by George Nott

Bully building body replacement’s tech transformation trips before bouncing back

Jul 07, 2016
Cloud ComputingCollaboration SoftwareGovernment

The demise of the Queensland Building Services Authority (QBSA) wasn’t pretty, but neither was the organisation.

‘Intimidation and harassment’ had become part of the culture, according to the 2012 parliamentary inquiry that resulted in the regulator’s dissolution. The committee heading the inquiry received submissions from both homeowners and builders about QBSA’s ‘bias, rudeness, bad behaviour and incompetent decisions’.

One certifier said the body’s ‘victimisation’ of his colleagues had led to ‘nervous breakdowns, financial hardship, marital problems, and death from strokes and heart attacks’.

The QBSA was replaced by the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) in 2013. With a new board, constitution, commissioner and executive leadership team it would clean up its act and focus on its customers. Doing so required a complete renovation of its technology platform to meet the surge in demand for digital services. But before the digital transformation succeeded, it failed.


The atmosphere in QBCC’s Brisbane office was ‘bleak’ says Bruce McGregor, executive director, customer service.

McGregor had recently relocated from Sydney to take the role. His wife would soon join him along with their children who were packing up the last of their possessions ready for the big move. She rang.

“As I’m on the phone I saw this [writing] on a whiteboard. And it says: ‘You can train a person to do a job but you cannot train a person to be pleasant and easy to get on with’. Then someone has come along with a red marker and put ‘WHATEVER’.

“I’m on the phone and I’ve gone: ‘I’m not sure if this is a good decision’.”

The so-called Service Transformation program began by setting up a leadership team consisting of McGregor, the CIO and an enterprise PMO manager, each reporting directly to the commissioner.

By early 2015, the business case and funding for a digital renovation and extension program known as SF15 (Salesforce 2015) had been approved.

“We went straight to a tech focus,” says McGregor. “We basically got existing processes and put them on a brand new system.”

Off the cliff

McGregor admits that he was blinded by the “razzle and dazzle” of the new platform and was eager to “put in the new flash bells and whistles, because it’s just cool”.

Before work began in earnest, the QBCC’s commissioner called in an external auditor for a ‘health check’. The scope, funding and resourcing were insufficient, said the auditors, and would fail to deliver the desired organisational change, the data migration or the successful switch from redundant legacy systems.

“In the space of three weeks we knew we were on the rails,” McGregor says. “We knew we were on a train driving straight off the cliff.

“We thought we were great. And the reality was actually there were areas, in fact just about all areas, that we could deliver a better service experience.”

The project leaders stopped work, suspended suppliers and went back to the drawing board, and the board, telling them: “We have to pause. We’re going to spend just too much money and do it the wrong way.”

The pause lasted for three months. In June the QBCC appointed a new CIO, Ben Ward, and the failed SF15 was revised and renamed – SD15 (Service Delivery 2015).

Agile PMO

The QBCC went about reassessing what they were trying to deliver and set up an ‘enterprise project management office’ which Ward says: “has been staffed with ‘overachievers.’ Because it is important, we recruited the very best talent available.”

The customer journey was redesigned and a new goal for QBCC’s services was determined: ‘three steps to anywhere’. Mapped out in Post-its and pictures on a wall of the office (which became known as the ‘Customer Corridor’) it formed the basis of the new digital platform design.

The project management office (PMO) adopted Agile ways of working while Ward “kick-started a strategic shift to a bimodal IT model”. SD15 teams were collocated, agile application Jira was deployed, and leaders worked hard to promote collaboration and make project activities transparent to staff.

“You can’t have isolation between functional teams,” says Ward. “We need testing and operations involved right at the start. We need daily team stand-ups and weekly meetings across all the teams to cross-pollinate and solve problems early. Delaying getting people involved early increases the size and impact of problems.”

Ward and the PMO also set up regular, mandatory vendor meetings.

“Which must be attended by a senior account representative who has the authority and is empowered to answer questions and own actions,” he explained. “Problems that need escalation can be aired in the joint vendor forum, and solutions devised, agreed and acted on more quickly.”

McGregor also ‘reset the message’ of transformation to the wary staff. He admits the organisation is still “dealing with that brand damage” caused by canning SF15. Key to convincing staff of the benefits has been in the results.

Appetite for speed

“When you go through a parliamentary inquiry it’s not a great thing as a staff member who has been there and put blood, sweat and tears into your organisation,” says McGregor. “That’s a really demoralising thing. They were devastated. We had to give [them] a new sense of identity and purpose and vision.”

In October 2015, the first phase of SD15 was released as planned. Within a month there was a 38 per cent customer swing to online and mobile channels. Today, data collected from customers is twice as accurate. Dispute case times have nearly halved.

“So we get what we need and we give them a better experience,” says McGregor. “And as a result of getting the right data up front we start to hone in on the problem much earlier.

“Staff, some of them have been there for 20, 30 years. Over two thirds are going – ‘this new thing called Salesforce is really cool and we love it’.”