by Divina Paredes

CIO50 2019 #26-50:Tracy Voice, Ministry for Primary Industries

Mar 28, 2019
Business ContinuityCloud ComputingInnovation

Tracy Voice says the biggest innovation her team delivered over the past year at the Ministry for Primary Industries is embedding the Research, Technology and Innovation Practice.

The practice was established because the ministry’s senior leadership team wanted to disrupt their traditional business models while improving operational efficiency, she says.

Voice and the Business Technology and Information Services (BTIS) team lead the discussion in this arena, with a focus on ‘emerging technologies’ and how these can enable operational efficiencies alongside bringing functional teams together to discuss what is possible.

Some of these technologies, while “already on the horizon” are not yet used commercially, but could disrupt their business model, she explains.

She says the BTIS team seeks ideas from staff across MPI, then bring out concepts for approval by the senior leadership team.

They then investigate if the idea is viable and proceed with a prototype.

Voice says since the practice started, her team has sought 86 ideas from staff, and presented 34 ideas to the senior leadership team. Of these, 22 have been approved for investigation and 14 are being prototyped.

She says these ideas range from machine learning and artificial intelligence, to holographic technologies and robotics.

“There has been a shift in the organisation’s willingness to prototype and a positive improvement in how cross functional teams across MPI work together in this space,” she says on the flow on impact of the practice.

Recently, the practice led to the Border Sector (MPI, Customs, AvSec, Auckland Airport, and Immigration) to trial 3D technology in the baggage scanning at Auckland Airport.

Voice says the trial aims to strengthen the country’s detection of biosecurity risks presented by air passengers as they arrive in New Zealand.

The bags will eventually be scanned prior to their loading onto the baggage carousel to assist and inform the frontline officers while improving the customer experience.

“Eventually we aim to match this information with a digital arrival card,” she says.

Another innovation that was pushed through this model is the development of automated risk algorithms for biosecurity.

“These algorithms will be another tool for our frontline officers,” says Voice.

For this project, Voice worked with the MPI Border Clearance business and also across the sector (Customs, MPI, MBIE, AvSec and Auckland Airport) to help develop four other prototypes.

To complement their new way of working, Voice says the BTIS team has also moved to a product/portfolio model that incorporates a Data and DevOps way of working with the business.

“This change directs the business to think about products and services, rather than IT projects,” she says.

She says this approach led to the development of an integrated solution for responses, mobile solutions for frontline staff, data insight initiatives and the prototyping of google glasses for verification services.

“The real value in Research, Technology and Innovation Practice is in creating an environment that is open to possibilities, and encourages open mind sets and collaboration to create new innovative solutions,” she explains.

She says the biggest cultural barrier to this approach is the lack of willingness to experiment.

“It has taken significant effort for people to understand, and be comfortable with, the opportunities/possibilities that experimentation presents.”

She says the goal of her team is to move away from project delivery to that of product delivery, “a significant change to the previous model”.

“The team now works in tandem with the business to understand pain points and deliver the business outcomes that are required,”she says.

Product managers work alongside business leaders on what products and services they want to invest in, and effectively prototype before building a minimum viable product (MVP).

“BTIS’ aim is to prototype via experimentation then produce a MVP while delivering outcomes,” she says. “The focus is on demonstrating what is possible.”

Recently, BTIS worked alongside MPI quarantine officers to allow them to use mobile devices for core functions in the field.

“We have learned that early collaboration equals earlier adoption,” she says.

Vanguards of change

Voice says one of the most critical traits of a CIO, or any business technology leader in the fast paced digital era, is to “have an open mind”.

“Be willing to evolve, adapt and listen to the next generation of leaders entering the workforce.”

Reverse mentoring is a way of broadening one’s own thinking, she adds.

Voice says she has seen the CIO role change over the years.

“Initially, it was all about infrastructure, desktops, and availability metrics,” she notes.

“Today, it is recognised that an effective CIO works strategically alongside business leaders, challenging them to automate their operating models, and never losing sight of creating a valued customer experience.

“You have got to be leading new ways of doing things,” she stresses.

“Your role is all about transformation, being ahead, and thinking of the impossible. A core role for a CIO is to influence business leaders to make it easy and better for them to do business, and we must all learn to adapt and be open for change.”