License article

Flow of technology crucial for water utility

YARRA Valley Water will migrate its 700-strong workforce into open-plan offices over the next two years as part of efforts to align a contemporary organisational culture with workspace and technology.

To enable the strategy it is taking technology steps only a handful of Australian organisations have taken.

Its four buildings are being fitted with ubiquitous WiFi and most employees will be provided with mobile devices (Windows notebooks for general staff) instead of traditional desktops. A Canon-based swipe-to-print system has also been deployed so employees can pick up printed documents securely at any location on the campus.

"We have been allowing BYO mobile devices so we have somewhere around 200 mobile devices on our wireless network, which is available across the campus," said Yarra Valley Water chief information officer, Leigh Berrell. "The WiFi network is actually three networks - a guest network, a locked-down network for laptops, and a staff-only limited-access network for BYOD mobile devices using domain password credentials."

The BYOD network allows access to email, Microsoft Lync and SharePoint, as well as to the internet. The company does not use cloud-based services at this stage, with the location of all infrastructure and apps split between Fujitsu's data centre in Melbourne and a local computer room on the campus.

Around 100 call-centre staff have received HP Thin Client terminals that provide desktop and applications via a Citrix client virtualisation solution to help with resource allocation during peak times and enabling a new level of mobility among teams.


The utility started 12 years ago to change its organisational culture to a more collaborative structure that empowers employees to make decisions and streamlines communication. As a result, in principle executives do not receive any special treatment; parking spaces are no longer reserved, although some executives and board members have been issued with iPads.

"We are also experimenting with using some of Apple's consumer products to improve the utility of the workplace," Mr Berrell said.

"We are using Apple TV devices to allow staff to walk into a conference room and wirelessly project laptop screens [or iPads] onto projectors or LCD TVs in the rooms. We have also wall-mounted iPads at the entrance to conference rooms, providing interactive calendars allowing people to book in and out of meeting rooms at will.

''The other advantage is that if someone doesn't confirm a meeting within 10 minutes of its planned start time, the iPad cancels that meeting and makes the room available.

"That facility will allow us to achieve much greater utilisation of our meeting rooms, which is important because we will be going through refurbishment of all our buildings over the next two years as we change all our work spaces to this open plan, activity-based working strategy.''

The new workspace strategy came from growth in Yarra Valley Water's customer base generated by Melbourne's population expansion and the recent construction of a new building.

The "20th century-esque" physical workspaces that had seniority-based allocation of offices had also to be altered to adhere to the new company culture; now there are "chill spaces" and modern furniture.

"We needed to expand, and have recently added a three-storey building housing 200 people," Mr Berrell said. "We took this opportunity to investigate an office style that would better fit our culture and the activity-based working. The industrial-chic look was chosen."

Unlike those who pursue the flexible, mobile, open-plan, hot-desk approach to achieve cost savings on real estate expenses, this wasn't the case for Yarra Valley Water.

"We haven't taken it to the extreme of 'come in the morning and claim your desk'. We still assign desks to staff, but what we have done is set up workspaces in such a way that they are open plan and consistent for everyone.''

There is also a move to scan all paper documents into SharePoint in the next two years. "There is a lot of culture change around that. We are working on that," Mr Berrell said.