Q&A with Whangarei District Council's Alan Adcock
Whangarei District Council serves a population of 90,000 people, with 41,000 rateable properties across northern New Zealand. To accommodate rapid socioeconomic growth in the region, Whangarei District Council embarked on a digital transformation project to modernise its systems and better serve the community. General Manager Alan Adcock discusses how the council is working to digitise its services in an increasingly digital world.
How would you describe the current local government landscape?
I think many local governments are quite fragmented, in terms of their technology and service delivery. From the community’s point of view, constituents want services delivered faster and in the medium of their choice, and this is only going to grow as new technologies emerge and heighten their service expectations. People expect us to have a complete view of their relationship with us, delivered instantly wherever they are.
This poses a challenge for local governments to look at new ways to modernise their systems and better serve the community. However, a common problem many councils face is knowing where to start — councils’ IT infrastructure is often incredibly complex, with a maze of conflicting version dependencies across a wide application set, disparate datasets and multiple versions of the truth.
How are you driving digital transformation at Whangarei District Council?
My goal when I came to Whangarei District Council was to transform the back-office operations, create a world of simplicity and become a truly digital council.
In 2012, we established a cross-organisation ICT Think Tank to develop a vision for the way we should do business with our customers. This led to a three-phase project, ‘Trilogy’, being established to digitise our systems and operations, and deliver the foundation to underpin our digital transformation.
Over the last 12 months, we have completed the first phase, which was a massive step forward. This involved moving our local infrastructure to Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), implementing enterprise content and search capabilities, upgrading our core enterprise system (TechnologyOne OneCouncil) and moving this to TechnologyOne SaaS.
Moving to SaaS has been a huge win for the council and our people are quite blown away by it. SaaS has provided us with a robust and stable platform, which means we’re in a much better position to run our operations and deliver more effective services to the community.
In the year since going live with OneCouncil SaaS and moving to IaaS, we reduced our total cost of IT ownership by 38% and shaved $428,000 off our bottom line operationally.
These are significant cost savings which are being reinvested back into the organisation.
We’ve also reduced our operational risks significantly, with the tested and verified ability to run our entire operation through a different data centre in the event of a forced fail-over.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve experienced on your digital transformation journey thus far?
When I first entered the local government sector, I was stunned to see how fragmented things were, particularly coming from a private sector background. We had nearly 60 different ICT service providers, resulting in very complicated architecture and software functions.
Opening people’s eyes to the possibilities of digital transformation and allocating adequate resources to intangible benefits is always a tough task. But we overcame these challenges by making a conscious effort to ‘take the organisation with us’, rather than simply implementing new systems and providing training at the end. Our tagline for the project was ‘transforming the way we work’, and we focused on showing people how things could be done differently and highlighting the end-goal and outcomes for our customers, so that people could relate to what they were working to achieve.
We also established some fundamental principles that we have not wavered from. These include putting the needs of the enterprise over individual functions, using enterprise software rather than best-of-breed applications which can be configured out of the box, and using software delivered on the cloud. These principles have kept us on track with our vision and made things much simpler and cost-effective to support.
Looking further ahead, what are your key priorities for the future?
Now that we have the fundamentals in place, our immediate priority is refreshing our strategy. Our last Think Tank was in 2012, so we are reassessing this to make sure the path we’re on is still true.
Stage two of the Trilogy Program involves a complete renew of our digital platform to change the way we interact with our customers. We’re also working with TechnologyOne to roll out Ci Anywhere and focus on how we can deliver better online services to the community. Moving into online services will enable us to do things better, faster and on demand.
What advice would you give other chief executives considering digital transformation?
Focus on your key business outcomes and have a vision for how your customers will consume services in 10 years’ time. That way your business needs will drive the IT strategy, not the other way around.
I truly believe that adopting an integrated approach to your enterprise is key to long-term efficiencies and improving overall service delivery. We made the strategic decision to standardise and modernise our business processes and systems and the outcome has been well worth it.
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