Harbour City Ferries and its crew are an iconic part of Sydney’s landscape and heritage, and are a vital part of the city’s transport infrastructure. Every day, thousands of Sydneysiders rely on Harbour City Ferries to get to work, get things done and connect with work colleagues, customers and friends. 

Alongside the recent timetable upgrade to Sydney’s transport services, the Harbour Fleet Review, and an ICT upgrade it has been a busy few months for Harbour City Ferries. I sat down with IT Manager Adam O’Halloran to find out more about the technologies used by one of Sydney’s most mobile workforces and to learn how the company ensures staff are productive and efficient regardless of whether they are in the office or out on the Harbour.

 

Q: Since you began operating Sydney’s ferry services in July 2012 what measures have you taken to enhance the customer experience you deliver each and every day to thousands of Sydneysiders?
A: Our main objective at Harbour City Ferries is to constantly improve and build upon the customer experiences we deliver by maintaining a very high standard of reliability and availability. We’re constantly looking at ways to enhance our services, which is not always an easy feat when your primary function is to simply transport passengers from A to B.

We’ve recently undertaken a significant technology refresh that equips our employees with the hardware and IT solutions they need to better serve Sydneysiders on their day-to-day travels.  Over the next six months we’re going to be making some substantial changes to Harbour City Ferries’ ICT systems as we look to build an ICT platform allowing our staff to effectively communicate with one another regardless of their location or device they are using.

As the first step down that path we’ve already gone live with Office 365 SharePoint Online, as well as equipping employees with Windows Phone 8 powered smartphones devices. The next phase, which is currently underway, is a migration to a mix of Windows 8 standard desktops, Lenovo Carbon Ultrabooks and Lenovo Helix tablet devices and includes moving our email servers from Exchange 2003 to Office 365 Exchange Online, rolling out Lync Online and an upgrade to Active Directory 2012 for easier PC fleet management. 

Q: With all the building blocks now in place for an effective mobility platform, why is it important to Harbour City Ferries that employees have the ability to access internal systems from anywhere?
A: For us, it’s about engaging better with employees and empowering them to access the information they need to effectively do their jobs regardless of their location, whether they are one of the 200 working in our corporate office or one of the 450 responsible for transporting passengers across Sydney. Additionally, we knew that employees were already using their own devices to access their work email so we wanted to look at ways we could enhance this.

Following an extensive review, we’ve invested in a range of brand new hardware – from standard desktops and laptops to Windows Phones and Windows 8 tablets – and as we’re also using DirectAccess when employees are in the field they can stay connected to the corporate network. While our corporate smartphones are Windows Phone 8 devices we do have a quasi-bring-your-own-device approach at Harbour City Ferries that allows employees to use their own personal devices to access their work emails. We’re definitely going to be promoting Office 365 upon the complete deployment so that employees can get work done from the device of their choosing.

This means when employees check their emails on the go, we can now embed links to our intranet – Compass. As such, they no longer have access to just their emails, but can also view content from our intranet, which is based on SharePoint, allowing them to better engage with our services and information, enhancing their own individual user experience and the quality of service they can deliver.

Q: How will the new platform enable better collaboration and communication of Harbour City Ferries’ dispersed workforce?
A: With our new intranet we are giving employees the ability to more easily find the information or people they are looking for, increasing productivity and freeing up time for them to focus on their core responsibilities. What’s more, it also features an internal social communication channel where staff can ask and answer questions, flag issues to be aware of while en-route and promote internal social events. The new system also allows employees to communicate easily with one another, whether they are in Manly or Parramatta, and this is critical as we look to better engage employees with the network and one another.

 

Q: In your perspective what do you think has been the biggest benefit to employees since going live with Office 365? 
A: Without doubt it’s the ability to find the relevant information employees need quickly and easily without having to physically come into the office. For instance, today when employees are looking for their roster they can simply connect with their smartphone or tablet device to find it. Using Office 365 our employees are able to get their work done from anywhere, which we hope will lead to increased employee satisfaction that will manifest itself in the services we deliver to customers. On top of this, our new intranet is bringing our dispersed workforce together. Given the nature of our work there’s rarely a time when the whole business can get together. However, we now have one platform which allows us to collaborate and work together to improve the services we deliver to Sydneysiders.

Q: What other types of data is Harbour City Ferries capturing, and how are you using this new insight to better run your business? 
A: We’re currently in the process of implementing systems that record operational data, such as fuel usage, engine hours for each ferry, and regulatory maintenance activities. Office 365 SharePoint Online is going to be facilitating this, and it will enable us to better manage and maintain our fleets and reduce operational costs. Take the ability to record fuel and engine hours in real-time, for instance.  Employees can log onto SharePoint Online, and use the dashboard functionalities to upload the relevant data to obtain an immediate overview of fuel usage over a set period of time. This enables them to better manage resources which will help to reduce operational costs in the long run. What’s more, employees can use the communications channel hosted on the platform to share tips and tricks with one another to better run our fleet of ferries.

Q: What has the feedback been from employees on the IT transformation, and what measures have you implemented to ensure a seamless transition?
A:  Employees have been positive about the new technology and functionality we’ve been rolling out, and they are looking forward to being able to access more information than just their emails. In terms of getting employees up to speed with Office 365 we haven’t needed to undertake extensive training sessions. We think the design on the cloud based intranet is fairly self-explanatory and intuitive so we’ve seen fast adoption– the analogy we like to use at Harbour City Ferries is that all of us were given little training on how to use ATMs or mobile phones, yet we all work out to use them fairly quickly. 

Q: Did you do any cost justification when deciding to move your IT systems to the cloud?
A: There was no need to. The systems we inherited were quite dated and were no longer supported, which meant we were faced with a decision - either we buy our own servers, or we rent the infrastructure, making the most of Microsoft’s Public Cloud. It really was a no brainer especially as we no longer have to manage our email infrastructure.

Q: Can you tell me about Microsoft partner Professional Advantage’s role in your IT refresh?
A: Professional Advantage has played a key role in what’s been a massive overhaul of Harbour City Ferries’ IT systems. Their technical skillset is difficult to match, and there’s little doubt that they are one of the best partners to engage when implementing SharePoint. Additionally, when you consider the scale of the project there was always going to be a few unexpected issues along the way, and Professional Advantage was not only understanding to our frustrations, but quick to resolve them too. The partnership we’ve struck has been so successful that we’ve engaged Professional Advantage on an ongoing support basis.

Q: When do you expect your IT refresh to be complete?
A: Having lined up the various building blocks of the platform – including Windows 8, Office 365 and SharePoint Online – we hope to go live with the pilot by December, and then tee up a slow rollout over that period. As that time of year is one of our busiest periods, we’re really going to be throwing the technology in at the deep end but there’s no doubt in our mind that it’s going to be more than capable to stand up to the pressures we’ll subject it to.