by Divina Paredes

CIO50 2019 #26-50: Mark Denvir, Auckland Council

Mar 28, 2019
Business ContinuityCloud ComputingInnovation

“From a cultural perspective, my team is transforming the way ICT operates for local government,” says Mark Denvir, ICT director at Auckland Council.

“We are moving away from the risk averse gatekeepers of IT services to fast followers who embrace innovation as a core value. We demonstrate the trust and value of learning failure and experimentation.”

He says the council’s IT strategy identified the need to innovate as a key driver to ensure they deliver value to the organisation.

“We listened. We asked our people to consider what attributes of our culture they most valued and what they most wanted to develop. Innovation was one of the top messages. The whole ICT team was involved to develop a new purpose: We use the power of technology and innovation to move Auckland forward.”

He says several programmes they have implemented over the past year support this goal.

As part of this, Denvir created a new role, head of innovation. Matt Montgomery was appointed to the role, with a remit to work across the whole of Auckland Council.

The result is a cross government programme called Innovate Auckland that has three work streams.

  • Innovation as a Service: Working with the Council’s departments to help them understand the role of innovation and technology

  • Collaborating with suppliers: Co-design and co-delivery through partnership, outcome based working, and commercialising successes

  • A Government Innovation Lab: A platform for city wide collaborative partnerships with industry, communities and academia.

Innovate Auckland currently has four major programmes underway. These programmes are all responses to megatrends, emerging technologies and business issues that are either affecting the Council or the city.

The Auckland’s Smart City Programme is around the use of technology to empower the community, utilise assets and resources well and organisational effectiveness. This programme includes the supported project UpSouth, a South Auckland community engagement and youth development platform.

The Auckland drones programme is a partnership with Airways to enable safe drone use within Auckland through a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) management system that is supported by 5G and AI. This programme culminates in the Americas Cup with the delivery of people from flying autonomous taxi from the airport to Viaduct Basin.

The Farm for the Future utilises technologies across 40 of the Council’s farms such as drones, Internet of Things, big data analytics and AI to ensure the farms are sustainable.

Future Water is a technology and innovation to future proof the waters, coastal communities and people from water quality and safety issues, and a changing climate. The programme includes ‘Safeswim’ which combines real-time data on the performance of the wastewater and stormwater networks with predictive models, to generate forecasts of water quality at 92 swimming sites around the Auckland region. This project won the Smart Water Category at the 2018 Smart Cities Asia Pacific Awards by IDC.

All these programmes address complex problems and opportunities through the use of emerging technologies and collaborative processes, working with industry, communities and academia, says Denvir.

He says the programmes were developed through the Government Innovation Lab, utilising a structured approach combining systems thinking, design thinking and co-delivery with industry and the community.

The Government Innovation Lab consists of a large workshop and facilitation space. “It creates an entirely different culture for those working within it. It allows them to get away from the systems and processes and the daily grind of business as usual and think truly outside the box,” says Denvir.

He says this is best exemplified by their robotic process automation (RPA) programme. They first needed to prove the potential of RPA by running a proof of concept. This delivered significant time savings which allowed us to successfully apply for ‘bucket funding,’ he says.

“Our teams now scour the Council looking for new projects that could benefit from RPA. The bucket funding can be drawn down upon quickly allowing interdisciplinary teams to form sprints to deliver working bots to deliver cost savings,” says Denvir. The project recently won an ALGIM award for a project demonstrating how to enable structural and cultural reforms to leverage emerging technologies.

Denvir supports a range of programmes to increase gender and cultural diversity in ICT, which has over 400 staff and is a reasonably large function within the Council. He also mentors a number of staff around their professional and personal goals. He directly looks after the graduates and interns in ICT at the Council.

“These graduates and interns help shape our thinking for the future of technology and look at ways we can implement changes that will improve engagement,” he says.

Every week, he holds an hour-long ‘Open Door’ session for people to come and discuss topics. These confidential sessions allow team members to validate ideas or get pointers on a raft of different topics. “This has been very successful in breaking down barriers as there is no hierarchical treatment of the topics under consideration,” he says.

He runs ICT ‘stand up sessions’ with ICT colleagues in other buildings, joining them via videoconference. Members of the executive team and other key customers have been invited to these meetings so they can speak directly to ICT.

From his experience, there is an area – outside ICT – that CIOs need to master.

“Know your numbers,” he says. “Having worked alongside and for the CFO in various organisations, you need to know that the CFO has the ear of the CEO and can be your best supporter or your biggest challenger.”

“Not knowing your numbers and not being able to articulate the cost of your business services leaves a CIO in a position where a key ally cannot support you and instead become a roadblock to your plans.”