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Supercity CIO

Supercity CIO

Mike Foley, who will move from Watercare to the Auckland Council as information services manager, is a pragmatist.

CIOs are among the most time pressed executives, and will usually take a breather — a week at least, a month or two — before moving to another full-on role.

Not Mike Foley. His last day at work as CIO of Watercare is at 5 p.m. on October 29, a Friday. On Monday, Foley takes on the role of information services manager at Auckland Council, also known as the Supercity.

Foley reckons he may be on duty in his new job much earlier, “probably Friday night”.

“We will deliver solutions on day one that will make it work,” says Foley, who was named CIO of the Year in July for his work at Watercare. “The key focus for me, in particular, is to maintain operational stability around customer services in the council, not only from a technology but also from a process point of view; and secondly, to support the full democratic process.”

The second refers to the processes to support the work of the new mayor and the local board members who will be elected this month. “We have to be ready to support those people through the investiture process on November 1, give them the right equipment and allow them to run the process around democracy in Auckland”, he says.

Quoting Doug McKay, the interim chief executive for the Auckland Council, Foley says, “We may screw up on day one in certain areas, but we can manage this.”

“Longer term, it is about transformation, consolidation and process efficiency,” says Foley, who is currently seconded to the Auckland Transition Agency, which is tasked to manage the amalgamation of the seven local councils in Auckland and the Auckland Regional Council.

Foley, who leads ATA’s business processes and systems, continues to have oversight of ICT at Watercare. He meets weekly with Jim Swanson, who will take over as Watercare CIO. Watercare, of which Foley was CIO for six years , is one of the CCOs or council-controlled organisations, and will provide water supply and wastewater treatment across the region for the new Auckland Council.

Without precedent

The Auckland Council is New Zealand’s first foray to this type of public governance, although other countries have amalgamated cities into one unitary authority. Foley cites Toronto, Luxemburg and Brisbane as among the areas that have undergone this transition.

At the moment, there is a CIO for each of the local councils in Auckland, Manukau, Rodney, North Shore, Waitakere, Franklin and Papakura and the Auckland Regional Council (ARC).

The IS function at Auckland Council will be consolidated into one group, says Foley. He will have six direct reports in the following functions: IS programme office (for project management); enterprise architecture and security group; operational group infrastructure service delivery service support; application delivery group and support; provision of data and delivery of information (includes core areas like the Land Information Memorandum or LIM); and customer relationship management.

Foley says the name of the new IS structure reflects, as well, its focus on customer service. “We are an information services organisation. We are there to provide services at the appropriate cost models to give the business, to enable it to be more efficient. Whether we use technology to support that or a redefinition of manual processes, we can assist. We have the skill set within the organisation, whether it is business analysis work or technology work.

“We have to focus on more efficiency [and] on delivery of solutions,” he says. “When I say solution, I don’t just mean software. It is the end to end process that may support that technology. We have to focus on the customer — both the groups within the Council and the ratepayers in the region. We have to look beyond that to say, what is the impact that we are now doing on the ratepayers of Auckland, the Auckland region? [How can] we can make their lives more efficient?”

A goal is to provide more online services, to “make it almost like a 24x7 business to allow ratepayers to interact with us where we can”, Foley says.

“We can make the interaction at the front end more efficient, we can accommodate, hopefully, in the future any customer channel whether it can be the call centre, the web, face to face [and] potentially mobile.”

The goal is to consolidate the systems, and look at the technologies that will allow them to do this. Foley estimates the IS team will be around 450. The size, he says, is not a problem as the team will manage the solutions that are “so intertwined with each other”.

“Across all the councils we have 2500 unique applications,” he says. “We have to take eight solutions currently running to one version of the truth, but that is not going to happen overnight.”

He explains a lot of the solutions across the councils are based around the legislation set by each council. The only system the councils have done collectively is the library system and this too, has been amended, says Foley.

In the meantime, the solutions for the individual councils will have to be managed, together with those for the Auckland Council. A case in point is the new website for the Auckland Council that will also have the websites of the seven councils under it. Foley explains some of these websites have transactional processes linked to their respective back-end systems. “Until you get one Council set in one legislation, we can’t change anything underneath those processes,” he says. “We will continue until we can get into one common platform.”

Meanwhile, some councils have their own IS systems, while some have outsourcing relationships or shared services with other councils. “We have all these different mixes. Part of the strategy [is] how do we carry over the current datacentres down to a two-centre model for redundancy across the region? We will do that as we look at the solutions [when] we start to merge.”

His time frame for all of these? “It could be a three-to-five year programme depending on the speed of change we want to do,” he says.

Transitions

Foley is used to change and appears unperturbed over this huge task of alignment at the Council. “In my role we change things almost on a daily basis. We have to manage change, we have to manage the risks around change. Am I fearful of it? No.”

And does the looming November 1 deadline keep him awake at night? “Sometimes,” he says, and adds with a laugh, “I wake up earlier than I used to, that is for sure.

“It is just there are so many moving parts,” he says. “It is trying to make sure we cover every moving part that allows us to maintain on day one operational stability [and], support democracy. Those are the two key things.”

The roles he has taken in the past 20 years, he says, have built up to his current work at the Auckland Council. Foley is originally from the UK, and has worked across the globe in a diverse range of enterprises and sectors that include Budweiser, Anhauser Busch, SkyCity, Lever Brothers, Cable and Wireless and Deloitte Consulting.

All of the positions have been different and provided new experiences, he says. “But the underlying principles around sales, management, logistics are the same. It is how you interpret them and how you execute them; those are the differences.”

He sees parallels to his job at the Council and Watercare. “What I did at Watercare is what I am doing now,” he says. “I set the strategy with the business, I looked at investments, around managing the risk on that investment on behalf of the board and the management committee. This is just a slightly bigger scale.”

Foley says his overall strategy when he joined Watercare was to position it relative to its commercial peer organisations within the linear asset management and customer services locally and internationally.

Back then he conducted a review of Watercare’s overall technology platform and business processes and noted how limited investment in this area had affected the ability of the staff to improve their working methods. At that time, Watercare’s system was around 20 years old. “It worked but [was] slightly inflexible,” he says. A five-year programme of systems replacement was developed and presented to the board, which was implemented in the following years he was there.

Some of the projects achieved under the business transformation programme, were the consolidation of the technology infrastructure to a common platform infrastructure managed by a third party. The central programme office for all technology related projects was formed, and this allowed a greater degree of management of resources, costs and change to the business. Watercare’s 250 staff also shifted to a single location from two separate offices, with the move included the transition of a 24x7 operational control room managing the water and waste services network.

“We have to manage both the operational layer, the strategic layer and then there is the day-to-day planning layer. Over the six years I was there, an environment that was robust enough to deliver what they need to deliver was created. Not that they didn’t do that before, but they made themselves more efficient, they made themselves more effective.”

Foley says several factors contributed to the success of the transformation programme. “They were ready for change; they knew what they were adopting, with the support of the board and the chief executive at that time and the management team,” he says. “That made a difference.”

A strategic role

The announcement of the new structure at the Auckland Council prompted questions from industry analysts and media, on why the head of ICT in one of the biggest merged agencies will carry the title of manager of information services, instead of chief information officer. This is not an issue for Foley.

“Just because I have a title that is slightly different from what most people think it should be, does it bother me? No,” he says. “It is a very strategic role. I sit down with the head of finance, I sit down with the head of the new Auckland Council and we talk about what are the plans for the future. So they know the responsibilities of information services.”

Leading ICT at the Auckland Council is a redoubtable task. “Everything you can think of is probably in the council,” says Foley, who says a similar environment would be that of the New Zealand Defence Force New Zealand Defence Force. He recalls someone explaining to him the Defence Force was a representation of a country. Apart from working on the “war component”, Defence has to manage logistics, hospital and people, among others. “That is more complex in my view,” he says. “The council will have some components of logistics, some components of asset management, financial management, people management, but then on top [of these] you have regulatory management, democracy management.”

So what would his elevator speech be to the CEO? “I have already had that conversation,” he says, with a smile. “I am here to support his business. And provide that business with the core information it needs to manage all the functions, to enable our processes to happen ... right across the spread of everything.”

Outside of work, Foley says his nine-year-old daughter “takes up most of my time.” He coaches her junior netball team. “We have just finished with the season, it was pretty good fun,” he says.

He is also a sailing enthusiast. He tries to sail as much as he can, although this year, there were fewer opportunities to do this. He does not own a boat, “I crew for some other people, it’s cheaper,” he says, with a laugh.

“I moved here 11 years ago when the America’s Cup was here for the first time. It was a superb introduction to New Zealand.”

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