Originally designed to improve connections at pop-up locations, WISE Employment's rollout of an all-wireless solution turned out to be perfect preparation for dealing with a global crisis.
Running an employment service is all about building connections between job seekers, support services and employers. Above all, it's about connecting people most in need with a sense of hope and opportunity. But during the pandemic, that ability to build and support connections has been heavily tested.
Accessing digital channels isn't easy for some people looking for employment. It's even harder when a pandemic prevents them from accessing their local job support centre for face-to-face help, making isolation a far greater stress on lives and their ability to find new work. During times of enforced isolation, the need for quality support from a service provider is more important than ever.
Empowering people to enrich the community
WISE Employment is an Australian not-for-profit employment service provider that helps more than 12,000 people each year on the path to self-sufficiency through meaningful work.
Its mission to connect and empower job seekers and employers is based on a belief that communities benefit when everyone is supported to achieve their potential.
WISE Employment now manages more than 160 locations across the country, including three social enterprises, and is one of Australia's leading Disability Employment Services providers.
Six years ago, the organisation made a technology decision that paid its greatest dividends during the coronavirus crisis.
"Traditionally, we've been very much focused upon face-to-face contact with our customers," says Mick Havill, Chief Information Officer at WISE Employment. "There wasn't a great appetite for digital connection as the face to face relationship is so important to our customers. Now that has all changed: we're having to find new ways and means of actually having that connection with the customer remotely."
Staying open for business during the shutdown
While WISE has had to close many of its offices during the pandemic, its ability to continue supporting clients has been greatly enhanced by a decision in 2014 to "Cut the Copper" and adopt wireless communications. A mobile work solution was initially rolled out to field staff who were given laptops with built-in SIMs, so they could access office files and tools while consulting with customers on the move.
"Everybody has got their own Ultrabooks – ones you can put a SIM in now – so we are connected wherever we are," Havill says. "It's the same experience whether you're sat at your desk in your office, or whether you're out at a café, or at a client's premises, or at home. It gives us a lot of flexibility."
WISE Employment implemented a Telstra Enterprise Wireless solution, providing fully-featured office communications and networking services - internet, Wi-Fi, print networks, security and unified communications - through Cradlepoint suite of Enterprise Grade routers, and the use of Netcloud Manager.
This whole approach has saved us many times. We've had offices flooded, and our team has just picked up the kit, moved out and opened either in a cafe or in a loaned room somewhere and been able to carry on working. Our business-continuity planning has become a breeze in that sense.
Mick Havill, Chief Information Officer at WISE Employment
The organisation also added Telstra Liberate, a unified communications solution that delivers an office-like experience on mobile devices.
"Liberate is a great product, a world-leading product. That unification of mobile and landline allowing us to keep our corporate identity, but still allowing our staff to have a mobile number that they're known as amongst friends. Being able to move them within our organisation linking a landline to their mobile as they move into new roles is a great advantage. Otherwise, managing those assets can be a nightmare."
Unified communications keep people connected
Through the combination of Enterprise Wireless and Liberate, staff are assigned business phone lines that are routed to where they are needed, whether on a PC soft phone or to their mobile phone. Customers can still call the same business phone numbers they always have and reach the right people at WISE Employment, even when the organisation's entire workforce has had to work at home.
"We didn't do it with COVID in mind. Far from it. We did it for good business reasons – availability, cost and flexibility – and it's paid off as well" says Havill. "It just keeps giving us benefits. We can move in and set up an office in a couple of hours. You wouldn't be able to do that with traditional wired technology."
During the early days of the pandemic WISE Employment realised it was not enough to put signs in windows telling people to call another number. So, it proactively sent SMS updates to more than 26,000 clients about its office closures, and reassured customers they could still call for support.
The contact centre was quickly re-configured to run on a distributed network, taking advantage of the Enterprise Wireless and Telstra IP Telephony solutions to route calls across multiple locations.
Havill and his team have worked hard to ensure the technology does more than support individuals to do their work – also keeping teams and their contacts as connected and collaborative as possible.
Like many organisations, WISE Employment has found staff becoming increasingly comfortable using video calls to stay connected. These virtual meetings have been further enhanced with Miro digital whiteboards in the cloud, which help staff work together in real time in similar ways they would have when together in the office.
True to its mission of connecting and empowering people, WISE Employment is very committed to overcoming the digital divide for customers who can't afford reliable internet connections where they live.
The organisation has continued to share internet connectivity for customers in some locations using Cradlepoint network routers that create local wireless networks. They can be used in permanent offices but are also particularly flexible in pop-up locations for fast, shared connectivity with minimal set up effort.
"In our head office, we've got three devices serving 80 people," says Havill.
The very fact we're able to put that in and give a great service to both staff and customers at a very low cost makes life a lot easier for everyone. I'm now itching to get 5G on and see what it does for our speed. We have very few places where we can't work with it.
Mick Havill, Chief Information Officer at WISE Employment
The shift to virtual call centres and remote connection can also help WISE Employment deliver more services – and more often – to better serve people who need support, adds Havill.
Making set up of new locations easier
Havill reassures anyone exploring an all-wireless solution that a test location can be set up in a matter of hours to provide proof of concept. He says WISE Employment began by disconnecting a single office from its LAN to ensure all systems worked before extending the rollout to other locations. The employees at the test location quickly reported they were very happy with the switch and didn't want to go back to the old way.
Havill says the financial argument for making the switch to wireless was a clear win, particularly when compared with all the costs of setting up and running fixed line services in any office.
The cost of wired connections is something any organisation should be looking at, he explains: "There's all this lost expense around fixed lines when you move in and move out. Wireless means you won't have to flood wire your office and when you move out you won't have to pay while you restore the office back to original state."
"The first thing is to make sure you've got a Telstra network," he concludes. "It's a lot easier than you think, and the benefits just keep flowing. We never expected this was a preparation for COVID, but it absolutely was. The performance, the speed, the availability, the financials... everything just stacks up in its favour. I don't understand why more people don't do it."