Transforming local government

How a NSW Council is leading the way in Australian digital transformation by focusing on the people, not tech



The Digital Transformation project at a glance

Port Macquarie-Hastings Council (PMHC) implemented Windows 10 and Microsoft Office for their 600 + employees across multiple locations, including an upgrade of the computing environment and commenced rolling out new devices such as mobile tablets.


digital transformation

They partnered with Brisbane based award-winning Global Microsoft Partner, Adopt & Embrace. For over a year in 2017-18, they worked together to unlock value internally and for their community. They also transitioned to Skype for Business from a traditional telephone to headsets and implemented OneNote. Adopt & Embrace spent time designing the implementation, delivering training, group coaching and one-on-one sessions to help people learn to work innovatively and apply new ways to work better.


  • 1 year, 2-month project
  • 600+ employees impacted
  • Local Government
  • Multiple locations and field/mobile requirements
  • Windows 10 and Microsoft Office Upgrade
  • iPads + Mobile devices
  • Skype for Business
  • OneNote
  • People first and opt-in adoption of new technology
  • Group, Online and one-on-one training
  • Collaborative long-term partnership approach with council and Microsoft Partner



How focusing on empathy transformed our success

Adam Holthouse, Group Manager Digital Technology for PMHC lead the initiative for the council.

He shared, “I had only just come to Port Macquarie-Hastings from another council. When I arrived, this need to upgrade was already here.”

“My own computer couldn’t keep up with the demand I was putting on it, and the productivity at Council needed to improve. The initiative had been around for a couple years and for various reasons not been fully implemented.”

“We were sitting on Windows XP and Office 2007, like a lot of organisations still are. The amount of time to transition and train everyone was something that kept us there.”

“We already had Microsoft products, and had access to these tools but just weren’t using them. To offer the flexibility we desired, we needed to move to cloud-based solutions. There is an alignment with what the tools can provide and where we need to go as a council.”

“In the past, IT would say here is your computer or your upgraded software and go figure it out. I knew I couldn’t do that and we were going from a long-term stable environment to a huge jump for everyone in the technology.” Adam said.

“That’s why we brought in A&E to get people to engage with it – the technology. We did things differently when we partnered with Paul and his team. This was about adoption and people understanding the benefits they get out of it rather than just knowing the tools.”



Support culture shift changes

The Group Manager for Digital Technology used to be the old ICT role but has had a name change as well to reflect how the focus on digital impacts across the whole council. The council values digital so much they wanted the position Adam’s in to reflect their desire to shift to a new way of working and support a culture shift change of being about people, not technology.

Adam initiated asking the council staff what do you need to do in your job and how do you want it to look like? Not everyone at the council has remote devices, but that is where they are heading to. The council is implementing productivity tools such as OneNote and Skype for Business to get more productive.

“From an IT side, there is a beginning and an end. Actually here, the benefits are just starting and it is about embedding this shift for people. What it looks like, is the ability for me as an employee to use the tool in a way it works for me. There is no training on how you must use it. We’ve asked people how they work, and this is how the tools can help you work. This allows people to keep challenging themselves. We educate and learn with our employees using content uploaded to Microsoft Stream. Our people can keep learning, and there is ongoing embedding and continued working together with Adopt & Embrace.”



Care about the people

“We’ve tried to build more empathy,” he said. “This initiative focused on people, and making sure they can get out and serve the community and each other more effectively, rather than focusing on the tech.”

“People are willing to give that little bit extra if you care about people. It’s been a big mindset change.”

The focus on empathy and being customer-centred is something driven by the council’s mission statement – bringing council closer to the community, and they really mean it as proven by a recent award the 2017 AR Bluett Memorial Award for being the most progressive council in the state of New South Wales.

The culture journey, including the values and behaviours built to support the mission, has been led by Adam’s General Manager, Craig Swift-McNair.

“He’s a big driver and leader of the cultural shift,” Adam said.

An example of making empathy real is how they sourced the technology strategy from their people.



Focus on the way they like to work

Adam said, “We did some workshops on personas of the type of work they are doing, what they (the employees) have, what they need (what type of technology solutions) and how can we build more empathy for them in their work.”

Adam explains at the council, the growing empathy culture is “the way we like to work.”

“Putting customers at the centre. Let’s actually do it, rather than just delivery. Let’s do the hard work in understanding how people work first” he said.

It has been a great way of working and the outcomes are supported by the organisation as well as evidenced by a recent employee engagement survey.

General Manager, Craig Swift-McNair told us that ‘If we get engagement with our people right, then a lot of other things naturally fall into place.’



Values, behaviours and culture

“One of my key messages to our entire team is that our organisational values influence our behaviours and our behaviours create the culture of the organisation. We are heavily focused on ensuring we have an open, honest and transparent culture that sees us continually challenging the way we do things. This is why undertaking digital transformation is so important for us i.e. we now have a much better platform from which to transform the way we work.”

“Working with Paul and Adopt & Embrace has been a real shared culture and mindset. Their staff come in and they feel like part of the team.”

“We’ve used a few different approaches with A&E, including workshops, group sessions, informal training, and one on one. Their staff walk around and talk to people. There are always people who will respond and need a variety of ways to learn and we want to support that,” Adam said.



How to implement technology change in your organisation


Adam’s top six tips for a successful adoption

Tip 1: Focus less on the technology and focus more on the people.

Tip 2: Integrate tools to how people work. Go back into the organisation and find out how people are working and how they want to be working.

Tip 3: Design the technology for the people and develop the culture shift.

Tip 4: Employees and teams have the flexibility and freedom to use the tools in a way it works for them, there is no training on how you must use it.

Tip 5: Create local team champions for the software employees use, not IT people, but people good at their job who a person can turn to ask for help on understanding how to do a task better.

Tip 6: Give new employees an on-boarding process in tech with a handbook including a run through of the solutions as well as online resources.



From Paper to Paperless: How a Senior Manager Made the Shift Using OneNote

“I walked into Maria’s office and I felt consumed in paper,” said Adopt & Embrace lead adoption consultant Jenni McNamara.

It was a beautiful Monday morning in May that I arrived in the coastal town of Port Macquarie for the first time.

Port Macquarie is a town at the mouth of the Hastings River in New South Wales, Australia. It’s known for its beaches, wildlife and penal colony past. St. Thomas’ Anglican Church was built by convicts in the 19th century. A coastal walk from the town centre to the 19th-century Tacking Point Lighthouse offers views of the water, to whales and dolphins.

Adopt & Embrace (A&E) was hired to help walk Port Macquarie-Hastings Council (PMHC) through a digital transformation, council wide for their 600 + employees, with about 350 who work in the field in libraries, entertainment venues, airport and services such as water and sewer – everything that keeps a town going.

Jenni had flown the hour plus commute direct from Brisbane to Port Macquarie and arrived to the modern Council Chambers to meet the team.

“I was excited to do what I do. I had done this many times before, and you never know what challenges the client may face. The team were extremely welcoming and organised so I knew it was going to be a great collaborative effort.”

In one of the last one-on-one consults we were doing for PMHC, and the context of this session was to give an overview of how to use OneNote.

As the Group General Manager for Environmental Services at the council, Maria Doherty knew paper was something she had to get under control.

At times in her career, in other organisations, Maria had up to five people in her team supporting her.

Now she is doing it on her own and was struggling to keep on top of things.  A common problem, as organisations downsize and do more with less, employees and leaders are required to change how they work, but often not given the tools to do so.

They started by sitting down and chatting about Maria’s work, how she worked and how she wanted to work.

She felt she was a naturally organised person and preferred an ordered life. Maria was feeling overwhelmed with the amount of paper she was generating to keep in order in her busy job.

She liked to take notes on the go, so having OneNote on her mobile device enabled her to keep track of things even when she was away from the office.  There were folders all over the desk, keeping track of printed materials such as emails and documents.  There was a huge task list on the back wall, helping keep ahead of the events coming up.

Maria is a prolific writer, PowerPoint user and mind mapper, so OneNote really had all the tools where she could keep track of things.

“Maria had tried to implement OneNote on her own. She had created “to do” lists, and just hadn’t yet worked out how to streamline and integrate everything together” Jenni said.

“I focused on showing Maria how to find tags, utilise the search capabilities and integrate Outlook for meetings and tasks.”

“When she learned this, her excitement went to a new level” Jenni said.

“This is life changing,” Maria told Jenni after they had implemented the new work solutions, effectively eliminating all the paper.

“Maria loved the one-on-one” Jenni said, “She wanted to keep me forever so I could keep showing her more efficient ways of doing things.”

“This is why I do what I do,” Jenni said. “To see someone so engaged, excited about changing the way they work and know my job is more than a job, it creates real impact in someone’s everyday life.” “The people I work with see the benefits immediately. The big hug she gave me at the end was all I needed.”

From a change perspective Jenni explained that Maria advocating the change in work processes and sharing the benefits of OneNote to others in the Council, meant other people opted in, or requested their own one-on-one.

“We didn’t force the change. It happened naturally.” Jenni said.

“Technology is always changing and businesses are always wanting to improve,” explained Paul Woods, Adopt & Embrace founder.

“Working together long term means that more relevant advice and expertise can be applied. I created A&E with a team first and collaborative partner approach. The reality is, focusing on the people and how they work first, and the tech second creates a fundamental shift in adoption of new technology” Paul added.

Maria can’t wait for PMHC to get onto OneDrive so she can have access to her notebooks on her mobile devices and have the ability to share notebooks. She will now be printing all that paper to her OneNote and with a few Outlook tips and tricks, her mailbox will get a big overhaul.


Implementing technology change in your organisation? Here are Jenni’s top six tips for a successful adoption.


Technology change is happening faster than most organisations and people can keep up with. While some pockets of an organisation thrive in this type of rapid change environment, others need guidance and a helping hand.

“In the past IT teams just “pushed” out the change and expected people to pick it up, you can’t do that anymore and expect things to go smoothly. Now we realised technology is the easy part, it’s the people that matter in a successful tech change” Jenni McNamara, Adopt & Embrace consultant.


Tip 1: Provide easy to understand, relevant, tips and tricks to make their day to day working easier.

Tip 2: Clarity around why the change is necessary, and why it is a phased approach works well – explain the impacts on other technologies so everyone understands the approach.

Tip 3: People are different and need different approaches to change. Provide a blended approach to adoption of new technology so there is something for everyone.

Tip 4: Provide 1 to 1 follow up coaching post-training to check understanding and comprehension. This means sitting down with people individually, not in an all staff meeting or even team meeting.

Tip 5: Set up a sharing schedule where one member of a team “shares” one item that they know about the new piece of technology. This needs to be team based rather than run by the local IT. Our colleagues are often our best teachers and trainers.

Tip 6: It isn’t about showing people everything they can do with technology, instead focus on the things that matter. Regularly ask the person you are working with, what is relevant to your role?


For more information on how Adopt & Embrace can help you with technology change, we’d love to hear from you! Email us at or learn more about how we can help you on our website