Interview: Luke Harvey, Chief Digital Officer, Blacktown City Council

Tell us about your background and journey through the public sector?

I started my professional career working in the private sector in public sector strategy consulting. This was first for foreign direct investment agencies such as Enterprise Florida in Belgium to incentivise European companies to invest in Florida) and then more general strategy consulting with Federal agencies in Canberra. 

Following my time in strategy consulting, I moved into the electricity industry with ActewAGL in Canberra, initially working as an analyst/project manager and eventually becoming the manager of IT Transformation. 

In 2016 I moved to Sydney and staying in the electricity industry started working at Ausgrid as the manager of Innovation and Digital Solutions. During my time at Ausgrid the organisation was privatised and the new owners commenced a journey of digital transformation that I played a key role in. My role was working with Boston Consulting Group to developing and execute strategy with the intent to reduce cost, transform the customer experience and position Ausgrid for future disruption. 

I completed my MBA in 2018 and the opportunity of Chief Digital Officer at Blacktown City Council arose which is my first true public sector role.

What you are responsible for in your current role and what do you find most engaging about it?

At Blacktown City Council I am responsible for managing all IT operations, the development and execution of the Councils digital strategy, and for customer experience.

The aspect of the role I find most engaging is the breadth of Council operations that we support, and the opportunity to improve service delivery to residents through the use of technology. I am excited to bring the lessons I learnt assisting Ausgrid go through privatisation to the Council and improving the delivery of our services. Council has many sites. I enjoy visiting these, whether they be childcare centres, parks, nurseries, community centres or leisure centres and meeting our employees, hearing their stories and how they think we can and should improve Council. 

Additionally, Council is so close to the residents I like to meet with and talk to them about their experiences, what we are doing well and how we can improve our services. 

How are you leveraging (or how are you planning on leveraging) and embedding digital and other technology to improve operations and service? 

What challenges are you coming up against and how are you working through these?

Blacktown City Council is a large and rapidly growing Council. We are looking to technology to assist us to support our growing resident base, and to improve our employee and customer experience. We are implementing new systems to automate functions, provide self-service options for residents and employees, and enabling our workers to undertake their work more effectively from the field. 

Challenges we face include the breadth of Council operations and knowing where to focus our energy and attention at any one time. As an organisation with a long history we also have some foundational technology issues to work through – such as the speed of the network to remote sites, and cybersecurity. In order to enable future digital transformation, it is important to remember and address these foundational issues before jumping into more exciting innovation.

Other challenges include the long-embedded ways of working and influencing change. If someone has been doing a task a certain way for 40 years it can be hard to encourage them to change, as this can impact their perceived sense of self-efficacy and morale. We are working through this challenge by closely working with business units on new systems that will impact them and ensuring change management is provided on all projects. 

This includes additional support to staff post project go-live to ensure any concerns are addressed and communicating to employees how the new systems benefit them.

How do you define great transformation leadership and what, with regard to this, are you seeing have the most positive effect within your Council?

Great transformational leadership is hard for me to define. I have worked with several very different leaders who have been successful in leading change. 

For me a transformational leader should have the following attributes:

A clear and compelling vision for the future;

The ability to forge strong relationships;

An action mindset, executing change and not solely discussing it;

Resilience and the ability to build a resilient mindset in others – as things will not always go smoothly during any transformation; and

A passion for what they do which is seen and appreciated by others.

At Blacktown City Council I am focussing on a clear and compelling vision for the future and getting people across the organisation excited about how technology can transform and improve what they do. This has been turned into a three-year strategy that we are currently executing. 

The biggest challenge is building a resiliency mindset as people (for the most part) are risk-averse. Allowing people to prototype ideas or products in a low-risk environment and celebrating the success (or failure) has gone some way towards addressing this in the organisation.

What drives you in working for the Public Sector and where do you feel the focus needs to be on most to improve local government in Australia? 

I enjoy working in the Public Sector as I can see the benefit and importance of Councils operations to the local community. If you walk through one of Councils libraries such as Max Webber Library in the Blacktown CBD or the Mount Druitt library, the diversity of residents accessing and depending on Council services is inspiring. 

I am focused on ensuring that our residents have access to the technology they need to build their digital capability and to be able to compete for jobs in the digital future and that our workforce has access to the technology to work effectively. 

Compared to the private sector there is some way for local government to go in terms of efficiency. There are still manual processes which could be undertaken by machines to allow employees to focus on higher-value activities and opportunity for greater use of data to assist the efficiency and accuracy of operations.  

Where do you look to for further education? E.g. articles, podcasts, news sources, online courses, etc.? 

My main sources of information are articles in publications such as the Harvard Business Review, technology conferences and online resources.

A lot of technology vendors (such as Microsoft or Oracle) run conferences each year which present a lot of their innovation. You have to take it with a grain of salt as they are trying to make sales, but you can still apply elements of their innovative ideas or new ways of working to Council without spending large amounts of money.

Who inspires you and why?

I am inspired by a large number of people. There are people working for Council who have been with the organisation in excess of fifty years. Their dedication and commitment to improving the outcomes for residents inspire me each and every day.

Many people across business and government who inspire me. Whilst no one is perfect I am inspired by how Jeff Bezos turned Amazon from a company that sold books, to a company that does everything. Similarly, by Richard Branson and ultimately by anyone who sees an opportunity to do something better and goes for it.