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CIO100 2017 #31-100: Murray Mitchell, New Zealand Fire Service

  • Name Murray Mitchell
  • Title Director ICT
  • Company NZ Fire Service
  • Commenced Role July 2014
  • Reporting Line Chief executive/national commander
  • Technology Function 46 permanent IT staff, 20 contractors/suppliers, extensive outsourcing of application development/support and break/fix support in the field
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    “The Board has approved significant investments in ICT that in the past would have been unthinkable,” says Murray Mitchell, ICT director at the New Zealand Fire Service.

    “Career and volunteer firefighter engagement has been a priority that resulted in the Vision 2020 programme that promotes leadership, health and safety and ICT solutions to improve operational performance and for our volunteers, to save them time on common tasks.”

    The organisation is in the midst of a five-year transformation plan, with technology playing a major part in the shift.

    For Mitchell and his team, Vision 2020 programme translates into ICT as “right information to the right person at the right time from any device anywhere.”

    To achieve this goal, major systems have been upgraded and maintained, while migrating the systems and users to the cloud has started. In addition, the organisation is completing the foundations for mobility, and the telecommunications hub.

    Mitchell says the five year transformation project will move the NZFS infrastructure to Azure Cloud.

    This will allow the creation of business applications that are truly mobile, using the power of the internet for station connectivity and providing an environment for our volunteers and career staff by publishing APIs and a development sandpit so that innovation and business functions can be developed, he states.

    Mitchell says another major programme is the national replacement of all incident ground radios and associated business practices and interfaces.

    “This project is the largest radio replacement in the history of Fire Service and will touch every volunteer and career fire fighter around the country and fix a number of areas that were considered ‘untouchable’ in the past,” he says.

    The latter, he says, refers to allocation policy, channel plans, equipment built for firefighters and resolving the interface to the breathing apparatus they use.

    In the incident ground radio project, Fire Service worked with Motorola to solve the radio interface to the breathing apparatus. This has been deployed with great success as it cancels out all background noise allowing clear command and control communication, he says.

    “The incident ground radio engagement with staff has been described as the best rollout for many years due to the attention to detail, cloud based learning and the involvement of frontline staff every step of the way.”


    Easing tensions between BAU and new projects

    Mitchell says a key change for ICT is the creation of the campus at Trentham and a much greater use of external expertise, both with suppliers and direct engagements.

    “It is fair to say ICT is working harder now than it ever has with the natural tensions between projects and BAU being well managed,” says Mitchell.

    “The ICT structure will continue to evolve as mobility is deployed over a three year programme starting this year.”

    The position of manager business solutions, held by Chris Cunningham, has been expanded to provide research and development and to be the owner of the transformation programme.

    “Research and development is now an accepted activity with strong partnerships formed with key suppliers who are not only providing international expertise but working with us to push the boundaries in the mobility space to integrate all bearer systems to provide a seamless connection whether that be cellular, satellite, wifi and radio,” explains Mitchell.

    As well, a development environment has been created that has delivered APIs to backend systems.

    “This is a first for NZ Fire Services and a true agile approach to systems design and development,” he states.

    Meanwhile, the ICT campus at the Trentham Fire Station has brought together internal and external expertise with strong technical leadership from Fire and a close relationship with career and volunteer firefighters.

    “We have significant engagement with volunteers across the country,” explains Murray of the 8500 volunteers working in tandem with their 3500 permanent employees.

    For Mitchell, a recognition of their work is the 2015 global award from ESRI for their use of spatial technology to provide rapid assessments by urban search and rescue (USAR) teams in the field.

    “This technology was used in the recent earthquake response and provided a national view of assessments through a cloud portal,” he says.

    Divina Paredes

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