by CIO New Zealand

CIO100 2018 #31-100: Mark Denvir, Auckland Council

Mar 28, 2018
Business Process ManagementDigital TransformationGovernment IT

The Auckland Council has recently developed a sophisticated big-data spatial analytics capability to support long-term planning for the city, says council ICT director Mark Denvir .

He says the system allows the council to bring together a range of spatial information including land information, infrastructure asset data across a wide range of asset types (e.g.roads and water), planning data including zones and design rules to inform housing capacity), population trends and future build and land development information.

“The system is used to determine the most cost-effective way to deliver maximum amenity value to the city,” says Denvir.

Through sophisticated optimisation techniques, they can determine how to achieve highest housing density at the lowest cost, taking into account the capacity of city infrastructure that is already in place or has yet to be put in place.

“We can then overlay the implications for city services and cost to the city as population density increases. Typically, this considers proximity and ease of access to public transport, cultural and leisure facilities, workplaces, retail and hospitals and other government services.

“The ability to perform this optimisation is hugely important to us all,” says Denvir. “It provides the opportunity to respond as effectively as possible to the current housing shortage, while providing the ability to minimise the cost impacts on current and future ratepayers.

“It also shows where services provided by Council are in over or under supply across the city, creating opportunities to rationalise and redeploy ratepayer resources in an evidence-based manner,”

Another major project his team has delivered is the enterprise wide area network.

This entails the move to an architecture that is highly flexible, and able to meet shifting needs within the organisation.

“The project implemented an MPLS core network that allows Auckland Council to selectively tender elements of our network and retain control of the core services in house. This puts us in a position where Council becomes a wholesale purchaser of network connections,” says Denvir.

“The project delivered a 45 per cent saving on the cost of our wide area network services,” says Denvir.

As well, it brought changes to the roles of the network support team, with a significant reduction in the level of technical support required.

“We moved from a team that had to physically manage endpoint devices across the city to one that managed soft configuration of devices remotely, vendor liaison, network and vendor performance management and monitoring,” says Denvir. “This was achieved through retraining the team and developing their vendor management skills.”

He explains the council governs its technology investments through executive team subcommittees based on key strategy delivery goals.

“Our technology strategy development process starts with the ICT team forming a view of priorities and then engaging with a wide range of vendors through supplier briefings and forums,” says Denvir.

“This vendor input into our strategy is informed by their product development roadmaps. The strategy is now being socialised across the executive and senior leadership teams for validation and ratification.

“Another key focus we have had recently is to create a culture within the team where service outcomes for our customers are owned by our team members at all levels and they feel empowered to make things happen on behalf of our customers.

“Team members are given opportunities to lead improvements and we create supporting structures around them to ensure they develop as much as possible through the change. With a diverse environment like Auckland Council we are always able to find new opportunities for staff to stretch themselves and we encourage the team to make the most of it.

“It boils down to giving the team space to stretch themselves, putting our trust in them and supporting them when they need assistance. When trusted to succeed team members come out of themselves and grow,” he says.

The team members engage with other business units daily, and produce a monthly newsletter and KPI reports to show where the issues are, their service delivery performance and actions they are taking to improve their service.

“It provides a great opportunity to remind our customers of the services we provide and also to gather further feedback as to any issues we need to address,” says Denvir.

“This proactive approach and the project governance and delivery changes have seen a significant improvement in ICT perception within Council,” he states.

“We have shifted from being seen as a brake on the organization to being seen as a closely engaged partner for the business. High demand for ICT capabilities leads to the need to prioritise.

“As we engage closely with the business and the mandated governance channels, we have the opportunity to have the business actively prioritise our work. Where trade-offs are necessary they are made by the business,” he states.

This approach links to a key principle Denvir believes in ICT leadership: “First, you must earn the trust of those you serve.”

“My greatest leadership lesson, though, came from previously inheriting an environment where team members were disempowered through poor direction in an environment of fear and distrust.

“I lead through communicating an expectation of performance and making sure the team knows that I am there to help and support them.

“I always have an open door and make a point of being available for anyone to come and see me at a regular time slot each week.

“The revelation for me came when I implemented this trust and support approach with this disempowered team,” says Denvir.

“At first there was disbelief, but there are always one or two team members ready to step up and be part of creating a new healthier culture.

From there, he says, he created opportunities for them to lead and then celebrated the change they created, which set up a virtuous cycle.

“Others realised I was serious and it gradually spread throughout the team.

“Great work environments start small and build their own momentum,” he says. “The trick is to create the kernel for that environment to grow from.”