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How the City of Kelowna future-proofed their communications

Kelowna, BC transformed their communications model during the pandemic with Microsoft Operator Connect and revolutionized the way staff connect with each other – and the public.

Nestled along the shores of Okanagan Lake in the heart of the province’s renowned wine region, Kelowna is a city synonymous with natural beauty, outdoor adventure and recently, technological innovation. The southern British Columbia community turned their COVID-19 communications challenges into an opportunity for transformation and deployed Operator Connect for Microsoft Teams.

Like most in the country, Kelowna municipal staff were forced home with little notice at the start of the pandemic. Unfortunately, that also meant leaving behind their often-used desk phones. The City is home to just under 150,000 residents and growing. The bustling City Hall and nearby government offices handle thousands of calls on everything from waste collection to transit to business licenses.

Launching a new solution within a municipality can be tricky. Afterall, most work from slim budgets with a focus on citizen engagement over profit. Yet the pandemic forced the City to reconsider their strategy and embrace digital transformation. “We had to send up to 300 people home over night and keep them there for over two years,” explains Jazz Pabla, Director of Information Services for the City. “Staff went home but their phones couldn’t go with them.”

“We had to send up to 300 people home over night and keep them there for over two years. Staff went home but their phones couldn’t go with them.”

Jazz Pabla, Director of Information Services, Kelowna

Because of the organization’s infrastructure, staff had to rely on their city-issued mobile devices or even personal home phones to conduct business. Without a cloud-based system to work from, Pabla had to consider a new option that was flexible, user friendly and cost effective, along with offering easy collaboration since employees would now be scattered across the city. “Teams was a no-brainer,” he says, having already implemented the technology in several previous workplaces. In addition to the Teams platform, the City also opted to include Operator Connect. First offered in Canada by Rogers Business, Operator Connect for Microsoft Teams combines collaboration capabilities with global voice calling. Instead of multiple tools, physical infrastructure and high capex, city staff admins could now implement a quick, cost-effective solution all within the Teams admin center. Pabla, who was born and raised in Kelowna, is focused on innovation for both staff and the citizens who rely on their services. “It’s about modernizing both experiences.”

Even before the pandemic, municipalities and businesses were exploring ways to modernize their approach to communications. “It’s not that we want to eliminate face-to-face interactions,” explains Pabla. “But we need to evolve. People don’t necessarily want to only speak in person during set hours.”

“It’s not that we want to eliminate face-to-face interactions. But we need to evolve. People don’t necessarily want to only speak in person during set hours.”

Globally, there are about 80 million active Teams Phone users including 90% of Fortune 500 companies. Still, Pabla acknowledges that moving away from traditional phones is a difficult transition for some, simply because it’s a change. “This is not a technical problem, it’s an exercise in change management.”

Despite any concerns, the rollout was smooth – and fast. “The system was completely launched to the whole organization in three weeks,” says Pabla. Data also showed City staff spent 1.2 million minutes in calls over Teams in the first 45 days, before external calling even began, which is about 67 minutes per day for every staff member. “We learned that people really wanted to interact with each other. They just never had an easy way.”

“No matter what, work from home is here to stay. So flexible communication is key.”

As the pandemic began to recede in the region, staff began returning to the office with a hybrid model. “No matter what, work from home is here to stay,” explains Pabla. “So flexible communication is key.”

Though the decision to implement a new IT system is a significant one, Pabla has nothing but positive feedback for the process and platform. “The one thing I always stress in IT is that it’s cool to bring in new systems and tools, but it has to be a technology that supports how people want to work. It has to make things better.”

Rogers Business is the first Canadian service provider of Operator Connect and Operator Connect Mobile in Canada. The City of Kelowna was one of the early adopters of Operator Connect within Canada’s public sector. To get started, visit our website and connect with one of our specialists. For more ideas on enabling a successful hybrid work model, visit our Hybrid Work centre.