Transforming organisations enabled by technology

Transforming an organisation for the digital revolution needs to be considered as a key component of organisational transformation.

In 2021, Australia’s urbanisation rate reached 86.36 per cent. This population spread impacts the way that rural organisations, including rural water authorities, use technology to transform themselves to optimise their operations.

“We’re not digitising the processes of the organisation. We’re transforming the organisation holistically, and technology is the enabler for new ways of doing business and delivering new value to our communities,” said Tony Wulff, General Manager – Technology & Transformation at Goulburn Valley Water.

Goulburn Valley Water is a significant player in the Victorian water sector, with about 30 per cent of its customer revenue representing Australia’s biggest food and beverage companies. Delivering value to its customers and communities while trying to transform the organisation is an enormous challenge to Wulff.

“It’s imperative to understand that it’s an organisational transformation enabled by digitisation,” he said. “It’s something that I think the sector is probably behind compared to other industries. In my first board meeting, I said digital optimisation isn’t enough. We need to transform the business and how it operates.”

Goulburn Valley Water is planning to invest approximately $90 million on technology over 10 years. Such an investment shows how seriously the utility takes technology in delivering its holistic organisational strategy.

Customer touchpoints critical to organisational transformation

Water authorities are among the few businesses worldwide that deal with essential services for customers and communities. Technology investment must put its customers and communities at the forefront of its operations. When he first looked at it, Wulff did not realise it needed to be a whole-of-organisation challenge.

“When I started, the scale of the transformation wasn’t clear. I did start with a digital strategy. However, the plan was originally for a step change in the processes. I started mapping out the customer touch points, service delivery outcomes, of a water utility for a customer. I then worked back towards the organisation to assess the technological enablement of each outcome and the maturity of the journey,” he said.

In examining the technology, Wulff found that almost every water utility has just four touch points with customers. The first touch point was technological, usually the website or social media. The second is a customer service function, traditionally a phone call, in-store, or via person-to-person conversation. The third is financial, as it tends to be a customer’s billing experience and the utility’s meters in the field. The final touch point is also people-based, but it’s the operators in the field fixing and maintaining assets and explaining their work to customers.

“As I worked back into the business to determine the maturity of our technology, I found that there was an enormous amount of work to do,” said Wulff. “The example that stands out is our customer service team. Whenever they received a call, they needed anywhere from seven to 11 applications open. Some staff had found glitches and bugs between applications, so they would take hand-written notes to reduce customer call time and add them back after the fact. It still led to very long call times.”

As previously noted, Goulburn Valley Water will invest $90 million over 10 years across 23 projects. These projects will enable the authority’s organisational transformation strategy across almost every aspect of the business.

Digital literacy the most important step

As organisations increase their uptake of digital technologies, one thing that needs to be remembered is the digital literacy of the staff. Wulff noted that due to a number of factors, digital literacy levels within the organisation were low. He further stressed the importance of uplifting digital literacy, as it was one of the biggest challenges facing the organisation.

“The digital enablement strategy is an element of our transformation work, which is improving the digital literacy of our organisation. We intentionally invested in technologies to help people self-learn the new technology. That meant online, step-by-step guides, and a variety of other options.” he said.

Wulff explained that Goulburn Valley Water had to rethink how they assess the success of their investment and execution of their strategy if the staff could not effectively use the technology.

“Our one measure of success is adoption,” Wulff said. “By measuring the adoption of new technology over periods, we can tell how successful it is. If the adoption rate is high and we can see the technology has been embedded in the organisation relatively seamlessly, then the adoption of the technology has been spot on. If it has been forced and we do not see the technology adopted, we have done something wrong.”

He pointed out that the people aspect of an organisational transformation is the most important. People must be on board with the journey to ensure the benefits of the investment are realised. It’s why the culture within the teams is also an important part of the organisational culture.

“It’s all about people enablement and enabling my team to operate effectively and the organisation and build their digital literacy quickly.”

Sector collaboration supports transformation

One thing that Wulff has worked on is developing partnerships and collaborations that support Goulburn Valley Water. He has understood and worked to deal with the challenges associated with a regional water utility. Goulburn Valley Water has partnerships with La Trobe University and Melbourne University to service different aspects of its business.

“Some of the challenges for regional utilities are capability, attraction, retention, and leverage,” he said. “We need to find people that have knowledge in fields that we normally wouldn’t find on the street. Those are areas like data science, engineering, carbon and climate specialists, and similar roles. We don’t tend to find them walking around in Shepparton. If we’re leading the community in that thinking, we need to bring that intelligence to the region, so partnering with universities is an excellent way to achieve this.”

While regional water utilities are smaller than their urban counterparts, they are far more distributed, almost as a series of individual water ecosystems. Wulff believes this provides enormous opportunities for collaborative innovation and testing new technologies or ideas.

“We can easily innovate and test something in a small town of 500 people. By providing an alternative water supply for a day (via water carters), we can test and learn as much as possible in that time. It allows regional water utilities to de-risk new ideas, experiment with technology, confirm the quality of innovation, and adjust for trial and error by leveraging their small scale. That’s where partnerships can work well. It’s when regional utilities, major utilities and global players all leverage their unique advantages and positions to benefit a larger community.”

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