google innovations

Following its success with the Google Workspace and Google Chrome browser migration, Northern Grampians Shire Council is now keen to explore more Google solutions, such as Google Voice and Google Fi. "The major shift to Google Workspace and activity-based working has inspired us to embrace innovation even more," says Damien Wieland, Head of Government Partnerships at Northern Grampians Shire Council. "We achieved transformative change, and now we're going to go out and adopt that attitude in everything we do as an organization."

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*Google Workspace was formerly known as G Suite prior to Oct. 6, 2020.