Chris Moore on 2010 and the year ahead for IT at the City of Edmonton

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with the City of Edmonton’s Chief Information Officer, Chris Moore, to chat about 2010 and to get his outlook on the year ahead. I first interviewed Chris back in July 2009, when we talked about the ongoing transformation of the City’s IT branch.

Open City Workshop

The IT transformation has progressed nicely, Chris told me. Recently his department ordered coffee mugs with the “ten ways of being” printed on them, something Chris resisted initially because he wanted the words to mean something. He gave a mug with the word “open” on it to City Manager Simon Farbrother as encouragement to continue the work he has been doing.

The IT transformation is ongoing, of course. The department has approval and funding to add 35 people this year, which can be an advantage because many firms are not hiring at the moment. “We want to create a place where employees want to be,” Chris said. “We need to use technology in a unique, dynamic, future way, so that they choose the City over other opportunities.” Chris is looking for the best tech people, but they also have to be a cultural fit, something that hasn’t always been a priority. The push to hire more employees should help the IT department reduce the number of contractors it has. That number currently stands at 64, but it has been as high as 99 and as low as 45, depending on the work required. “Contractors can create a knowledge void over time,” Chris told me, because they do the work but others have to support and maintain it. Furthermore, Chris wants to find a way to get employees closer to the business users. “The best place to be is embedded with the customer.”

It’s interesting that the IT department is growing given the question Chris posed near the beginning of our conversation: “Does IT, in any organization, have a future?” It’s something Chris has been thinking about both privately and out in the open on his blog. “There are a lot of folks blind to the fact that consumerization is impacting their systems.” Users are increasingly demanding more, and the technologies they use and learn about at home are making their way into the workplace as well. “Today’s consumer electronics are tomorrow’s corporate electronics,” he said. “The future of organized IT in enterprise is going to change dramatically, and I’m intrigued by that.” As a result, he is also thinking about his own position. “The role of the CIO has to change in government,” Chris told me. He said it needs to be much more strategic, but that it’s up to the people currently in the role to make that happen through their actions.

Looking back at 2010, I asked Chris about the City’s work on open data, something I’m particularly passionate about. Chris said that he was “pleased with the fact that we listened to the community” and noted that the open data initiative has benefited from three key elements: political sponsorship, administrative leadership, and community engagement. He agreed there is more work to be done, but said that “we showed up on the map in Canada” and definitely sees momentum building. Chris told me there has been “serious interest” from planning, transportation, and traffic safety, but that all the businesses at the City have questions about how to make it sustainable. “You need leadership and resources from IT to drive it forward, but you also need businesses with the data to want to play ball.” I’m hopeful that much more progress can be made in 2011 on the open data initiative.

Chris was also busy showcasing Edmonton on the world stage last year. In fact, he travelled more than any other City employee in 2010, visiting a variety of different places (PDF, page 11). He was able to speak at conferences about the work Edmonton is doing related to open government and social media (here’s a presentation he gave in Manila at FutureGov Asia), and also had the opportunity to learn from others around the world. Edmonton is now a part of the new World e-Governments Organization of Cities (WeGO) for instance. Chris was also instrumental in bringing the world to Edmonton, with events like Beyond 2010. “Lots of people asked why we were involved in that,” he recalled. “Because we can, because it is possible.” The event was another opportunity to showcase the work that IT has been doing. “A year ago we didn’t have a goal for it, but we did know we could be leading.”

I think Chris has definitely approached his role as CIO in that way as well. He has been really active on Twitter, something he is quite proud of. “I set an example for others, and articulated that you can use Twitter safely!” Recently Chris has started using Tumblr as well, and told me he’d like to spend more time blogging in 2011. “It’s a combination of what I have encountered with my work, telling the stories of what we’re doing, but also being disruptive and challenging people.” He likes the term “government futurist” as a way to describe the position he writes from.

open city workshop planning session
Chris Moore, Edmonton’s CIO, at the planning session for the upcoming Open City Workshop (March 6th, 2010) to discuss the City’s initiatives in open data and open government.

Though IT accomplished a lot in 2010, there is always more to do. In 2009 the corporate IT audit determined that governance needed to change. “I would have liked to have had more traction in 2010 with governance, but I am not disappointed.” Chris and his team had identified culture as a risk, and they have made progress on aligning IT governance with the shifting culture of the corporation as a whole. “We will absolutely crack the nut on it in 2011.” It’s one of many projects the department is working on, and Chris said to stay tuned for some exiting announcements.

This year is the 60th year of IT at the City of Edmonton (the first project was a payroll system for Edmonton Light & Power). While they didn’t celebrate ten years ago for the big five-oh, Chris assured me they are going to do something this year. With a new vision to be western Canada’s municipal IT leader and some exciting projects on the go, 2011 looks like it’ll be a great year for the City’s IT department. “Let’s return to world class,” Chris said. It won’t be easy, but Chris is looking forward to the challenge. “If you want to lead, you need continuous outcomes.”

Be sure to check out Chris’ post for additional thoughts: Technology in Government in 2011 and Beyond.

Transforming the City of Edmonton IT Branch

On Friday the City of Edmonton’s IT branch held its first ever IT Vendor Open House. The event was a big success, with dozens of local technology professionals stopping by throughout the day. Attendees had the opportunity to learn more about how the IT branch does business, and about some of the initiatives and projects that are coming down the pipe. The event also gave the IT branch a chance to share some of the work they’ve done recently to transform internally.

Chris Moore, the City’s Chief Information Officer, delivered two keynotes during the day, called “IT New Directions”. Chris isn’t your typical CIO – he doesn’t have a desk in his office, he avoids PowerPoint whenever possible, and he is always one step ahead of everyone else. For example, it wasn’t possible for anyone to run Macintosh computers at the City until recently. While everyone has been focusing on making that a reality (a few Councillors switched over earlier this year), Chris is looking at what’s next: bring your own technology. Chris imagines an environment in which employees can run whatever they like.

Edmonton CIO Chris Moore

He touched on a few main points:

  • There are around 1100 different applications and systems at the City. Only 132 of them are Access or Excel. That means there’s an incredible amount of overhead required for management and support, not to mention data in 1100 different places.
  • Throughout the spring, the IT branch held mini town halls, with about ten employees in each (there are 300 employees total).
  • Out of those discussions and other meetings, a new Agile Service Delivery Model emerged.

One of the few slides Chris showed during his keynote was a list of highlights from the past sixty years:

  • 1954: Univac 120 – First in Western Canada
  • 1960: IBM 1401 – First in Canada
  • 1966: IBM 360 – One of the first in Canada
  • 1978: Early adopter of GIS
  • 1980: City recruits IT staff from the U.K.
  • 1985: Sale of COINS to Orange County, CA
  • 1991:, “early Internet adopter”
  • 1996: POSSE – Award winning system
  • 1999: One of the first cities to move to Enterprise GIS
  • 2009: First city in North America to use SAP CRM for 311

The slide was titled “Western Canada’s Municipal Information Technology Leader”. That’s perhaps a bit of a stretch for the last few years, but it’s certainly the goal for the future. Chris and his team want to get back to being the innovators.

On June 18th, the Information Technology Corporate Audit Report for 2008 was released and it talks a lot about the drivers behind the transformation that Chris touched on in his keynote. Here’s a Wordle of the report:

Among other things, there were two clear conclusions from the report (which you can download here in Word format):

  • That Corporate IT resources can be used in a more cost effective and efficient manner.
  • That the IT Governance Framework is not effective in prioritizing and allocating operating and capital resources for information technology.

In reality, there isn’t much of a Governance Framework at the moment, but the IT branch is already working to change that. They’ve created something they call COKESFORIT, or the “ten ways of being”:

  1. Collaborative
  2. Open
  3. Knowledgeable
  4. Empowered
  5. Supportive
  6. Flexible
  7. Organized
  8. Responsible
  9. Innovative
  10. Trusting

The idea is that everything the IT branch does should align with these concepts.

During ICLEI a couple weeks ago, visual facilitator Roy Blumenthal worked with the IT branch, and captured eighteen impressive visual notes. As a fan of open data, I like this one:

I’m excited about the changes taking place at the IT branch. I think the organization is heading down the right path: to become more efficient and more transparent. If you’ve got ideas or feedback, now seems like the right time to get in touch with them!