At the end of the
day it was going to
happen. But we
sold it on the basis
work practices and
did not deliver it
as an ultimatum.
an emergency, firefighters have to act
fast. For that to happen, the people
behind the scenes have to send
personnel where they’re needed at a
moment’s notice. The New South
Wales Fire Brigade in New South
Wales, Australia—the oldest and largest
brigade in the country—had no way to
Its arcane paper-based systems
reflected the brigade’s age a little too
well. So the squad launched a project
to introduce a new high-tech system
for tracking the 3,500 firefighters who
serve the state’s 6 million residents.
The project was a long time coming,
says Sean Nairn, program manager, IT
department, New South Wales Fire
“The idea had been floating
around for about eight years, and we
had a couple of attempts at trying to
get it done, but the technology wasn’t
there and the team wasn’t in place,”
Mr. Nairn decided the time was
right—but first he was going to have to
convince the rest of the brigade.
view of that—the information was
trapped in an office.”
Zone managers were frequently left
without any real-time information,
such as the number of firefighters on
duty at any given moment. The system
also made it virtually impossible to
locate firefighters with specialized skills
to assist in the event of major incidents.
“A few years ago, we had someone
die in an auto accident, and it took
hours to see who was on duty at that
station,” he says.
Payroll was suffering as well. It could
take six to eight weeks to get information
about an employee’s overtime, personal
automobile use expenses or absences.
It was time for an overhaul, but it
would come with a hefty price tag—one
far larger than anticipated.
“We didn’t have a clear understanding
of the award agreement between the
brigade and the union,” Mr. Nairn
says. “And as we did the analysis, it
became more complex, and we realized
the project would take longer and be
Still, buy-in from senior stakeholders
enabled the AU$974,000 project to
move forward even as the budget
increased quickly in the early stages.
“The CIO was adamant about getting rid of the paper timesheets, as was
the head of human resources,” Mr.
It wasn’t hard to see why.
There were approximately 20 offices
around the state being manned by a single
person responsible for ensuring there
were enough firefighters at each station.
People were feeling overworked and
were ready for a change.
Well, at least some of them were.
For the New South Wales Fire Brigade,
it all came down to the boards.
“There were magnetic boards on the
walls in zone offices around the state,
and duty commanders would move
firefighters’ names around to show
what station they were working in,”
Mr. Nairn explains. “The main problem was that there was no centralized
In an organization with as much history
as the New South Wales Fire Brigade,
the new kid on the block isn’t always
embraced with open arms. And that
was definitely the case with the new system to automate manual disposition,