Covid-19 had ravaged its way around the world. The New Zealand government had to react, establishing ongoing business support programmes to protect the economy as the pandemic’s ramifications constantly evolved, in New Zealand and internationally.

Through NZ Trade and Enterprise and Callaghan Innovation, a business support contract was awarded to the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce (The Chamber), which had provided similar business support for the 2010 and 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake and the terrorist attacks in 2019.

It wasn’t easy, Wendy Clarke, The Chamber Finance Manager, remembers. Initially, the country was in lockdown. Her team was working from home which limited sharing. Hundreds of urgent calls were coming in, initially across Canterbury and then the South Island.

Questions covered many topics and changed as the pandemic evolved ­– wage subsidies, accessing the Ministry of Social Development or IRD, business loans, pandemic levels and what they meant, access to Auckland when it was locked down, creating QR codes . . .

Everything was on a spreadsheet with multiple people accessing it to extract information. Eventually, the spreadsheet on SharePoint was no longer viable. They needed a longer-term solution, something quick, cost-effective, low internal maintenance. But what?

Fast-forward through a difficult year. It’s now 2021. The country is still experiencing alert level changes. We’ve caught up with Wendy and the team to understand how they overcame the problem as Covid-19 continues to impact businesses.

Having survived lockdown and the slow climb down alert levels, Wendy knew Covid-19 issues would not be leaving anytime soon and she needed a solution to get the Chamber through August and beyond. Wendy went to her network: What did they think was an optimum solution?

The Chamber compared numerous options – from remaining on Microsoft Excel on SharePoint to a Microsoft Access database requiring bespoke development and contract resources, along with numerous off the shelf CRM systems.

Enter Simon Lind.

“I knew Simon from a previous role and trusted him,” says Wendy.

First, he listened to the issues, understood them and proposed a solution. He and a reputable team had considerable problem-solving expertise in such areas and they had just formed a company called Prolorus.

He could see The Chamber needed a customised system that was simple to use and allowed them to easily record every interaction with every business so they could demonstrate where and how they were supporting businesses. Simon also knew a complicated system would bury their team in internal training and support requirements, a time impediment The Chamber didn’t need.

When evaluated against the other options, there was only one clear path forward.

In three to four weeks, a simple to use, fit-for-purpose, specific-to-requirements solution was established, incorporating all the information previously on the spreadsheet, and providing The Chamber with the reporting and analytic capability to report back to the Government and to gather insights to inform the delivery on the ground. The system was affectionately known as COLIN – the Covid On-Line Information Network.

The solution was also flexible, which allowed the team to make adjustments as they grew accustomed to the system, and reduced markedly the time spent manipulating data for reports.

Russell Cull, one of the end users providing advice to the businesses in need, recalls: “It works extremely well. It needed to be simple and quick. We couldn’t have it like a slow and frustrating call-centre where people were calling in and waiting in queue for a long time. A lot depends on issues of the day. People are stressed and need the information quickly.”

Once information and contact details were entered into the system, inquirers were usually contacted within half an hour, some within five minutes.

Accountability to NZTE and ultimately the Government was an important aspect given the Helpline activity was funded through Central Government.

“Government departments want to see a co-relation between what they’re funding and the outcomes,” says Wendy. That allowed insights to inform further Covid-19 response work.

Bridget Frame who was project and government reporting lead said: “It met all the requirements ­– speed of set-up, ease of use, flexibility, ability to add or change things, it was fluid.”

Simon worked with Bridget and the team to make sure the Prolorus system gave them what they needed. He also came into the office to help people use it but, she says, she could not recall anyone taking that up, which was great. It showed how easy it was to use. It also worked to the satisfaction of the government agencies.

“We give them anonymised and aggregated data once a month,” says Bridget. NZTE and the Government were pleased with the level of reporting The Chamber provided.

Adds Russell: “It provides the Government with a lot of information they can use to base decisions on. Summary reports with statistics, what sectors inquiries were coming from, what buckets did they fit into . . . a lot of information they wouldn’t otherwise get. I don’t see why the system we’ve got here couldn’t work just as well elsewhere.”

Says Wendy. “We were impressed how quickly it was up and running.”

How easy was it to work with Prolorus?

“I enjoy working with Simon,” says Wendy. “He’s completely up front. I trust him. He quickly understood the issues. He’s very sharp. He listens to what you’re saying and understands what you need as opposed to just selling you something. If something’s not going to work, he’ll tell you that. I trust his judgement. I’d work with him again.”

And the price?

“I was pretty happy with the price, with the support that was included, how quickly it was delivered, and how customised it was.”

Simon Lind was also happy with the project and the result.

“We knew we could do this. With our platform, you can have a bespoke system that’s not overly-expensive, that works well, is reliable, robust and your users are happy with it.”