“At Ajuntament de Lleida, we think differently. We embrace new technology. And when we see that it could add real value to the work we do, we find a way to make it happen.”
Carles GinéSabaté, Systems Implementation Planning Manager at Ajuntament de Lleida, is reflecting on his organization’s open-armed approach to digital transformation and how it has benefited his team and the citizen’s they provide services to during what has been a turbulent year for everyone.
“During the national lockdown, our entire workforce was forced to work remotely,” says Giné. “This disruption made us see that we must make management of services easier and more accessible to everybody. We realized that we must look for technological solutions that are easy to implement and maintain.”
Having already begun moving some of the organizations’ workloads to the Azure Cloud, Ajuntament de Lleida had been working towards implementing Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop to facilitate remote working before the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020.
“The work we had done already and the emphasis we had placed on being a cloud-first organization, meant that we were able to roll out Windows Virtual Desktop for 650 users in a single weekend,” says Giné.
“It allowed us to continue to operate without disruption.”
Change is initiated
Headquartered in the province of Lleida, Catalonia, Ajuntament de Lleida employs 1,600 civil servants who provide vital services to the town’s 140,000 citizens.
The council has been operating since 1264, delivering its services to citizens, face-to-face, for the vast majority of that time – in keeping with other councils and public services. “The public administration in our country is still using inefficient operations and procedures,” explains Laura Sunyol Bert, Digital Organization and Policy Coordinator (Chief of IT). “For a long time, every worker had one table, one chair, a telephone and a lot of paper.”
But in a break from tradition, Ajuntament de Lleida has committed to digitally transforming its operations in recent times, becoming the first local government to implement a cloud-based solution.
When the council became aware of developments in Azure technology, specifically Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop, at the Ignite conference in 2019, it began talks with Microsoft to implement the product by February of the next year.
“We were selected to work with Microsoft partner, Seidor, to carry out environment tests before devising a three-year strategy to digitally transform the public administration,” says Giné.
“We’d intended to gradually roll out the new Azure solution because some of our team were apprehensive,” he adds.
“The average age amongst our employees is 47, with many of them over 60. And digital skills haven’t been part of our recruitment criteria until very recently, so not everyone is comfortable adopting new technologies,” says Jordina Freixanet, 2nd Deputy Major at Ajuntament de Lleida.
But when circumstances beyond their control meant there was no option for their employees but to embrace the challenge of adopting new technologies, the forward-thinking of Ajuntament de Lleida meant that the public administration was prepared to tackle one of its biggest challenges to date.
A global crisis demands an accelerated digital solution
“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, the Spanish government ordered its citizens to work remotely. So on Friday 13 March, we shut our doors,” recalls Giné . The IT team had to act quickly to accelerate the execution of the digital strategy they had previously planned, to reduce any disruption to the council’s services.
Having already acquired the licensing for Windows 10 from Microsoft partner, Telefónica, the team began the implementation process, leaning on Microsoft FastTrack for support. By Monday 16 March, the team had configured Windows Virtual Desktop for 650 of its workers.
“It was a bit frantic, but we managed to get it done,” says Giné.
Despite the impressive feat for the council, accomplishing a huge change almost overnight, many of its employees required training in the new technology.
“We addressed this issue by providing online training with specific products such as Microsoft OneDrive and Microsoft Teams,” says Sunyol. “We made a channel and recorded short videos that users could watch at home to learn how to use the new technology.”
It wasn’t long before formerly reluctant civil servants were acknowledging the many benefits that migrating their processes to the cloud platform had brought.
The new technology proves to be valuable
The civil servants at Ajuntament de Lleida have seen immediate benefits of the new technology as increased flexibility has allowed them to work at any time, from anywhere. With Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop, employees can now run a web browser from their private computer so they’re able to access all the applications and resources from the internal network.
“The digital transformation has helped out employees develop professionally,” says Freixanet. “It’s encouraged collaboration and greater coordination and leadership.”
As the team have been able to continue working virtually, the undisrupted, streamlined processes have improved the services they provide to the many citizens of Lleida. “We have been able to respond quickly to the needs of our users by increasing digital resources during our busiest hours,” says Giné.
The council’s daily operations were also vastly improved as a result of the digitization project, from a reduction in travel to the ability to digitally sign invoices. “The application of technology within the public administration has allowed us to automate processes, make everything more traceable and transparent and with AI and data management, we can now anticipate future problems,” says Sunyol.
This new technology has helped Ajuntament de Lleida to save on costs as they’ve seen a reduction in paper and printer usage too and the local council buildings are occupied less. In fact, closing the doors to its buildings led to a new milestone for the local government: the council hosted its first remote telematic plenary session using Microsoft Teams.
“The municipal plenary sessions have a legal requirement whereby they must be accessible to the public,” says Giné. “We carried out sessions in 100% telematics mode with some of the councillors connecting to Microsoft Teams via video cameras that were in the plenary hall. As we’d activated Microsoft Authenticator, we were able to use forms as a tool to carry out voting electronically.”
Moving forward to transform the public sector
The success of Ajuntament de Lleida’s adoption of new technology this year has not gone unnoticed. “Since we carried out the implementation of Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop,” says Giné, “we have had calls from different public bodies asking about our experience with this technology and how we managed to deploy it so quickly and with such success.
“So, I really hope that our work can inspire other organizations in the public sector to embrace digital technology and the more efficient, flexible working practices it creates,” he adds.
Several digitization projects within other sectors of the organization have emerged since the beginning of the national lockdown. Ajuntament de Lleida has created a roadmap to unite the different departments, placing technology at the center of the process, as it begins to coordinate further digitization and continues to improve its services.
“What we’ve seen over the past year is an unprecedented, disruptive change in the administration of this organization,” says Giné. “We have continually seen how more and more tasks can be automated using data and AI and how this can benefit us. It is an almost total reinvention of ourselves as an organization from an operational point of view.
“But it is a necessary change in a world where people don’t just want – but expect – to receive instant services.”