Northern Beaches Council
Name: Naren GangavarapuTitle: Chief information and digital officerOrganisation: Northern Beaches CouncilCommenced role: January 2020Reporting line: Director of workforce & technologyMember of the executive team: YesTechnology Function: 80+ staff, 7 direct reports
Building on its success in winning CIO Australia’s inaugural CIO50 Best Government Project Award in 2022, Northern Beaches Council has continued to focus on delivering innovative technology projects in the past year.
The 2022 award was for the council’s launch of an integrated human capital management, rostering and payroll systems, called People Central. Most recently, chief information and digital officer Naren Gangavarapu and his team have delivered projects aimed at boosting the council’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) outcomes, enhancing employee wellbeing, improving customer service, and enabling a digital council.
The sustainable technology framework the team implemented to enable ESG outcomes included environmental and governance tools such as smart waste management dashboards to reduce waste and support the transition towards a local circular economy.
This includes a public online dashboard where residents can view how much waste is generated and recycled per person across the whole Northern Beaches area or by individual suburbs – with links to resources on how they can reduce waste.
Over 12,000 people participated in the council’s waste management and sustainability education campaigns, Gangavarapu tells CIO Australia.
“For the first time, our community produced less than 400kg of waste per person over the year [and we] diverted more waste from landfill – up from 49 per cent of domestic waste in 2018/19 to 66 per cent in 2021/22.”
Sustainability reporting platform
A corporate sustainability reporting platform developed inhouse meanwhile collates disparate qualitative and quantitative data across the council and supply chain to help it understand ESG performance and identify areas to improve.
This has enabled the council to streamline its energy and sustainability management by identifying energy efficiencies and alternative energy opportunities that will reduce emissions.
The council says it has not only met its corporate emission reduction targets, it has “exceeded them well ahead of time and are well on our way to reaching our target to be a net zero council by 2030. Our set target is 2050.”
“We’ve reduced our emissions by around 80% and slashed our energy costs; council sites are run on 100% renewable energy.”
Gangavarapu and his team also rolled out AI-based tools to enhance employee engagement and wellbeing, cyber resilience, and customer data privacy.
“These tools help in capturing mood scores and nudge employees and their managers to focus effort in areas of need while maintaining privacy,” says Gangavarapu.
As a result, employee wellbeing and engagement scores have increased by 9 per cent to an overall 82 per cent in the past year.
The council also implemented AI tools and machine learning to protect its internal systems and uplift its maturity on the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) Essential Eight to level two.
“Data and asset protection is a priority for council. We have been able to augment our non-cyber resources with these tools to protect our assets and monitor potential privacy issues around data storage,” says Gangavarapu.
“AI tech has helped us successfully navigate three ransomware attacks to our supply chain in the last few months with no impact to customers.”Meanwhile, the council implemented a customer and employee experience platform, developed inhouse, to improve customer service by understanding what it was doing well and where it could improve. The platform uses real time dashboards to “bring customer feedback to life” and to reduce friction and call wait times.
Becoming a digital council
To help Northern Beaches become a “digital council”, several smart city initiatives were deployed such as connectivity using Starlink, IoT technology at libraries, and GPS sensors for monitoring weather and water conditions at beaches.
The aim was to add digital intelligence to existing urban systems, making it possible to do more with less, says Gangavarapu.
“We are the first council in Australia and the first New South Wales government agency to rollout Starlink to eliminate blackspots in areas of need, while the Forestville Library becomes one of the first council libraries in Australia to open its doors to users 24×7.”
The council is also using IoT sensors and smart tools to measure bin and amenity use, manage parking, monitor sports field irrigation and soil, as well as drones to monitor bushfires and manage safety on beaches.
To enable Gangavarapu to lead these initiatives, he has to influence and meet the needs of various stakeholders, including councillors, the council executive team and employees, external partners, and suppliers, as well as the community.
“Understanding their diverse needs and recognising that they determine the value of our services is crucial,” he says.
“To address this, I focus on clarifying the roles of technology and people within the organisation, emphasising how technology enhances and augments their work.”Gangavarapu also aims to build trust by effectively communicating the vision, strategy, and investment decisions of the technology team, and aligning these with employee productivity and business objectives.
“I focus on providing transparency about the purpose of technology tools and ensuring they align with employees’ needs and support their best work,” he says.
Other approaches through which Gangavarapu seeks buy-in from stakeholders include showcasing tools, sharing success stories, and articulating tangible and intangible benefits to stakeholders, as well as listening to them and explaining why embracing technology benefits their desired outcomes – or not.
He categorises value drivers for each stakeholder and communicating value using stakeholders’ language.
Louis van Wyk