A legacy of underinvestment

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Primary ITO was, and still is, incredibly reliant on Trellis, their proprietary industry training register. Leigh-Anne Buxton, Executive GM Business and Quality, says, “The system is vital to us in terms of registering our learners, our connection with TEC (Tertiary Education Commission/Te Amorangi Mātauranga Matua), and our funding. It’s actually the pulse of our organisation.”

However, Trellis’s ageing pulse was failing fast.

The heavily customised student management system (SMS) and training register was built on Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016 (on-premises) and had a heavy integration footprint. Any attempts to modernise it had been deprioritised by previous management teams to keep costs down. The ongoing lack of investment meant the solution had fallen well behind in its ability to add value, to the point that Buxton described Trellis as “ineffective, inefficient, very administratively burdensome, and prone to human error.”

Lana Panchenko​, Applications Development Manager for Primary ITO, says a new round of user licensing was the first real wake-up call. 

“The good deal we had enjoyed with our licences had set unrealistic management expectations around cost. As a result, we faced a significant price increase without getting any more value. We knew that Microsoft’s education pricing model was still the best option for us, given our use of their other products. But moving to an online solution was critical so we could take advantage of the productivity gains and enhanced functionality of a cloud-based solution.”

Lana Panchenko, Applications Development Manager for Primary ITO,

Panchenko said Trellis was so outdated that it had passed the point where it made sense to develop it further. “We were continuously falling behind the rest of the world. But we held back on making improvements and enhancements — otherwise, we’d only have to rewrite the code once we moved online. We wanted to do it once and do it right.”

A proven partner

To modernise Trellis, Primary ITO was keen to engage with a partner experienced in the tertiary sector and the ITO space. This was particularly important given the organisation’s upcoming merger into Te Pūkenga WBL, a subsidiary of Te Pūkenga (the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology).

Based on industry recommendations, Primary ITO selected Fusion5 to migrate Trellis (including the customised SMS) to Dynamics 365 Online. The new Trellis would not only feature Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement but a PowerApps Portal, Power BI, Resco mobile app and Azure integrations.

Fusion5 also took the opportunity to advocate Primary ITO for Microsoft’s FastTrack migration service — to great success.

“Using FastTrack at no additional cost meant we didn’t need to write scripts to migrate our data, and reduced the risk of downtime. It saved us time and money, so we had more budget to focus on solution enhancements.”

Lana Panchenko | Applications Development Manager, Primary ITO

A seamless cutover

The highly collaborative project was run by a unified team, including resources from Primary ITO who assisted with development, testing, change management, training and UAT.

On 12 August 2021, Primary ITO went live with Trellis Online in a seamless transition from old to new, and the solution received positive end-user acclaim.

Panchenko says the cutover to Trellis Online was exceptionally smooth.

“There were few surprises, and those that did pop up were quickly resolved. One of our biggest concerns was that some staff could be reluctant to accept new systems. However, as we had the UAT system available to us for a while, we ran ‘show and tell’ sessions, and invited everyone to have a try so they could get used to the new look and feel. And because Trellis Online is so much simpler to use, user adoption has been excellent.”

Lana Panchenko, Applications Development Manager for Primary ITO

Buxton says that the project allowed the ITO to rethink the old logic designed to support overly complex workflows. And as a result, they’ve saved hours on processing time and reduced the number of people required to complete tasks. 

“Some of the old processes managed large volumes of data in certain areas of the on-prem system, and it just couldn’t cope. It would time out unless they ran the data queries after hours. Doing it online with batching has made a significant difference.”

Leigh-Anne Buxton | Executive GM Business & Quality, Primary ITO

Buxton happily cites other examples where the ITO has made considerable time savings, including generating contracts, programme information sheets and scoping documents directly from Trellis Online. The user only needs to select a prebuilt template and, with the click of a button, can populate it with the correct and latest data. It’s a world away from the previous process, which relied on teams of workers to manually find, extract, and copy and paste data from Trellis to document.

Less manual, more streamlined!

Fusion5 and Primary ITO decided to cut the project into phases to make it more manageable. Buxton says, “Our first major step was moving to the cloud to allow our field team to use their smartphones to access the Trellis portal from anywhere. The new ability to upload or download information on demand has been life-changing for them and has vastly reduced the amount of in-office administration required. Moving to the cloud has not only increased our efficiency and productivity, but has given us a new level of resiliency.”

Problematic processes

Primary ITO’s role is to put training providers together with employers to deliver student training and assessments. However, the legacy system made arduous work of it for everyone.

Primary ITO would export enrolment data from Trellis and send a spreadsheet to the training provider. Then, once the workplace training was complete, the provider returned their assessments to Primary ITO — again, on spreadsheets. The process was time-consuming, generated hundreds of spreadsheets, and demanded manual management and data input. And the ITO had little visibility of the assessment process or progress until the providers submitted the data.

Fusion5 and Primary ITO also created a model-driven app to enable training providers to log directly into Trellis and manage their paperwork processes.

“By giving providers a license to access Trellis Online, it makes it a less expensive exercise. They can log in, see all the information in real-time, and record tracking information - so we can see when the credit is going to come back to us. It’s a great example of how we’ve been able to reduce the volume of manual work and spreadsheets.”

Lana Panchenko, Applications Development Manager for Primary ITO

Supporting growth with one source of truth

Due to the importance of the food and fibre sector and the need for many more employees and training across the $50 billion sector, Primary ITO has been in growth mode. So, connecting their field teams with Trellis Online has been critical. “Our growth strategy over the last few years has been to invest in people and systems,” says Buxton, “and we’ve turned the organisation around from where it was even three years ago. So it’s been a good news story!

“We now have one source of truth with Trellis Online. Whereas before, due to people downloading select information and slicing and dicing it to suit, we had no surety about the accuracy of our reports. Now, our BI reports give us total confidence in the data we provide to TEC.”

The solution’s real-time reporting and streamlined functionality put Primary ITO in a strong position for their upcoming merger into Te Pūkenga WBL at the end of next year.

"When we selected Fusion5, it felt like a true partnership, right from the outset. Whenever there were issues, we’ve collaborated on solving them. Everyone involved in this project has approached it with the same philosophy — it was amazing how well they worked together."

Leigh-Anne Buxton | Executive GM Business & Quality, Primary ITO

Partnership with Fusion5

Buxton joined the ITO’s journey to a new Trellis at the partner selection stage. “We needed to insert new life into Trellis with a partner that we were confident could deliver the project successfully. In addition, they needed to be someone we could work well with, have a proven track record in our industry, and share our philosophy of taking a pragmatic solution-focused approach to achieving the expected outcomes.

“When we selected Fusion5, it felt like a true partnership, right from the outset. Whenever there were issues, we’ve collaborated on solving them. Everyone involved in this project has approached it with the same philosophy — it was amazing how well they worked together. Our team had the organisation’s operational knowledge behind them, and Fusion5’s team brought to the table the innovative design and approach needed to make the solution work. They were also very proactive in driving more value from our licensing, which we greatly appreciated. It has been the best project I've ever worked on."

Leigh-Anne Buxton | Executive GM Business & Quality, Primary ITO

Buxton is delighted with the new Trellis. “To have a system that’s not only dependable, but actually functional and usable, connects to TEC, and leaves behind the myriad faults and issues that we’ve lived with for years, has been life-changing for many of our staff."

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