Digital Transformation Conversations: Mark Denvir - Part 2

Director of ICT at Auckland Council

In the second part of our Digital Transformation Conversation with Mark Denvir, Director of ICT at Auckland Council, Mark talks to Deloitte Digital Partner Grant Frear about the work he’s proudest of and Auckland’s potential as a ‘smart city’. Catch up on part one here.

Considering the programme of work that you do here, what achievements are you most proud of with respect to this broader topic of digital transformation?

I’ve got two examples that show the impact of digitising services, which has given the council more of a customer perspective.

The first example was the twice-yearly release of bookings for our holiday parks and baches. People previously had to queue up at our buildings to book and it was always the same people who knew about the service. Now, that system is digitised and people can see and book the assets online. As a result, there’s been an uptake in the number of bookings and increased awareness of what we have on offer.

The second example of digital transformation relates to our building inspectors. In the past, customers found that the inspection system was inconsistent in what was approved and what wasn’t. A lot of that was because the inspector’s access to information was often based on what the last inspector did.

To deal with this, the IT team and the building inspection team sat together outside the organisation to look into building something to improve access to information. We developed a tool together and deployed it out to the field and from memory there was a 6% business case improvement of the number of inspections that could be done, which in our scale is thousands. So it has helped inspectors do their job and also improved our service quality, therefore reducing the number of return inspections.

To me, that's an example of transformation done correctly – it was business-led but carried out collaboratively with IT to create an outcome. 

We've talked about some of the headwinds of transformation - the environment where you operate and the complexity of the organisation. What are some of the tailwinds that you find pushing you along?

The new generations that are coming in are proposing new ways of working that are different from how a typical corporate works. Normally corporates are silo-driven, where everyone works on their own piece of the overall project. This shift in approach has seen teams start to ask questions of other departments inside a project, meaning we get involved in far more interesting and important conversations around the wider business and value chain.

Technology used to constrain our imaginations, but now if anything, our imaginations are the limit to what technology can achieve. Do you agree with that, and how do you see those technology developments affecting organisations? 

You’re right on, and as far as I'm concerned, corporate IT's responsibility is to take advantage of that change. For example, SAP’s new product S4/HANA gives organisations the option to be quite radical in the way in which they transform the business. You can also be quite reactive in developing the user front end, or use open APIs to bring aspects of the business together.

However, while you can transform in smaller steps, the challenge is to improve the engagement between IT and the business to work together, think bigger and match this new technology space. That's exactly where the council is right now.

‘Smart cities’ are a big topic at the moment – for example Cyborg Labs in Toronto have had ambitious visions for transforming the city. Is it possible for Auckland to be seen as a digital smart city in the future and if so, what needs to be done to get there?

Yes, it is definitely possible. Not in the scale of Toronto but we are looking at a new tech precinct in the Wynyard Quarter with the same kind of concept.

When it comes to achieving that, you can't just have the city council being the one who designs what a smart city would look like. We're one of the stakeholders that need to be involved, alongside the tech firms, industry experts and innovative thinkers. The challenge is getting that group working together so they can start talking about where they think the opportunities are.

I like the approach of a network, although I wonder whether if it lacks a visible lead and if the network could be lost in the noise. My challenge back to you is perhaps you need to find someone who is going to stand up and shout from the rooftops a bit more.

Yes, I agree with that. I suppose our focus has been on actually consolidating and de-risking our processes so we can be better at the services we provide. When you do go off to the side to think about other long-term impacts, you do get lost in the wilderness because the focus on the organisation is still being better at what we do.

I can see that perspective - after all, sheep outside the flock usually get picked off by the wolves!

Yes, and I've got a few of those wolf bites on me, so I know them well!

See part one of our interview with Mark Denvir here.