Spinal Cord Injuries Australia taps into Microsoft 365 and Teams for greater flexibility

Making the shift just ahead of the coronavirus outbreak.

Up until last October, Spinal Cord Injuries Australia (SCIA) operated on outdated technology platforms that chief executive Dianne Lucas described as "piecemeal".

"There was no integrated or clear strategy around what our technology platform should be and what we should be looking at doing. We didn't have any clear plans to grow and scale, and what technology could assist or enable us to do that," she told ZDNet.

This meant that the organisation's 140-plus staff -- about a quarter who have a disability -- across 20 offices nationwide were always assisting its 2,300 members either face-to-face or over the phone, and everyday processes often required manual intervention.

"Staff were working really hard with not a lot of return … they were burning out with our current systems," Lucas said.

But following SCIA's development of its three-year plan, something had to change.

"We wanted to be known as an organisation that was also operating in a way that really suited people living with a disability," Lucas said.

"You could come into our workplace and you could see, we have this agile workforce that was flexible and working really well. But you needed the technology to do that."

See also: Microsoft Teams: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

To meet this goal, SCIA moved to a cloud-based operation using Microsoft 365 and Teams -- a process that took approximately six months -- to give staff the flexibility to work from home or from any of its offices, while still maintaining communication with clients.

According to Lucas, these new systems have been put to the test, particularly in the last two months, since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus and social distancing regulations came into force.

She highlighted how the move to cloud has enabled SCIA to easily introduce a telehealth platform, which was previously in pilot stage, as well as allow members to participate in therapy groups while in isolation, and allow staff to stay connected.

"We've basically been able to transition all of our operations online. We couldn't have done that or be fully operational … if we didn't have the technology that we have now, we wouldn't be operational basically," Lucas said.

In addition, it's also meant that SCIA is able to use SharePoint to share files, collaborate on documents at the same time, and work through those documents while conferencing on Teams in real time.

"We're able to upgrade and update documents, and send them through and they're all filed and stored in the one place, so we've got version controls. We use to have to do it via emails. We use to have different versions of documents. Our records document management was quite poor, so it's made a huge difference particularly over this period … it probably seems quite a simple thing for most organisations, but for us, we didn't have a good system," Lucas said.

The other benefit is that SCIA has solid business continuity and disaster recovery process, another thing that was lacking, according to Lucas.

"I was very concerned with our technology platforms that we had would not survive in the case of a major incident," she said.

Despite the implementation, SCIA's digital transformation is not entirely complete, with Lucas conceding that there are still a few challenges to overcome, including the need to upskill staff and clients.  

"We're still on that journey. Obviously, with what's happening now everyone has got a lot more savvy a lot quicker … but after [COVID] we're going to have to do some things to support our clients and get them a little more savvy in terms of technology, and see what we can do support them and upgrade their equipment and technology," she said.

SCIA is also in the process of implementing a new business enterprise system that will be based on Wiise. 

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