How the Country’s Largest Nonprofit Water Coalition Kept Communication Flowing During the Lockdown

Company profile
Company profile:
The Association of California Water Agencies is the largest statewide coalition of public water agencies in the country. The nonprofit’s 450 public agency members collectively are responsible for 90% of the water delivered to cities, farms and businesses in California. ACWA’s mission is to help member agencies promote the development, management and use of good quality water at the lowest practical cost and in an environmentally responsible manner.
Year founded:
1910
EMPLOYEES:
45
HEADQUARTERS:
Sacramento, CA
WEBSITE:

Clean, accessible water is one of society’s most vital resources—whether that society is enjoying prosperous times or locked down due to a viral pandemic.

The Association of California Water Agencies serves as a leading voice advocating for the reliable delivery of safe water to the state’s 40 million residents. The nonprofit organization coordinates the efforts of more than 450 local water agencies to help them provide high-quality water to their communities, adjust to new regulatory requirements, and help shape the state’s water policy.
On any given day, ACWA’s staff might be advising municipal water agencies on how to comply with complex new legislation, fielding questions from journalists about the state’s water supply, and speaking with state or federal lawmakers about water-related policy issues.
Bottom line: ACWA is one of the most important organizations aiding in the delivery of the most vital natural resource for the most populous state in the country. And with that level of responsibility, the organization needed a better phone system.
 

Challenge: How to be the voice of an industry… when your phone system is failing?

Because it serves municipalities all over California and its experts regularly appear in the news media, ACWA gives the appearance of a large organization. In reality, however, its team is small and operates on a nonprofit’s budget. Without the time, IT staff, or budget to overhaul its communications infrastructure, ACWS had little choice but to make do for years with a legacy phone system.
But Christopher Do, ACWA’s Chief Technology Officer, explains that this on-prem system created many challenges in the organization’s daily operations. “Even little things, like recording a new greeting for callers, were so complicated that we’d have to pay consultants to help us set them up,” he says.
Additionally, because the system was on-prem and did not allow for easy forwarding of calls, the ACWA employees who spend much of their time in the field didn’t have a reliable way to stay connected and reachable when they were out of the office.
The organization managed to get by with its outdated communications infrastructure for years. But as the problems with it mounted—and the organization prepared for a move to a new headquarters—ACWA decided it no longer made sense to view its phone service as a glass half-full.

Solution: A work-from-anywhere cloud communications system

When Christopher and his team migrated ACWA’s entire staff to a cloud phone system from RingCentral, the organization’s phone challenges disappeared almost literally overnight. For example, traveling employees could now easily take and make business calls from their smartphones or even their laptops, by using the RingCentral app.
Also, administrative tasks that were complex and time-consuming with the legacy system—such as updating call-routing instructions or recording new voicemail greetings—were now so easy that the organization’s staff could handle them on their own, usually in just minutes.
Perhaps the most significant benefit of their new phone system was its ease of use. “Some of our employees are not comfortable adjusting to new technologies,” Christopher explains. “The fact that RingCentral was so easy to grasp and start using—even for the more tech-averse members of our organization—was very important to us.”

Continuing in its vital role… even during the lockdown

One surprising benefit ACWA gained from its cloud communications solution—which the organization didn’t realize until the emergence of COVID-19—was that it prepared the staff for an easy transition to remote work when the California lockdown orders were issued.
During the quarantines, ACWA began fielding an increasing number of questions and requests for information on water-related issues—from journalists, public water agencies, local leaders, farms and other businesses, and even from policymakers. But even though the agency’s employees had to suddenly shift to working from home, ACWA was able to continue serving its member agencies and the general public without interruption.
“It was great,” says Christopher. “Because everyone had the RingCentral app, they were able to easily connect their work phone numbers to their personal phones and their computers, so they could keep working and helping our members even from home.”
Christopher also points out that ACWA found another way to use RingCentral’s all-in-one communications to improve operations during the lockdown. “My IT staff is using the built-in team messaging,” he says. “We’ve set up group texts for our help desk, so when a ticket comes in from a user, we can have two or three of our IT experts collaborating on the issue in real time.”
Considering that California is the country’s largest agricultural producer, and that a smooth-running food supply takes on additional urgency during a lockdown, ACWA’s ability to continue serving its hundreds of member agencies has been important not only for the water agencies themselves but also in terms of sustaining the food supply of the country and even the world.
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