The McKenzie Aged Care Group is one of Australia’s leading privately-owned aged care and retirement providers, operating 17 nursing homes in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, and employing over 2200 staff.
Aged care is a face-to-face business. It’s also a 24×7 one: the uptime of applications, systems, and platforms used to securely deliver and support a consistent quality of care to residents is paramount.
One of the highest priorities in aged care is making sure that everyone is contactable all of the time, which requires highly available and fault tolerant communications infrastructure. Lives may be on the line if a problem arises that cannot be quickly communicated, triaged and addressed.
The viability of the business model for aged care delivery also depends heavily on occupancy rates. If the occupancy rate falls below a certain threshold, the economics of the business model quickly become challenged. Staff across facilities must regularly collaborate and communicate to ensure occupancy levels remain strong.
McKenzie Aged Care connected all its homes, its support office, residents and staff to a state-of-the-art Cisco telephony system for voice calling in 2019. It then decided to build upon that investment by layering a cloud-based videoconferencing capability on top that would be available to all staff.
The aged care operator had an existing video conferencing setup that was restricted in use to a limited number of meeting rooms. If the meeting rooms were fully booked, a conference bridge could not be used.
Even if meeting rooms were available, the number of participants per conference bridge was limited. This meant staff – particularly those working on large projects – had to resort to other methods such as email to enable cross-functional and group-wide coordination and collaboration.
“We would have physical face-to-face team meetings, and then the projects would be managed via emails, which we all know is ineffective,” Group PMO Manager Sandy Foote said. “The volume of emails was significant. You’d lose entire threads in people’s inboxes; the history of changes, updates and progress was hard to track.”
Outside of cross-functional project teams, another common need to coordinate staff was for incident response. If the ICT service desk team couldn’t resolve an issue on its own, it would typically call in resources from across the broader ICT team to try to come up with a resolution. With access to video conferencing services limited, a “ringaround” or telephone conference was often used to connect all the different parties.
While already convinced of the need to transform its existing video conferencing capability and make it more accessible, the Covid-19 pandemic then arrived, and instantly changed operating models in the aged care sector.
It immediately caused workforce problems: McKenzie Aged Care traditionally relied on staff, particularly in shared corporate service functions like human resources, finance, ICT and procurement, being able to move between facilities and sites. Visits may be required by HR or workplace health and safety personnel as part of an incident investigation, or by finance staff to drill into the numbers with managers.
“When Covid came along, that workforce mobility stopped,” GM Information and Communications Technology Peter Corrigan said.
McKenzie Aged Care needed a way to enable about 120 mostly support staff to work remotely and continue to serve multiple facilities that they could not visit in person due to pandemic-related restrictions. It also required secure tooling that made it easier to adapt to new and evolving requirements, such as being able to handle crisis calls, liaise with government health officials, and determine official Covid-safe procedures for its homes.
To find the best path forward, McKenzie Aged Care engaged Peak Insight for assistance. The award-winning Cisco Collaboration, Contact Centre and Connectivity provider was a “known quantity” to McKenzie, having previously handled its group-wide telephony upgrade.
“We were very impressed with Peak Insight’s professionalism, skills, and also with the dynamic that they brought to engagements. We also had confidence in their ability to deliver professional-grade solutions, so we felt we could work with Peak Insight again on this video conferencing transformation,” Corrigan said.
McKenzie Aged Care trialled several enterprise and consumer-grade video conferencing platforms, before ultimately selecting Webex by Cisco as its preferred solution. The operator liked that Webex featured health-grade security, and could be seamlessly layered over the existing group-wide telephony system.
“We were looking for a video conferencing platform that was stable, reliable, secure, and something that we could leverage with our existing investment in our telephony platform. That platform was Webex by Cisco. It’s really extended our telephony system to become a true unified communications platform,” Corrigan said.
Selecting Cisco also meant having a single vendor that could supply all its meeting room devices, calling and cloud-based meetings capabilities: “an enterprise-grade vendor that could be relied on for a 24×7 critical aged care environment.”
With Webex by Cisco now in place, critical communications capabilities are greatly enhanced. “One of the highest priorities in aged care is that people are contactable, for families, residents and support staff. The Webex messaging, calling and meetings platform was able to deliver that for McKenzie Aged Care,” Corrigan said.
Webex by Cisco also enabled McKenzie Aged Care to seamlessly enable around 120 staff to work flexibly from home, the office or wherever they happened to be. They can now initiate or join video meetings with colleagues from any corporate-issued device.
Foote credits Webex by Cisco for enabling smarter project management and for helping keep projects on track during a difficult operating period. “During the pandemic, our portfolio of projects could have come to a grinding halt. Using Webex by Cisco enabled us to forge on. It enabled us to communicate across the business quickly and to make better decisions together as a team,” she said.
“We use the Webex App for messaging and collaboration, particularly on projects. We can better manage go-live dates, checkpoint meetings to tick off project tasks, communication and coordination, which keeps everyone informed even if they are ‘on the go’, which is fantastic. It’s a great place to keep everything and everyone together.”
New Webex Spaces can be quickly spun up to meet the collaboration needs of an internal group of users. Dedicated Spaces are also set up for regular requirements such as incident response or issue escalations. “When a service is not available to support the business, we can all quickly get into the escalations space, sync up and focus our attention on addressing those issues,” Corrigan said.
A number of other benefits have also since emerged.
With staff unable to travel, McKenzie Aged Care’s travel spend significantly decreased in FY19 to FY21 and is trending even lower today. Broad availability and use of Webex means the aged care operator has the potential for its travel costs to remain low on an ongoing basis.
The past two years have proven that business transformation and project management can be successfully executed with all staff working remotely. Productivity in general is higher – another reason not to return to pre-pandemic patterns of travel.
The company now also has a standard way to interview and onboard new staff virtually. Staff turnover in aged care is “significant”, and operators generally expend substantial effort on recruitment. “We never used to be able to conduct external video conferencing interviews with candidates using our old system, whereas now we’re able to conduct interviews by sending a Webex link to anyone. That’s increased our ability to have face-to-face interviews and potentially make recruitment processes much more efficient,” Foote said.
To add to this, McKenzie Aged Care also uses Webex to record short instructional videos that are added to its e-learning system whenever new capabilities, systems or tools are brought online and are ready for staff to use. “Whenever we make system changes – and most recently we upgraded to a new version of SharePoint for our intranet – we make bite-sized learning videos and upload them to our e-learning system. We’re doing those ourselves now using Webex, which we never used to be able to do so easily,” Foote added.