By on July 8, 2016
Filed under Microsoft CityNext
Always connected, even at the beach
It’s a sunny Monday morning in the northwest Netherlands, and the surf is cresting high on the beach. Karst Ketelaar, Project Manager for the Municipality of Hollands Kroon, is out in the water, waiting patiently for the perfect wave to make his final ride of the morning. When it arrives, he mounts his surfboard and masterfully navigates a beautiful breaker in to shore. Packing up his gear, he hops in his car, pulls out his mobile phone, and checks his work email to decide whether he should go into the office today or work from home.
“Having this kind of mobile access is great,” says Ketelaar. “With Microsoft cloud solutions, I can check my email from anywhere, anytime—with our old system, I was tied to my desk in the office. Looks like I need to meet with some colleagues today, so I’ll go home, get changed, and head in to work.”
A new city and a New World of Work
Hollands Kroon is located in a large farming region in northern Netherlands, and its scenery is a snapshot of iconic Dutch images. “We’re very proud of our city and our territory,” says Arthur Cremers, Director for the Municipality of Hollands Kroon. “You could say that it’s very typically Dutch—a lot of flowers, windmills, dikes, and a beautiful coastland. The city was formed in 2012 by the merger of four smaller cities that comprise a total of 22 different villages.”
The merger that formed Hollands Kroon was part of a trend in the Netherlands for cities to band together to improve municipal efficiencies and citizen services through the economies of scale—and deeper pool of talented workers—that are available to a larger entity. Dutch city governments and businesses have also been embracing another philosophy known as the New World of Work—based on a 2005 white paper by Bill Gates—that empowers employees with the flexibility to choose how, where, and when they work. As a result, worker happiness and productivity can go hand in hand with streamlined processes and cost savings. While many Dutch cities, including Zeist, Alphen aan de Rijn, and Molenwaard, have implemented the ideas of the New World of Work, Hollands Kroon has taken it to a new level, embracing a more radical digital transformation.
This transformation and streamlining started with municipal codes: Hollands Kroon examined the entirety of its city-level legislation and eliminated 70 percent of existing laws that were deemed inessential. It then embarked on a significant reimagining of its overall IT strategy. “We like to call Hollands Kroon ‘the world’s first 100 percent cloud municipality,’” explains Dave Kiwi, Chief Operating Officer and Public Sector Lead at Sparked, a Microsoft CityNext Partner and 2015 Microsoft Innovator of the Year. “We took on the task of helping them find the smartest way to get there. Our philosophy is to determine our clients’ goals, develop a strategy for getting there, and then determine the best technology to make it happen.”
Adds Michiel Koster, Organizational Advisor for Hollands Kroon, “Sparked was a vital partner as we made this big technology transformation. They took the time to thoroughly understand our vision, and they helped us shape it. Then they worked with us to pick the right tools and stood with us every step of the way to deploy them and help our employees learn how to use them. All of our upfront planning with Sparked was key to making this project a success, and we’re still working together to plan new projects for the future.”
Building teams and choosing technology
The municipal transformation plan that Hollands Kroon developed was broken down into three main parts. The first was a workplace transformation based on a radical shift in organizational structure; the second was to take the self-managed municipal IT datacenter model and move it to the cloud; and the third was to find new and better ways to gain insights from the city’s digital data.
One of the key decisions that Hollands Kroon administrators made as part of the workplace transformation was to empower employees by eliminating standard job hierarchies and reporting structures, freeing up more of the workers’ time and energy to help them better serve citizens. All employees are now organized into self-governing teams based around shared specialties—for example, one group is all people who work on tax issues, while another covers youth and elderly social programs—and the emphasis is on outcomes, rather than micromanaging processes. “Each group hires its own new colleagues, and they are allowed to work in whatever way they believe will achieve the best results,” says Cremers. “Every employee has an education budget for training and development, and their own IT budget to buy whatever sort of laptop or tablet they want. What I think is really beautiful is how eager everyone is to make this transformation to the new working paradigm. They are running faster than I can predict or direct, so my role becomes doing whatever I can to support all these exceptional, talented, motivated people, and that’s a great position to be in.”
All of these significant organizational changes needed the support of a strong and secure IT infrastructure, and that was where the second phase of the transformation came in. In line with the New World of Work philosophy, the city chose to build that infrastructure in the Microsoft cloud, with the help of its partners at Sparked. As part of its 100 percent cloud transformation, the city uses a variety of Microsoft cloud and productivity services, including the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. “Our employees take advantage of mobile apps to work from anywhere, and we use Microsoft collaboration tools to streamline workflows and manage documents here in the office,” says Cremers. “The tools make it easy for teams to work together and to collaborate with colleagues on other teams, and the fact that so much is done digitally makes the office virtually paperless. We are more efficient—with fewer meetings but more collaboration—and our rates of sickness and absence are extremely low. Our IT team is freed up from day-to-day systems management so they can spend more time focusing on projects that serve our citizens.”
When it came to security, Hollands Kroon and Sparked looked carefully at the solutions to ensure that sensitive citizen and municipal data would be protected. “We looked at multiple cloud scenarios and did a security analysis and even went to visit the Microsoft datacenter, which happens to be built here in Hollands Kroon,” explains Kiwi. “We also did a legal assessment to make sure that a move to the cloud would comply with all relevant laws. What we found is that by adopting solutions like Microsoft Azure, Microsoft Office 365, and the Enterprise Mobility Suite, we were getting a built-in level of security that would take a significant effort to replicate if we had to do it by ourselves.”
For employees, the big changes in IT and organizational structure have resulted in big changes in the workplace environment. Instead of having assigned desks, employees who come to the office—rather than working at home—are able to pick where they would like to sit each day. “You just choose an environment that suits you—some days I really want to focus, so I’ll take a place by myself in a corner,” says Ketelaar. “Other days, like today, I’ll join a group of colleagues and it’s more dynamic. I could work side-by-side with a colleague, or in an entrepreneur’s office, at a citizen’s kitchen table, or even a coffee shop or bar. And if I really want quiet and privacy, I’ll just stay home. It’s wonderful to have so many options!”
Even though Hollands Kroon is making great use of technology now, the city still has exciting plans for future new projects in line with the third phase of its overall transformation plan. This final phase utilizes big data techniques and tools like Azure Machine Learning and Power BI for advanced analytics. “Now that we have moved all of our information into the digital realm, we have tremendous opportunities to make better use of it,” says Cremers. “With Microsoft solutions, we can extract actionable information out of our data that just was not possible before. We’ve come a long way already, but there are still many great adventures ahead to make our city even smarter and make our citizen services even better.”
Making an impact on citizens and businesses
Using cloud technology makes it possible for citizens to engage more fully with municipal government, and it makes interactions much more transparent. One example is the Fixi mobile app that was developed for the city by its technology partner Decos. With the app, citizens can use their mobile phones to take a picture of a problem they see in a public space—such as graffiti on a wall or a broken gate in a park—and submit it to the city. The issue is routed to the proper department for handling, and the citizen can track the progress of the issue online from submission all the way through completion. Moving to the digital realm also makes many of the city’s internal processes more efficient—in some cases, commercial zoning permits that used to take 12 months to complete are now handled in just 4 months.
Citizens also benefit from a closer relationship with civil servants. “Having a mobile workforce makes it possible for Hollands Kroon to deliver services in ways that are more personal and convenient, and that is having a big impact on citizen satisfaction,” says Cremers. “For example, people used to have to visit City Hall to pick up passports and other documents, but now city employees deliver them directly to people’s homes. When Hollands Kroon surveyed users of that service, their satisfaction is 34 percent greater now.”
Citizens aren’t the only ones who are noticing the many improvements that have come to Hollands Kroon since its transformation—businesses are noticing as well. A number of new companies in a variety of industries have settled in the area, attracted by Hollands Kroon’s efficient new infrastructure, the Microsoft datacenter, and the pioneering spirit of the city’s innovative harbor district. The municipality works hard to make it straightforward for businesses to get established in Hollands Kroon, and city workers’ mobility makes it easy for them to go work on-location with businesses and help them move through the process.
The New World of Work leads to new ways to live
The transformation that has taken place in Hollands Kroon is not just about workplace structures or IT tools or service delivery—it really is an all-encompassing vision of what it means to be a citizen of the city. In the same way that Hollands Kroon has shown trust in its employees by letting them govern their own work groups and processes, the city is also putting its trust in its citizens.
“The whole idea of deregulation and eliminating 70 percent of the city codes was to make Hollands Kroon a freer and happier place to live,” says Koster. “We want our citizens to be self-directed and self-supporting and have the ability to shape the city into the place they want it to be. As an example, in the past, if a neighborhood wanted a new playground, there was a complicated process of permits and approvals, and the city would eventually build the playground for them. Now, the citizens just need to notify the city of their plans and they can build the playground themselves, just the way they want it to be.”
Koster continues, “We trust citizens to do the right thing and we partner with them to shape their own destinies. We are here to help with costs and materials and even IT support on some projects, because the work they do improves our neighborhoods and our whole community—and we want them to succeed!” Adds Ketelaar, “We’re not here for ourselves, we’re here for the citizens. We’re here for the businesses, and we’re here for a better world.”
This sentiment is echoed to the highest levels of municipal government. “We are well aware that society is changing, so we are focused on strengthening the accountability and self-reliance of both our employees and our citizens,” says Jaap Nawijn, Mayor of Hollands Kroon. “We take care of building the infrastructure and expanding the digital services, and we let the people decide for themselves how they want to use them.”
A glass of beer and the day’s final check-in
Karst Ketelaar has wrapped up his work at the office and is back home for the evening. After dinner and a stroll in the garden, he is relaxing in the living room with a movie and his tablet. Sipping a cold beer, he takes the opportunity to contact friends and read the latest citizen reactions to a recent project. “We’re a harbor city, and we got a lot of feedback from citizens that we could do more to develop an area on the south side where youth often swim or gather to sit by the water,” explains Ketelaar. “We held a lot of meetings with the public, and because of our new tools, we could bring dynamic presentations to share our ideas and collect community feedback. In the end, we created a new beach at that spot—I did the planning and then turned the project over to a colleague who was more experienced with the construction side of things. I really feel like Microsoft cloud solutions make it easy for us to work how we want, when we want, and where we want, and to collaborate with both colleagues and the public. Hollands Kroon is now a smarter and more innovative city and a perfect example of the New World of Work.”