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A tale of synchronicity

A tale of synchronicity

Wellington City Council provides a good case study on aligning ICT and business strategies.

“We looked at what the business wanted to achieve and thought about that from an IT perspective,” says Brett Priddey, manager architecture strategy and analysis at the Wellington City Council (WCC). “We are not developing new strategies. We can do smart stuff, but it has to be in a context with what the business is trying to do.” Priddey is describing how ICT actively supports the WCC-designated strategy to position the country’s capital as an “affordable, internationally-competitive city”.

Priddey says when the strategy was presented in February 2008, WCC CIO David McLachlan said the IT team should really understand it, and have it “really embedded” into their thinking.

How the council’s ICT department took on this role is a good case study on ICT and business alignment, and Priddey has presented on this at an IBM conference in Wellington and the IBM Impact 2009 in Las Vegas.

“We spent a long time building Wellington’s reputation as the events capital and a vibrant city,” explains Priddey. “We have moved away from ‘grey’ Wellington, very public service and infrastructure oriented, and into arts and culture. We wanted to maintain that. We wanted to spend money on the things that make the city vibrant as well as the infrastructure.”

The ICT team took note that Wellington residents wanted more from the council. “Customers don’t want to give up any services, so we were being asked to do more and more things,” he says. “So how do we maintain the service without pushing the rates up?”

With the process, the ICT team clarified three priorities to achieve the council’s strategy and worked around them to ensure they created value.

The first priority is to “create capacity”. This meant getting the ICT house in order by having “up to date efficient systems and tools, making sure we don’t have old and legacy systems and introducing systems that are agile and keeping in pace with city’s development,” says Priddey.

The second is to “ensure right people, right work”. This entails delivering an enterprise governance structure for ICT decision making and investment, and doing away with silo thinking. “We can provide business process automation capabilities to ensure our methods of work are efficient, repeatable and measurable,” explains Priddey.

The third is “to engage citizens”, the councillors, ratepayers and residents. ICT came up with a strategy that lets the public choose the channel they would like to use. “We recognised that we really need to have a range of channels,” says Priddey. “We can not turn off the old ones and turn on the new ones. We have to cater to those who want to come to the counter, but at the same time want to encourage people to make use of the more efficient ways of dealing with us.”

“Face to face is a personal service and will suit some people but it is a relatively high cost per transaction,” says Priddey. “At the other end of the scale, you have got self service online which is relatively low cost per transaction so you could actually be more efficient if people will come online to you.” The latter, however, is more complex, requiring systems that can react to all the different scenarios without a person to interpret.

The team aims to deliver systems that can provide a single view of Wellington City Council’s customers, so the staff can engage with the public effectively. Currently, he says, the systems are focused on lines of business functions rather than a holistic view of the customers. At the same time, customer engagement was a new focus for the ICT team. “So it goes from efficient delivery of different services, to becoming more customer focused and trying to understand better what people are doing with you, to engage them better.”

Part of their challenge was the range of activities the council is engaged in, from pools, to libraries, to roads and infrastructure. “How do we get some commonality across the IT systems? Each business has its own expert system for the different lines of business, but we want some way for a common process joining up those systems.”

When ICT presented their programme to the Council’s management board to achieve this multi-channel delivery, the team presented a simple case study involving a change of address for the ratepayer. “You had to go to each business unit separately and change your address with them,” says Priddey. “We proposed the concept of a tick box for the customer who requests a change of address and it can be sent to the different systems, such as those covering the library, rates notices and dog registration.”

He says when developing the strategy they also presented some technical issues to council management. The current systems mostly meet the council’s business needs, but a refresh would be required if they are to adopt the new customer-centric strategy. “Information has become more electronic, so we have to sort out our document management and getting electronic information more accessible,” he says.

ICT then listed its desired outcomes, such as responding more rapidly to business strategy, business process automation and management, enabling multichannel delivery to residents and a clear infrastructure roadmap for the next five years.

In order to deliver these outcomes, Priddey says they need to undertake a programme of work covering four areas. The first is better aligning ICT to the business through improved governance and an organisation-wide view of ICT priorities. The second is refreshing the NTier application development environment that includes migration of existing Java applications and adopting SOA (service oriented architecture). The third is reviewing and upgrading Power Builder applications for mission-critical business applications. The fourth is adopting an application rightsizing strategy. This means reviewing the software programs they have and getting the most from them, or as Priddey puts it, “ensure we are not using a Mack Truck just to go to the dairy”.

He says when they presented their case to secure business support and funding, they showed ICT understood the vision of the organisation. “We were committed to becoming the enabler for that [vision]. We don’t want IT to be seen as an overhead. We were talking in their terms and not coming to them with some IT strategy that didn’t have a relationship to the organisation strategy.”

“We showed them what the process could look like in a disjointed organisation and how it would look like with streamlined processes,” says Priddey.

He and his team are already working on enabling the ICT strategy. The Websphere infrastructure is already installed, the Java applications have been migrated to the new platform. ICT is building process automation that will allow the online services, such as the release of online LIM (Land Information Memorandum) for property owners. “Once the process is in there, we can start collecting those metrics and use them and do improvements.”

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Tags local governmentit and business alignmentIBMwellington city council

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