“The city is really in love with the Microsoft technology stack – they’ve been running on Microsoft for years. Our deep Microsoft expertise enables us support them in any domain or facet that they need,” notes Gravity Union founder Michael Schweitzer. “Everything ranging from Office 365 and SharePoint to Power Apps and Power BI… whatever technologies they want to explore, we’re ready to lend a hand.”
Over the years, White Rock and Gravity Union have completed numerous projects together, but recently they have collaborated on three critical engagements: moving to the cloud with SharePoint Online, streamlining employee training with the Microsoft Power Platform, and increasing operational transparency for citizens with Microsoft Power BI.
Embracing the cloud with SharePoint Online
The City of White Rock had used SharePoint 2013 on-premises for its collaboration and employee portals for years. As the cloud became more prevalent, the city wondered if migrating to the cloud and using SharePoint Online, for example, would be right for them.
White Rock worked closely with Gravity Union to assess their options. After determining that migrating to the cloud would decrease their IT maintenance costs and improve ease of use, they were convinced – the city officially engaged Gravity Union to move the city’s portals, as well as other pieces of its IT infrastructure, to SharePoint Online and Microsoft Azure.
Security was, and remains, a top priority for the city and Gravity Union. Early on, government agencies in Canada had been hesitant about moving infrastructure and services to the cloud, but since Microsoft has set up data centers in Canada and Canadian municipalities have received the legal go-ahead to use the cloud, more and more governmental bodies have chosen to make the move.
Gravity Union and White Rock started this migration by bolstering security for the city’s new cloud infrastructure. One of the first things they did was implement Azure Active Directory for employee authentication and authorization. This made it easier for the city’s IT team to manage employee access to city data and for employees to sign in remotely without sacrificing security. Gone are the days of slow VPNs with multiple passwords – now, city employees can securely access their apps from anywhere with single sign-on, conditional access, and multi-factor authentication. Gravity Union also helped the city use Azure Information Protection to identify and protect its confidential data, preventing its dissemination – accidental or otherwise.
When asked if Microsoft security was an important factor in the city’s decision to move to Microsoft Azure, Schweitzer said, “Our clients really appreciate the fact that security is a top priority for Microsoft, but they don’t make it hard on users. Their single sign-on approach is not a barrier to adoption – once I’m logged in, I have access to all of my files and apps in the cloud and I can utilize the full power of Office 365. This is the type of secure, seamless experience our clients have come to expect from us and Microsoft.”
Now, with the city’s digital infrastructure sitting securely in the cloud, Gravity Union and White Rock returned to their whiteboard with a renewed sense of possibility. They both knew that with the power of the cloud behind them, there were virtually no limits on what they could build for White Rock citizens and employees next.
Streamlining employee training with the Microsoft Power Platform
One of the first challenges that White Rock decided to tackle with their new cloud infrastructure was revamping their employee training management. In its current state, the process was cumbersome, time-consuming, inefficient, and prone to errors and inaccuracies. More specifically, the whole process was done manually with hundreds of emails and minimal tracking. If city employees wanted to sign up for a course, they had to email someone who could enroll them, leaving one person in charge of all course registration – a problem if that person ever went on vacation or took a new job. This complex process sometimes led to mix-ups where too few or too many employees would show up for training.
The city and Gravity Union knew there had to be a better way to facilitate employee trainings. Then, the idea struck – what if we gave employees the power to enroll themselves in classes and make any changes they desire? This would give city employees more control over their own trainings and alleviate the management burden on administrators.
Gravity Union and White Rock utilized Microsoft Power Apps and Power Automate to revamp the workflow. With these tools, included in the city’s move to SharePoint Online, people who aren’t developers can build web and mobile applications without writing code. In no time, Gravity Union and White Rock had designed a functional architecture and successfully built a Power App to meet their needs.
Diagram of the City of White Rock training application architecture (photo courtesy of Gravity Union)
Currently, the city is running a pilot phase with the first iteration of the app. Gravity Union recommended a pilot to test the app’s functionality and to make sure all the automated flows make sense when put into practice. It was also important to give the White Rock HR team time to get comfortable using SharePoint Online to manage training courses and to gather initial feedback from end-users.
Screenshots from the City of White Rock training application (photos courtesy of Gravity Union)
Once the pilot is complete, Gravity Union and White Rock will review the feedback they’ve collected, update the app and workflow as necessary, and hopefully proceed to a broader rollout, empowering all city employees to take control of their own trainings and career development.