Q&A with Michael Stretton: "Today Launceston is a 365-day, 24-hour council"
City of Launceston is proof that smart cities start with smart foundations. Tasmania’s largest local government implemented an integrated enterprise solution to digitally transform operations over time. General Manager Michael Stretton discusses how Launceston’s approach to innovation and digital transformation is helping the city to realise its smart city ambitions.
How would you describe the current local government landscape?
I’ve seen a significant shift over the last 20 years from councils operating within their own boundaries, to councils moving towards shared service models.
Nowadays, there’s a lot more interest in developing partnerships with neighbouring councils to discover what’s happening outside your own walls in other parts of Australia.
A good example of this is the Launceston City Deal, which was signed by three tiers of government — the Commonwealth Government, Tasmanian Government and City of Launceston. I think this collaboration has inspired a real confidence and optimism within the community — it’s a really exciting and dynamic landscape.
How are you driving digital transformation at City of Launceston?
My view has always been that technology is one of the core foundations of local government. To improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our service delivery, we invested in the appropriate underlying technology a long time ago to ensure we had a robust platform to support our future growth and smart city initiatives.
Over time, we implemented integrated enterprise software from TechnologyOne, which removed a great deal of complexity and simplified our IT layer. Taking a consolidated approach to our enterprise software has enabled us to operate more efficiently so we can focus on delivering smart services to the community, rather than our technology.
Today, Launceston is a 365-day, 24-hour council, where residents and ratepayers can access services and launch and track applications online at any time. Not too many councils are able to deliver this level of service.
I’m also quite proud of the work we’re doing to drive innovation and transformation within the community. Launceston is considered to be at the forefront of Australia’s Smart Cities development.
We’re currently in the early stages of The Greater Launceston Transformation Project — a collaboration between state, federal and local councils, along with the University of Tasmania and Telstra.
This project centres on positioning Launceston as a livable and innovative regional centre and will deliver a range of benefits to the community through the use of smart technology.
We’re using the latest connective technology and new 3D virtual city modelling tools to transform city planning processes, deliver better educational outcomes and develop a community co-designed innovation hub.
We are a very dynamic council and we’re continually looking at new ways to use technology to improve the way we deliver services to the community.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve experienced on your digital transformation journey?
A key challenge is resourcing the significant demands that have been generated through initiatives such as the Launceston City Deal. The roles and expectations of the community are continuing to escalate, which is causing us to review and change the way we structure our workforce. There’s certainly a push to create new roles in the digital services space. However, I think this is really important — we all need to be embracing this to drive innovation and change within councils.
Looking further ahead, what are your key priorities for the future?
We’re focusing on the Launceston City Deal which is a five-year plan all about positioning Launceston as one of Australia’s most livable and innovative regional cities. To do this, we’re continuing to embrace technology to drive innovation and entrepreneurship, and make the city an easier place to get around. Our end goal is to make Launceston the most livable regional city in Australia.
What advice would you give other executives considering digital transformation?
To foster a culture of innovation, I think the value proposition needs to be demonstrated. People need to see what’s in it for them, as a council and as a community. There’s a compelling story to tell, in terms of improving the services councils deliver, but also in terms of improving the way people use their city or town.
Alongside this, it’s always been my view that councils should have more of a private sector mentality, in terms of how they conduct their business and the services they deliver. At Launceston, we understand where our customers’ needs and expectations lie and this should be front of mind when mapping out your digital transformation journey.
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