As a technology leader, I wouldn’t have expected that I would one day be helping to design our new head office. But that’s just one of the ways that the rubber really hits the road when it comes to digital transformation. At First West Credit Union, our journey has taken us from thinking about tools and deployments in the IT department to enabling a diverse and geographically spread-out workforce across the organization. With the world of work changing, we knew we needed a focus on people first, underpinned by a foundation of technology that allows them to be their best.

First West Credit Union came into being though a series of mergers of Credit Unions across British Columbia. Today we’re the fifth largest Credit Union in Canada, with $10 billion in assets, 250,000 members and 1,750 employees at more than 50 locations throughout B.C.

Our unique business model provides the ability for merged Credit Unions to retain their local brand while leveraging the strength of a large shared services organization. Our technology team is one of many shared services teams that are providing services with a workforce distributed across our regions.

As an organization built on trust, transparency, and security of our clients’ information, the shift to cloud-based services and other aspects of digital transformation has raised a lot of questions. But doubts and uncertainties have been far outweighed by the benefits and innovation that can be brought to bear when the right people work with the right technology.

As First West was created through the mergers of multiple Credit Unions, each came with its own technology ecosystem – and the challenges of bringing them all together were huge. There were differences and duplication everywhere, high costs and inconsistent user experiences. We needed a playbook that would deliver the value that a merged entity should provide.

Key to that was what I call the “izes:” Rationalize, Standardize, Harmonize and Digitize.

As one example, we knew the move from on-premise datacentres to the Microsoft Cloud would be a huge money-saver. We are on track for our primary datacentre to be fully decommissioned this fall; our secondary facility will be wound down by the end of next year. I know I’m never going to have to buy another server array again. I’ll never have to worry about upgrading the HVAC system in the datacentre building to keep up with the heat being generated. The all-in cost savings from moving to the Microsoft Cloud are hugely compelling.

But it’s not just about saving money. From my standpoint, it’s about fully recasting the value proposition of IT. It’s not about how well you can procure and deploy technology; it’s about how you use it and connect it to people – and connect people with each other.

Case in point: for years, we’ve been implementing Microsoft technology to help make the workplace experience better for everyone in our organization. From little things like enhancements to the toolbar, to bigger changes like Windows 10 and Microsoft 365, over time technology has been the enabler of better creativity and collaboration for our staff.

Our organization extends from teams in the First West head office in Langley to regional managers and teams in our regional credit union offices across British Columbia. For our teams to be able to communicate effectively from wherever they are working, they needed the right tools. We’ve standardized devices across First West: all desktops come with a camera and speakers, so everyone can join meetings via Skype. We’ve gotten rid of laptops in favour of tablets – the Surface Pro is our device of choice. Most meeting rooms have Skype for Business built right in or Surface Hubs. For me, the biggest compliment is when people tell me the technology is invisible – they don’t even really notice it. We recently had a meeting of 30-40 people in locations across Canada, and it was seamless.

But it goes further than that. Along with the standardization we’ve introduced in conjunction with the move to the cloud, Microsoft’s workplace analytics enable our employees to understand how much time they are spending in meetings and identify areas of opportunity to create efficiencies. When we look at this data at an aggregated level, we can pinpoint collaboration between teams within our organization. HR tells me that this type of visibility was simply impossible before we implemented this technology.

Which leads back to the design of our new head office. Knowing that one group collaborates more often with another group informs which groups should be located where in the new building, so that we can maximize efficiency through the idea of adjacency. It’s a great opportunity to infuse technology from the outset. Too often, technology has been an afterthought in office design and effective working.

We’re piloting new ‘work modes’ now for work at home, work at home and in office, and in office – along with a fully mobile option. Microsoft tools, platforms and devices are key to bringing these strategies into practice.

All of this is really bearing fruit in terms of the reaction among our teams. We recently had a summit of our sales leaders across all regions. They were discussing the digital transformation going on in the company and the associated change management efforts. Their feedback: we need to move faster!

“I wish we had this capability months ago,” people l say. And I’ll be honest, it makes me proud every time I’m able to respond with “yeah, we can do this now!”

We have seen a huge change in the way we collaborate and communicate. We’ve had big wins with Skype, Yammer, One Note, One Drive, Windows 10 and Surface devices from tablets to room systems. Given our geographic diversity, the ability to work and lead across distance is critical – and we have taken a large step forward.

The use of the digital capabilities that Microsoft provides is leading us to a post-digital transformation scenario now. We’re transforming how individuals and teams work together. And at the end of the digital chain, that human component is ultimately what really matters.