Coal Services: keeping workers safe down under

Andrew Woods
|Oct 3|magazine19 min read

THE challenge of transforming a business is no easy feat. When that push for change requires a shift to a more agile customer focused model, as well as harnessing and renewing technology platforms to not only future proof the business but create a best practice environment, that task can become even more complex.

Coal Services is an Australian industry-owned Specialised Health and Safety Scheme which delivers a suite of services in relation to the NSW coal mining industry including workers compensation insurance, health surveillance, occupational hygiene monitoring, and training and rescue.  Owned by industry for industry, through the NSW Minerals Council and the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU), it has been protecting workers in one form or another for more than 90 years.

The company has statutory functions that are critical to the health and safety of the industry, which presents its own set of challenges in that the status quo must be maintained at the same time as the organisation builds a new way forward.

Gillian Kidson is Head of IT at Coal Services and it is her job to oversee the transformation of the company from a technological point of view, to work with leading edge vendors and create a best practice environment for IT infrastructure.

“I needed to gain an intimate knowledge of the company strategy and build a roadmap that allowed IT to help enable the key infrastructure required to realise our strategy. There was an appetite for significant efficiencies to be made using new technologies and improved data management; it was a case of building the right IT structure, architecture and infrastructure,” she reveals.

The biggest challenge for Kidson and her team was working through the company’s legacy systems, which represent nearly 100 years of activity with each part of the business also having different requirements and applications, many of which weren’t being utilised.

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We'd been running our health systems across six different applications so we started down the pathway of consolidating that into one place for us to manage someone's health

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 “Not only was it a bit of a clean-up, but we also looked at how we could utilise these tools across multiple businesses; not just one,” she comments.  

“We are upgrading the legacy infrastructure to a level where it will able to provide significant performance improvements in meeting the needs of the new systems that are coming in. We integrated current technologies, including:  AWS, Azure and Office 365 to ensure we have best practice systems in place to allow us to build for the future and enhance performance.

In order to implement changes to legacy systems, particularly within the insurance arm of its operations, Coal Services has, for example, partnered with Finity to develop a tool that blends an individual’s entire claims history together so case managers and injury management advisors will have a holistic view of the person (rather than a single claim or injury view) to enable a more person-centric approach to injury management and improved experience for the worker.

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At a larger level, and because it operates across multiple touch points with its customers, Coal Services has amassed a large store of data surrounding workplaces, mine companies and workers.

 “An important part of the architectural design has been geared towards how we share the data that can be shared and lock down the data that can't. So, we're just working through that architecture at the moment with a view to implementing some master data sets across the business and a middleware application to enable us to transfer and share that core data,” Kidson explains.

The goal is to provide systems that will give ease of access for our employees to provide better levels of service to customers. But at the same time, these new systems must provide useful information to help us glean specific insights and improved knowledge to enable better solutions. This will enable the organisation to be more customer centred and in doing so, will allow for an increase in customer efficiencies.”

With large data assets comes the need to protect personal information and comply with privacy policies too. To ensure these requirements are met, Coal Services has engaged  InfoTrust as its security partner, who are working with Kidson at each stage of these projects to ensure that they apply the best and most trusted form of security they can.

So, how does the system function when facing the client?

“We have five different businesses that will interact with the coal miner for various reasons. From a health perspective it can be anything from a pre-work placement medical required under the statutory responsibilities of Coal Services, to annual medicals for mines rescue brigadesmen. On the other side, you've got injury claims and management processes as part of the workers’ compensation component of the scheme. In addition, every NSW coal miner will likely come through our doors for some sort of training, and we also maintain their qualification records,” she said.

“The interactions are as varied as the data sets, so we are working towards giving people access to see what training they've had and when they did it. They will be able to see how many medicals they’ve had and keep tabs on their claims. They should be able to go in through a portal and see all their information. The immediate goal is to give that capability back to the miner so they have some visibility of their own information; it means they can access personal data, see their qualifications, and check their medical information.”

The coal industry is undergoing dramatic change and, as a result, capabilities at Coal Services need to be nimble and agile enough to respond to the evolving industry landscape.

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  •  “While improving internal system performance and data collection capabilities are important, it’s of greater significance that we can understand the data and work with industry to recognise emerging issues. Changes in technology can have a direct impact on that and can aid in the development of solutions. Mine workers are often transient and the industry employs a good deal of contractors, which requires us to respond quickly to provide the best possible services to customers. It’s give and take on any day of the week and adaptability is key.”

    Kidson has fostered a number of long term strategic partnerships as a way to not only help deliver on requirements, but to also help improve performance as the organisation develops its own capabilities.

     “Virtual IT has been on board since the beginning providing assistance with architectural and network design as well as business intelligence tools. Having them on board has been a learning curve for us all and has provided us with some insights into what we've got and how best to reuse what we can.”

    One of the first areas Kidson looked at was occupational health who had been running their business across six different applications. The idea is to consolidate as much of that as possible into one application. “We've consolidated the first two applications with the help of Appian, who provide a platform Workflow Tool. We've consolidated bookings and health assessments and that's due to go live in November.”

    With data comes responsibility and security and Coal Services looked to Trusted Habitat when it came to data governance. “We need to be very clear over data flow and ownership. Trusted Habitat has been working with us to help put some of the rules in place and to look at how we manage that flow,” Kidson explains.

    Coal Services’ employees also need to make sure that data is available and can be where it needs to be at the right time. As a result, and to ensure best practice, the company has gone for a new high-speed network, supplied by Telstra.

    Meanwhile, NTT is working with Coal Services on disaster recovery and business continuity planning for the infrastructure and server environment. “We're currently working our way through what that's going to look like, with a view to implementing a ‘disaster avoidance’ environment and not the standard ‘disaster recovery’.

    “The strategy in place at the moment, has probably got another two to three years to run. We're obviously adding to that all the time and it’s constantly under review. It’s an ever-evolving piece of work. If we can get to the point where we're delivering that well, then we’ll start to see a bit more of the AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology being introduced. First, we will have somebody logging into a portal, then we would like to see that portal being more intuitive and intelligent and delivering content to the customer or client based on their actions.”

    What these long term strategic partnerships do is allow us to improve performance and implement best practice solutions across the business lifting both our internal and external customer experiences. The changes to our IT infrastructure will provide tremendous benefits towards improving our stakeholder service provision in a significantly more effective and efficient manner.

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