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.
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.
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.