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CIO50 2020 #20: Allan Lightbourne, Tauranga City Council

  • Name Allan Lightbourne
  • Title Chief digital officer
  • Company Tauranga City Council
  • Commenced role April 2017
  • Reporting Line GM corporate services
  • Member of the Executive Team No
  • Technology Function 80 staff, 3 direct reports
  • Tauranga is New Zealand’s fastest growing city, and with the trajectory comes significant demands on transport and housing across a dispersed city scape.

    Allan Lightbourne, chief digital officer at Tauranga City Council, got his team members to work with their colleagues from across the organisation, and look at the city’s key challenges that could be alleviated by technology.

    “We used design-thinking techniques to work through each problem statement and apply ideation approaches to the options to address these challenges,” he says.

    While the bulk of our team time is spent on insights, productivity, community experience and risk management. We are also always looking to find ways to leverage small investments to ensure our city remains an enjoyable place to live, work and play.

    So in amongst the 250+ projects that will be delivered, we also leverage down time between projects to innovate and improve experience, he says. One area they looked at was providing the central business district with ‘smart city wifi’ or ‘public wifi’.

    “We looked at a number of options and through the design thinking process, felt that a small additional investment in our existing corporate wifi could provide significant gains across key areas in the city,” says Lighbourne.

    The council already provided public wifi at the airport and holiday parks, and therefore had a good understanding of the cost for these types of deployments, he states.

    “Having invested in wifi for the organisation and with a number of office locations around the CBD already, we felt that we had an opportunity to extend our existing investment, rather than deploy a new and expensive standalone solution,” he says.

    Looking at their existing locations they believed they could purchase a handful of outdoor wifi access points, fix these to existing buildings, and network to provide enough coverage to create an MVP solution.

    “This would enable us to start delivering a service that our citizens and visitors would value, while also providing insights to our organisation and local businesses,” says Lighbourne.

    TCC delivered an MVP public WIFI at Mount Maunganui Main Beach. Throughout the summary period this is a hotspot for sporting and social events, plus a favourite of visitors to the bay.

    Having multiple access points in proximity provided them with simple heatmap information.

    “This allows us to understand how people really move about our city, but more importantly, we can understand parking, event, bus stop and sidewalk bench usage,” he says. “This level of information has simply been inaccessible to us as an organisation until now.”

    “Having a vibrant, fun and attractive city is one of the most important priorities for the citizens of Tauranga, and therefore providing information and amenity in one solution is a real trump card”. 

    This initiative is indicative of the approach Lightbourne and his team are doing to meet the needs of a growing city and the desires of the people that live and visit Tauranga.

    “We like to think the digital services team at Tauranga City Council is one of the best little teams in New Zealand,” he says. “But we never sit back and rest on our laurels.”

    “Being part of a city like Tauranga means we have significant opportunities to network and share information with our counterparts in other organisations, such as Trustpower, Zespri, Ballance, Western Bay of Plenty District Council and Priority One. None of us compete with each other and each of these organisations succeed when our city succeeds” 

    These relationships have led to the council’s involvement in the Western Bay of Plenty Digital Enablement Programme, The Smart Seeds programme, and the Association of Local Government Information Management. 

    They also share their experience on building an agile practice with various local businesses, says Lighbourne.

    Peer leadership 

    He says the executive team also leveraged their peer relationships with other councils that had similar business needs and processes.

    Auckland Council, for instance, while significantly larger than Tauranga, can provide insights on how Tauranga can lead through current and future needs.

    Says Lightbourne: “We asked ourselves - how do we leverage this alignment?”

    The Tauranga City Council worked with Auckland Council and a technology provider on an innovative, low risk and high benefit project.

    This allowed them to take Auckland’s processes and documentation, rather than building their own platform for a technology enabled initiative, and for Auckland staff to train their counterparts in Tauranga.

    “Through our implementation, we identified shared process and technology improvements that can be built once and then delivered to both organisations,” says Lightbourne.

    This collaboration has enabled Tauranga to begin a migration from their end-of-life ERP platform to SAP.

    This is a project that simply would not have been possible without the collaboration with Auckland Council, he says.

    “The idea that we could implement SAP Financials in under six months for an organisation as complex as a council would have seemed like madness two years ago, but through leveraging Auckland Council’s experience and processes, we provide our organisation with a solution that we know will work. And are able to do so very quickly.”

    “The design of the solution also allows us to on-board other New Zealand councils to receive the same common platform, with a depth of functionality for a relatively low cost and low risk.”

    Another area Lightbourne is proud of is how his team lifted their service performance from an NPS (Net Promoter Score) of 37 per cent to 83 per cent in six months. They also lifted their team engagement from 23 per cent to 76 per cent over the past year.

    “But the leadership team and I still want more,” he says.

    “We were already running agile, leveraging self-forming teams, but we felt while we were running like a finely tuned machine, we could achieve even more by dramatically increasing our empowerment across the team.”

    “We already had a highly empowered team,” he states, “but they also pondered on ‘what if as leaders we only focused on strategy and people, leaving all other decision making to our people?’

    “Was that possible? Would it work? How comfortable would we feel?”

    This transition started with talking to the team, he states.

    “We spent a lot of time reflecting on what was working well and not so well. We got the wider team involved in feedback around our operating model as well as considering grouping logical functions together to improve efficiencies. 

    “A key theme emerged around how we could establish the most effective communications possible, even when people couldn’t attend meetings/info sessions in person.

    “We decided to slow things down and focus on less content, which created more meaningful discussions,” says Lightbourne.

    Three’s company

    They also dramatically simplified communications to the team, focusing on three pieces of information to take away from any discussion. “‘Three’s company’, as we call it,” says Lightbourne.

    “This approach immediately created more alignment and strong guide rails for the team,” he states. The team also better understood the drivers behind the leader’s decision-making.

    The next step involved the way decisions are made, says Lighbourne.

    For this, they created a cross functional group where the leaders focused on strategy and direction, and group members were empowered to make decisions.

    This group included product owners, senior technical roles, project managers and influencers from across the team. 

    “When forming this group, we provided clear guide rails and objectives, but made sure the team should feel open to challenging us,” he states.

    “We also know that we needed to bring our team and the wider organisation on this journey.” 

    The team meetings, all held in stand-up style, were recorded so these could be shared with members of the digital services team and other business units.

    “By inviting people from across the organisation into our team meetings, we found our standup and Kanban style meetings started to get adopted across the company,” says Lighbourne. 

    Some of his team members are now being asked to guide other teams that are adopting the same meeting style.

    “Our relationship with the wider organisation has continued to strengthen as we have collectively shared information around priorities and decision making,” says Lighbourne.

    “Digital services are seen as a trusted partner and a leader in project management practices.

    “We know we still have a long way to go but we believe our approach to empowerment is creating a real difference in the way our team supports our organisation to achieve its vision, mission, and goals.”

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