Boldly going to the Microsoft cloud

November 1, 2018
in Strategy
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First West Credit Union as a case study in digitally transforming how teams work

When I started my career as an IT professional, I never expected that one day I’d be designing office buildings. Yet here I am today, part of a team that’s helping First West Credit Union construct a new digitally-enabled head office in Langley, B.C. It’s one of many great examples of where the rubber meets the road in digital transformation.

Our journey at First West has taken us from thinking about tools and deployments in the IT department to enabling a diverse and geographically spread-out workforce across the organization. The way people do their jobs is fundamentally changing, and I firmly believe that a people-first focus needs to be underpinned by a foundation of technology that allows them to be their best.

For a credit union like ours built on trust, transparency and the security of our members’ information, the process of digital transformation—including the shift to cloud-based technology services—requires a lot of careful analysis, which in turn raises a lot of challenging questions. There were certainly many doubts and uncertainties when we began down this path. However, they were consistently outweighed by the benefits and innovation that can be achieved when the right people work with the right technology.

First West is a particularly interesting case study in digital transformation because the organization was created through the mergers of four individual credit unions over the span of six years. Each came with its own technology ecosystem, and the challenges of bringing them all together were huge. There were differences and duplication everywhere. There were high costs and inconsistent user experiences. We needed a playbook that would deliver the value that a merged entity should provide.

Key to that was what I call the “-izes:” rationalize, standardize, harmonize and digitize.

For example, we knew the move from on-premise data centres to the Microsoft Cloud would be a huge money-saver. We made the decision to move forward and we are now on track to fully decommission our primary data centre this fall; our secondary facility will be decommissioned by the end of next year. I know I’m never going to have to buy another server array again. I’ll never have to worry about upgrading the HVAC system in the data centre building to keep up with the heat being generated. The all-in cost savings for moving to the Microsoft Cloud are hugely compelling.

But it’s not just about saving money. From my standpoint, it’s about fully recasting the value proposition of IT. It’s not about how well you can procure and deploy technology; it’s about how you use it and connect it to people—and connect people with each other.

Case in point: for years, we’ve been implementing Microsoft technology to help make the workplace experience better for everyone in our organization. From little things like enhancements to the toolbar, to bigger changes like Windows 10 and Office 365, technology has been the enabler of better creativity and collaboration for our teams.

Our organization has more than 60 different physical locations across the province of British Columbia, including branches, insurances offices, administration centres and specialized drop-in workspaces—not to mention individuals that work from home. For our teams to be able to communicate effectively from wherever they’re working, they need the right tools. So we’ve standardized devices across First West: all desktops come with a camera and speakers, so everyone can join meetings via Skype. We’ve gotten rid of laptops in favour of tablets—the Surface Pro is our device of choice. Most meeting rooms have Skype for Business built right in or Surface Hubs. For me, the biggest compliment is when people tell me the technology is invisible—they don’t even really notice it. We recently had a meeting attended by 30-40 people in locations across Canada, and it was seamless.

But it goes further than that. We’ve begun using Microsoft’s workplace analytics, which enable our teammates to understand how much time they’re spending in meetings, and identify opportunities to create efficiencies. When we look at this data at an aggregated level, we can pinpoint collaboration between teams within our organization. Our HR team tells me that this type of visibility was simply impossible before we implemented this technology.

All of this leads back to the project I mentioned at the very beginning: designing First West’s new head office building. Knowing that one group collaborates more often with another group informs which groups should be located where in the new building, so that we can maximize efficiency through the idea of adjacency. We're piloting new “work modes” now for work-at-home and in-office scenarios, along with a fully mobile option. Microsoft tools, platforms and devices are key to bringing these strategies into practice. It’s a great opportunity to infuse technology from the outset. Too often, technology has been an afterthought in office design and effective working.

All of this is really bearing fruit for our teams on the ground, as well as our members and clients. We recently had a summit of our sales leaders across all regions. They were discussing the digital transformation going on in the company and the associated change management efforts. Their feedback: we need to move faster!

“I wish we had this capability months ago,” people say. And I’ll be honest, it makes me proud every time I’m able to respond with, “Yeah, we can do this now!”

We have seen a huge change in the way we collaborate and communicate. We’ve had big wins with Skype, Yammer, One Note, One Drive, Windows 10 and Surface devices from tablets to room systems. Given our geographic diversity, the ability to work and lead across distance is critical—and we have taken enormous strides forward.

The use of the digital capabilities that Microsoft provides is leading us to a post-digital transformation scenario now. We’re transforming how individuals and teams work together. And at the end of the digital chain, that human component is ultimately what really matters.

Darrell Jaggers is First West Credit Union's Chief Information and Digital Transformation Officer.