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Christchurch catch-up

Christchurch catch-up

Peter Isaac talks to Simon Markham, Christchurch City Council’s director of information.

Through a carefully considered blend of conservative savvy and stylish dash, Christchurch City Council (CCC), is sometimes considered the best run of all New Zealand municipalities. It provides local governance and service to the metropolitan area of Christchurch, serving a resident population of 316,000 and 137,000 rating assessments. CCC has 1600 full-time-equivalent employees and manages community assets valued at $3.6 billion. Annual operating expenditure is around $260 million.

CCC IT infrastructure includes an enterprise server farm run under NT and a network interconnecting 35 remote sites, supporting personal and corporate computing off a 1200-PC Intel platform fleet running Microsoft Windows.

Information management and techno­logy (IM&T) services are structured into a number of teams including those focused on core IT infrastructure, maintenance of and improvement with business applications, geospatial data management and web services. There is a strong emphasis on standardised hardware, at getting the best value from recent investment in enterprisewide business systems and on improving the quality and accessibility of large data holdings.

On the IT front major preoccupations in the past three years have been implementing SAP and a local government sector package called GEMS as core business systems (to improve the back-office and customer relationship management), improving geospatial data management by establishing Intergraph as its corporate GIS and, more recently, boosting its focus on the web to enhance information access and service delivery.

It is in the New Zealand top 10% in complexity among SAP sites and the largest implementation of GEMS in both range and reach. Together these provide some 25 main modules. Central to these are a robust output-oriented accounting model and a data model for land, improvements on land and persons that accommodates the complex and changing relationship between customers and properties. This is reflected in a core database of more than 200,000 customers and 153,000 properties

CIO grabbed a few minutes with super-active CCC director of information Simon Markham.

With such a far-flung domain, how do you handle things day to day? Do you kick off with a morning meeting of sector heads, for example? Or do you have weekly or monthly meetings? In other words, how do you keep tabs on things in-house?

I meet team leaders on a periodic basis but not daily… Each of them is very competent and we agree on business plans and/or guiding documents.

How do you keep a handle on outsourcers in this context?

Outsourced services are managed in the first instance by team leaders and I become involved through periodic updates and on an as needed basis.

Can you name a recent large-ish project and describe how you administered it?

Undoubtedly our largest and most complex recent project has been the implementation of SAP and GEMS. For this project we appointed an internal project manager who co-ordinated our implementation partner and internal resources. The work of the combined team, which numbered up to 40 at the peak, was overseen by a steering team of directors and business unit managers.

What do you look for in staff?

We look for highly motivated people who are self-starters and change-adaptive with good people skills to lead improvement projects and teams. We also recognise that some aspects of IM&T service provision require people with temperaments that are more considered and systematic, people who can apply professional skills at a very detailed level.

What do you look for in outsourcers?

We value external partners who are in it for the long term and with whom we can develop sustained relationships.

How do you relate [yourself and your] staff to all the other council departments?

I am one of several directors making up the corporate team and I report to the city manager. My immediate colleagues and I are responsible for providing cost-effective IM&T Services to council business units, mostly on a fee-for-service basis. They are our customers.

How do you relate [yourself and your] staff to to elected councillors?

Elected members are also customers for personal computing and information services. I also act as principal adviser to one of council’s standing committees, overseeing the flow of business to the committee, which helps me to stay in touch with political leadership of the organisation.

Is there any interaction between your department and ratepayers? How do you cope with this?

In three main ways:

First, I also manage a small team of analysts responsible for researching and monitoring social, economic and environmental change in the city and responding to wide-ranging information requests for this information. This gives rise to a variety of direct and indirect interaction.

Second, there is strong public interest in property data, including the electronic cadastral map of the city we maintain. Off this resource we supply and are further developing a range of information products. These are provided across the counter and via the web. For example, we recently launched an online property valuation and rating information service that is running at 1.8 million page views a year.

Third, as we are accelerating the development of our web services there is a lot of online interaction.

Do you train in-house? Or send people on courses?

We do both.

How do you keep abreast of events yourself? Do you personally benefit from formal and informal interaction between local government IT departments nationwide?

With difficulty! We participate in a number of user groups and colleagues and I network formally and informally.

We’ve heard there’s been a catspaw into the Citrix realm?

We provide a Citrix option for remote working … A current R&D project is piloting enterprise portal technology focused initially on a role-based set-up to assist the council's customer contact centre service representatives manage their desktop and access the various business systems they need to do their job.

Do you have a council or personal governing philosophy on things like consultants, vendors and outsourcers?

We aim for enduring relationships with business partners.

Any special policy on email management?

Given that we are a public organisation, we do have an explicit policy governing the acceptable use of email and internet access.

Is there any deliberate direction you may take on something like knowledge management?

We do have some KM initiatives but this is largely next on my list.

Do you think that the CRM model relates in any way to local government?

Most definitely … As a wide-ranging service provider, the council has enduring and complex relationships with a large and diverse customer base to whom it is accountable and with whom on a regular basis we agree on an annual plan of activity. Increasing attention is given to the customisation and personalisation of service and enabling technology is a vital tool for this.

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