Keeping it reel

Keeping it reel

Channa Jayasinha of the Ministry of Fisheries, considers the net gains of a shared services strategy in a time of change and cost control.

Rather than railing against Government IT belt tightening, industry veteran Channa Jayasinha urges his peers to get on board with the new shared services paradigm and make a difference while they can. There is now greater pressure to do more with less, than there has been in the 26 years he has held senior public sector IT roles, says Jayasinha. With the current recession, Jayasinha says CIOs need to surround themselves with the best team possible, build trust and collaborate with other government agencies, rather than operating in silos.

He says the shift to shared services requires a new way of working, but needs to be viewed positively. “You can challenge and fight against it or you can join in early, influence change and make it successful,” he says. Jayasinha took up the newly-created role of CIO with the Ministry of Fisheries a year ago, just as a critical analysis of costs and new strategic directions was being considered within all government departments.

He is currently implementing elements of the visionary Fisheries 2030 document he inherited, along with his own Fisheries Information Services Strategy that require him to deliver on 37 projects over the next three years. He has already revamped the Vessel Monitoring system that tracks the location of all registered deepwater commercial fishing trawlers through satellite transponders, as well as revamping a virtual, real-time mapping system. He is currently working on a massive data warehousing project.

Jayasinha says it was refreshing as a CIO to be working closely with the Fisheries leadership team. He has observed how the CIO is kept out of the loop in some government agencies. “It is a problem in the public sector that CIOs aren’t being pushed further up the ladder.”

Channa Jayasinha became interested in IT when in the seventh form (Year 13). His applied maths teacher at Manawatu College in Foxton, bought a card punch computer into the classroom to help with assignments. “That teacher changed my outlook. I saw the future potential for computers was huge.”

After graduating from Massey University with a Bachelor of Technology in computer science, he took on contract IT work at the hospital in Palmerston North.

“I remember using a Sword computer and then an early Apple II to create an interactive program to help accident patients check on limb movement, dexterity, and eyesight and speech improvements.” This inspired the statistically savvy programmer, with skills in Cobol and PL1, to set his career sights on management roles.

He moved to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in 1984, where he worked in database administration and programming. After rounding off his knowledge of IT management he made a challenging and rewarding career move, heading the IT team at Te Papa Museum in Wellington.

A combination of internet and database technology was needed to support the bicultural and bilingual museum exhibitions to enable stories to be told about different collections. After visiting museums in Paris, London and the US, Jayasinha was determined to involve creative, local technology providers to introduce interactive exhibitions. “This is a challenge even today, but 13 years later, those interactive kiosks are still performing,” he says.

The museum opened in 1997 and after five-and-a-half years, he agreed to help bring the Department of Conservation (DOC) out of “the dark ages”. At the time DOC employed about 2500 people across 150 locations and needed to improve its use of information.

His assigned role was to bring the department into a new era through a more focused application of information technology. Before developing an information strategy, he engaged with staff to get them thinking about the ‘future space’ and how business could be helped by IT solutions. The new IT environment that was developed made full use of the internet, intranets and records and document management systems, which resulted in a more effective and efficient organisation.

Among the new desktop services that were developed was DOC’s Great Walks system. With it, trampers can register online for a small fee and DOC staff are then aware of where they were likely to be when tramping in New Zealand’s wilderness at any given time. Another achievement was the Mt Ruapehu Emergency System. In case of a lahar flow for example, police, defence and other emergency services would be alerted, along with the residents in towns at the base of the mountain.

Take time to build trust

After six years with DOC and a spell with the Ministry of Economic Development, Jayasinha was drawn into the Ministry of Fisheries net.

His formula for getting people and technology working together was again pivotal. “I like to spend as much time as I can in the business, listening, talking, learning and building relationships and trust, well before I start talking about technology or solutions.”

True to form, he spoke with more than 100 people, a good cross section of the 450 staff, before developing an information strategy.

“If you have the right conversation with people you generally end up going in the right direction together. If you’ve done the homework and understand the key business purposes, drivers and strategy, the rest follows quite easily,” he says.

The Information Services Strategic Plan he has prepared is designed to take the complexity out of IT, facilitate better information sharing and improve management processes. The challenge is to align the business and decision support systems to make them consistent and easy to use, so information only has to be entered once. The end goal is enhanced productivity while meeting mandatory regulatory requirements and those dictated by the CEO. The new strategy he is implementing will revise the way Fisheries interacts with and makes available large volumes of information for those involved in recreational, customary and commercial fishing, as well as other stakeholders.

Jayasinha says it is an imperative to create a clear vision for IT team peers and for management and staff. “If everyone understands and buys into your vision, the life of the CIO becomes a lot easier.”

He has signed up for a three-year programme of work at Fisheries, but says he would like to be around for the following three-year cycle of change so he can continue to build on his work. Jayasinha is also looking to collaborate with other agencies, for example, working with Treasury which has been working on a replacement Ministerial System to track information requests and Cabinet papers. Fisheries’ own system had passed its use by date and so the two agencies shared development resources around their common requirements, and are now making the new and improved Ministerial System available to other government departments and agencies.

In researching new project management standards for Fisheries, he discovered the Ministry for the Environment had a workable approach. “Instead of hiring consultants and doing a whole lot of work that has already been done, we saw their framework fitted our needs,” he says. Past attempts at shared services have often failed through lack of buy-in from other agencies, which preferred to do their own thing, he claims. Rather than reinventing the wheel, he says the recessionary environment is now forcing a rethink on this approach.

Over the past five years, Fisheries has built a world-class, open source spatial mapping or geographic information system with 750 layers of data, which has been further customised in recent months. “We had to move quickly as this was a key business application delivering significant productivity benefits and cash savings,” says Jayasinha.

The resulting National Aquatic Biodiversity Information System (NABIS) maps this country’s coastline, with multiple layers of data identifying stocks of different fish species. It forms an integral part of the Fisheries Border Management System that monitors the activities of all registered New Zealand fishing vessels, wherever they are.

Using a global positioning system with a 20-second refresh application, Fisheries can quickly determine whether registered vessels are in the mandated zones for commercial fishing. NABIS is now being promoted for potential use by DOC, MAF, Land Information New Zealand, Te Puni Kokiri (Ministry of Maori Development) and the Ministry for the Environment.

When the data warehouse project is completed in 18 months, Jayasinha says rather than being overloaded with data, Fisheries will be information rich — with a growing list of intuitive, self-service options for stakeholders. He says the options for CIOs over the coming years are exciting. “I have seen the work being done in Microsoft and Google laboratories on the next generation of desktop, and we have yet to see any of it [commercially released] yet.”

An aspect of the CIOs leadership role is to be aware of changes in technology and trends, but he warns that CIOs must not get sloppy and rely only on vendors. “Do your own research. Gartner and IDC are really important [resources] for CIOs.” As well, he says all the new technology in the world isn’t going to help if you haven’t got your strategies and platform right. He says the current economic climate has bought back basic decision-making disciplines such as looking for efficiencies, effectiveness, taking costs from the bottom line and setting priorities.

And Jayasinha says an often neglected aspiration to track is benefit realisation. “Once you have got the capital and operational funding signed off for your programmes of work, you need to deliver on what you promised.”

He wonders how often CIOs follow up to ensure benefits are realised. “Once you deliver on a project it doesn’t stop there, it is about following up,” he says.

“In a business case you normally write 10 pages of all the things you are going to do. But the outcomes including productivity and cash benefits need to be monitored not just for three months, but to ensure sustainability over a longer period.”

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