Digital Transformation Conversations: Mark Denvir - Part 1

Director of ICT at Auckland Council

Working in an organisation with many stakeholders can make digital transformation a logistical challenge, but what if your stakeholders make up the population of an entire city? In our latest Digital Transformation Conversation, Mark Denvir, Director of ICT at Auckland Council, shares his experience with Deloitte Digital Partner Grant Frear…

I’m glad I’m talking to you today, as I’m fascinated by what digital transformation means on the scale of the city. But first, I'm keen for you to share with us your perspective on transformation in organisations like Auckland City Council. When you hear the words ‘digital transformation’, what does that mean to you?

For me, digital transformation is really about using advancements in technology to improve the core of the business. It’s about being more effective and efficient, and trying to bring your customer to the centre of what the organisation is there to do. In the council's world, that can be something like a LIM report or building consent.

How do you think that differs from the job of IT?

It doesn't really, as it’s fundamentally what IT should be doing. That said, the transformation of IT is also on that journey. There’s still old-school IT that sticks with the technologies and processes they own when in reality, their job is to enable the business. As times change, and the business needs of customers evolve, the tech underneath the business needs to be agile enough to move with it.

When it comes to enabling transformation, what are some of the limiting constraints that you've come up against?

Sometimes the IT industry and consulting as a whole can be our own worst enemy. That’s because we come up with all these catchphrases which actually confuse the hell out of the larger business.

The best results come from when the business and IT meet in the middle to work together. Proper transformation needs the two to work together so both can understand the other and create something that works.

So, what you’re saying is that collaboration sits at the centre of digital transformation. Surely in a large organisation, that can be hard to do.

It is, but it can be done. Here at Auckland Council, with the scale of what we do, trying to engage all the stakeholders can mean that there's too many people in one room to have a sensible conversation and move forward. It's about getting the right resources with the right approach.

In this topic, there's two words – ‘transformation’ and ‘innovation’ - and both of those, for better or worse, come with risk. How does one navigate that in your experience, and what needs to be different to navigate it better?

In an organisation, you need to be doing both. Innovation is the future focus, understanding the way we can disrupt current processes with an outcome in mind. In the words of the council, that would be to provide a service, whether it’s in noise management or one of our libraries.

The real marker of transformation is what role we play in the provision of a service. To do that well, you need to take a degree of separation from the day to day running of the business. That allows you to consider a “no risk, no constraints” view of the world and consider what you’d do. Then, you have to go back to the outcome you’re there for, considering how you’d redesign the lateral constraints and fast testing to prove if a concept would work in that world.

When you get back into the larger organisation, you can’t do those radical changes within the beast. We’re a very risk averse organisation, more so than most corporates, but you can still take managed risks. We need to settle on midterm horizon of what should be transformed.

Business cases in their very genesis encourage you towards prescribed outcomes and managed risk. The concept of a ‘transformation business case’ is an oxymoron, because while transformation is inherently uncertain and directional in nature, a business case is often very locked down and precise. How we balance those two things out is interesting.

 I think the reality is that you plan for what you know today without introducing significant risk, whilst trying to continue to move forward on a continual improvement plan. That’s where it’s useful to have a vehicle where you can test solutions and understand what could bring significant value to the organisation. If you can figure out the proven value, you can bring it back in and make the business case.

In part two of Grant Frear’s discussion with Mark Denvir, Mark shares the work he’s proudest of, and talks about Auckland’s potential as a ‘smart city’. Read it here.