Colin Lawrence first came to Christchurch City Council, a government agency in the largest conurbation in the South Island of New Zealand, with a background in ambulatory service and management. What he may have lacked in IT experience back then, he easily made up for in management and people skills. He knew how to quickly assess a situation.
From the moment he got to the City Council, he recognized a group of very capable people with strong skill sets. But they were so busy just making things work, they had no strategic visibility of assets, no clear understanding of who was doing what or what contracts they had in place and zero insight into the total value or cost of IT to the organization.
“It was clear to me that the biggest problem was no visibility,” Lawrence says. “If you can’t see it, you can’t manage it. Nothing you do will make any big change until you get visibility.”
We sat down with Lawrence to talk about his career journey and how he modernized Christchurch City Council IT.
How did Christchurch get here?
In 2010 and 2011, Christchurch, population 380,000, suffered widespread devastation from a series of earthquakes. Buildings and homes were destroyed, and infrastructure collapsed; 185 people were killed and thousands more were injured. New Zealand declared a national civil defense emergency and response to the natural disaster became a herculean effort. This included lasting support from Christchurch City Council.
The City Council serves the community’s citizens with essential public services with an annual budget of approximately NZ$1.14 billion and just over 2,400 employees. In response to the catastrophic quakes, the entire agency moved into emergency mode to aid the community’s massive rebuild. In the months and even years that followed, the City Council continued to operate that way – doing what they could to make things work. Fast forward five years though and the City Council was still operating under such a premise. Until Lawrence got there.
For nearly forty years, Lawrence worked in ambulance service and management. In 2020, he was hired by the local government agency to support their IT efforts. Thanks to his clinical training as an advanced care paramedic, Lawrence was adept at walking into a situation and quickly evaluating the scene. He knew how to understand the context of that scene and assess what actions needed to be taken to maintain the status quo, or preferably, improve upon it. For City Council leaders, improvement was the goal in the form of delivering better services to the community at a lower cost.
Modernization to the rescue
Soon after Lawrence was hired, the Council began their first-ever IT asset management plan to provide a comprehensive record of IT infrastructure, assets, and performance. This information could then be used for strategy development and assessing IT efficacy. Under Lawrence’s direction, an extensive review of IT asset management solutions and internal evaluation of both software and systems integrators was devised along with a roadmap for a more strategic IT in the future.
At the end of this process, Christchurch City Council chose Snow Software for full visibility of assets, users, and IT consumption.
“Snow gave us visibility into things we knew about, and revealed much more, too…For the first time, we obtained accurate totals for on-premises devices, software and cloud subscriptions, and we could see who used which software and services.”– Colin Lawrence, Team Leader, IT Asset Management, Christchurch City Council
Learn the benefits Christchurch City Council realized using Snow Software in the full case study.
Team is everything
For Christchurch City Council, strategic IT decisions fueled by visibility were an entirely new concept. Going through such a shift was a process only made possible with good tools and even better communication. Bringing people along through the culture change took willingness and plenty of communication from everyone involved. For Lawrence, it would have been impossible without solid teamwork.
“Teamwork is everything; you will get nowhere by yourself.”
At the City Council, my team listened, he says, and likewise, he listened to them and the problems they were encountering. In this way, the organization was able to come to an aggregated view of what needed to be done and as a result, a roadmap for how to get there with the budget available.
Remodeling software licenses, uncovering inappropriate software and automation, in general, provided significant cost avoidances and allowed the City Council to make strategic decisions in support of service delivery.
Lawrence also built a performance system that reflects on the work people do so that people could understand when and how they make progress. In this way, they know they are contributing and adding value to the organization. Problem resolution is much more effective, and people feel rewarded for their efforts. People sense they are listened to and that their ideas benefit the organization, he says.
Suggestions for success
For Lawrence, it’s important everyone understands the vision, buys into it and works toward it. When asked about his advice to other practitioners looking to make a difference in their organization, teamwork comes out on top. “Getting it right means listening to each other and collaborating. When you support your team and acknowledge their work, the entire organization benefits.” He has felt strongly about teamwork since working in ambulatory services. “I have a duty of care to my team.”
Secondly, always be open to new ideas, he suggests. “Be willing to look around you because your environment changes. And with that change comes a need for you to change. Be aware of institutionalization. Don’t get wrapped up in an organization so much that your thought processes and your actions limit your vision and your ability to see what actually needs to be done.”
This post is part of a series of blogs that highlight IT practitioners and their on-the-job experiences, diverse backgrounds and what it means to work in IT today. Look for more posts coming in the new year.
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