With the Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ) moving into ‘peacetime’ mode and redirecting energy to other strategic projects, CTO (director ICT) Gavin Fernandes is getting set to leave the intensely “rewarding and daunting” contract position he held for the past 18 months.
Fernandes, who has 15 years’ management experience in ICT, helped modernise ECQ’s IT infrastructure and support programs.
With the commission now in peacetime, he said the QLD government department will concentrate on the “strategic journey forward,” focusing on Queensland Redistribution (remapping the state boundaries across the state) and replacing an election management system.
According to Dermot Tiernan, the current CIO of the ECQ, the commission is an innovative organisation and getting ready for the next big task.
“Our people support technological improvements to all facets of our business, this is an essential trait as we are about to undertake the most comprehensive redistribution process for over two decades, and have just completed the largest and most complex electoral event ever conducted in Queensland. Currently, we are running two by-elections and planning the next State General Election, which could happen at any time.”
Reflecting on Fernandes’ time as the CTO, and the enormity of the tasks he undertook, Fernandes said the post was one of the most rewarding of his career. He achieved significant results over the past 18 months. In particular, he helped drive the technology strategy that ensured two QLD elections ran smoothly.
“We led the journey, in some ways, for technology. We put about 11,000 IT devices, whether they be tablets or laptops, throughout Queensland for the last election, which is logistically something that hasn’t been done before,” Fernandes said.
“The year before for the state election we put about 1,000 devices out there as a test of the water – and this time, we handled everything without any paper rolls. We did it completely using technology; some of it was older technology, some of it was newer.
“The laptops were brand new – we purchased 6,000 in a very short period of time,” he said, explaining it was an eye opener learning about the machinations of getting technology right across Queensland, particularly to the most remote and difficult places.
He loved the fact the commission was eager to embrace technology.
“They identified that they needed to do something. And to have the opportunity to design a group and a team and the technology from ground up is daunting, but also such a rewarding thing that I’m grateful to have been involved with.”
Technology, particularly video conferencing and learning management systems, has certainly enabled the agency to reach people over very large distances and reduce the number of people required to manage elections. The agency employed 9000 staff during the QLD election last January, down from 10,000 during the election prior.
“It [technology] makes people – who are extremely remote and beyond our grasp – feel that they are still part of a team,” he said.
Still, Fernandes believes people are suspicious of technology and think it’s going to take their jobs away.
“Information is power and they are very resistant to change, and having the ability to take people who are the epitome of that and being able to turn [their thinking] around and integrate technology into their everyday role is probably what I feel is the major achievement,” he says.
“The relationships have been the making of the whole thing. We have some people who are very set in their ways on how to do things, and being able to collaborate with them and then explore possibilities for technology has meant we have been quite successful in integrating those things in,” he said.
One of these successful projects was rolling out ballot paper printing on-demand, he said.
Asked his next move, Fernandes said it is still undecided, but he’s happy to take a much needed break.
“It is a nice time to actually reflect. It was one of the most hectic roles. You can plan and have a good idea, but this is one of those roles where arbitrary dates are decided for you. And it is such a massive change from being peacetime to suddenly buying a lot of stuff and to moving it around the state and hiring people – and so it is a role that is nice to have a break from afterwards. It has been great, but it is a very full-on, daunting task.”
A move into project management either in Queensland or NSW is potentially in the cards, he added. “I’m driven by trying to make a difference. I am looking at project management for some bigger projects around Queensland or Sydney, but I haven’t explored that yet.”