by Byron Connolly

CIO50 2017 #26-50: Colin Fairweather, City of Melbourne

Nov 21, 2017

Since becoming the City of Melbourne Chief Information Officer in 2011, Colin Fairweather, has helped rebuild the city’s critical IT infrastructure to adapt to emerging technologies and changes in customer demand.

Fairweather says his mission was on shifting focus from maintaining existing technology to investment in the future along with increasing team capabilities and culture.

“All network and server infrastructure was replaced, an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) platform was implemented and management practices and capabilities enhanced. We moved from a ‘reactive’ support culture to the ‘white coated’ discipline of an engineer,” he says.

“Any IT project not connected to the infrastructure re-build was stalled. The frustration and lost opportunity for the organisation from under-performing infrastructure had a profound effect on me and highlighted how easy it is to run-up ‘tech debt’ and how it needs to be repaid.

While the initial period of change was frustrating, Fairweather says he’s taken the lessons learned and applied them to the way he has led the development of the council’s Digital Services Platform (DSP).

Work began in July 2016 on the DSP, an initiative that is seeing the organisation invest in disruptive digital technologies, improve its data capability, adopt ‘design principles’ and rapidly deploy new services for citizens.

The project is a shift away from high cost, manual and often inconvenient channels and delivers intuitive automation with a focus on cut through processing – customer direct to service provider – removing unnecessary double handling touch points.

“A fundamental principal of the project is to link fulfilment activity with customer experience,” says Fairweather.

“As the platform extends and additional services are incrementally added, via rolling six week sprint cycles, additional benefits will be realised through managing all interactions with customers through a single customer relationship management (CRM) system,” he says.

“A key element in the adoption of the CRM is to drive a decrease in the use of existing de-centralised and fragmented customer channels that route customers directly to second and third line staff.”

A single channel will allow the business to more accurately match staff to service, allocate appropriately trained staff to each component of the service and to release specialist staff to work on complex case management functions, says Fairweather.

A council in transition

The City of Melbourne is in transition. The council’s responses to emergent issues of climate change impacts, rapid population growth, pressure on transport systems, disruptive technologies, and increases in demand for services require new thinking and approaches, Fairweather says.

To respond to these challenges, City of Melbourne’s IT groups needed to create a flexible platform that helps them provide new services faster than before when they were hindered by legacy technology.

New services can now be created on a six, 12 or 18-week cycle in contrast to traditional organisation projects, dependent on vendors, that operate on cycles of six, 12, and 18 months.

“The architecture of the platform separates, and gives control of, the three elements that vendors typically use to entrench lock-in within their product: customer interface, business logic and data.

“The technology allows different business innovations, functions and initiatives to be driven and executive priorities to be realised with long technology cycles,” says Fairweather.

Blockchain in the works

This year, Fairweather has also led the development of an experimental blockchain proof of concept that, in partnership with a startup, will help the organisation understand the potential application of the emerging technology in the area of permitting.

Fairweather says that although the concept needs more development to bring to production, early indications are that this technology has the potential to reduce fraud, improve service, empower citizens and reduce processing overheads.

Local government firsts

Fairweather says that although the technology innovations the City of Melbourne is implementing are not unique across other industries, they are certainly a differentiator in the local government space. In particular, the abstraction of software to a service, the focus on integration and data proves demonstrably that it is possible to break the stranglehold that a few large vendors have on the sector.

“As part of establishing the DSP, we see an opportunity to connect with other relevant agencies to ensure a more seamless citizen experience for those services that crosses multiple agencies.

“In addition, we have also designed the DSP to be scalable to the wider local government sector in Australia to produce better community outcomes and to strengthen the sector as a whole,” says Fairweather.

Byron Connolly