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Tell us about the journey to your current role and what it this role entails?

I am the Smart Christchurch Manager based at Christchurch City Council, New Zealand. Smart Christchurch trials technology and approaches that make life better for people and are replicated by others (both cities and organisations).

This role is a great blend of my skills and experience. We are empowered to take risks on behalf of the organisation, working across sectors to deliver results that better prepare our city to take advantage of the fourth industrial revolution.

Over the last twenty years, I have both public and private sector experience in:Business transformation and change management, I.T. leadership and management positions
Strategy development and planning, Project and programme planning, Management consulting and Education and training.

Owning my own IT training business led to a position in the New Zealand Defence Force which led to IT management positions in both the public and private sector including; relationship management, IT team leader roles (support, business solutions, GIS & BI, project management & business analysis, prioritisation & benefit management) and managing at a department level.

Woven through that IT experience was extensive project and programme management implementing ERP systems and cloud solutions, IT enhancement and change programmes, and delivering projects and programmes for other sectors such as Statistics New Zealand.

My business strategy and transformation experience includes; development of an I.T. strategy and subsequent implementation of a change proposal, development of customer strategies, customer experience journey mapping, operating model development, organisation-wide project prioritisation, and management of the delivery teams for these initiatives (where applicable).

Can you describe a project you are working on or recently completed? What challenges did you face along the way and how were they overcome?

In July 2018, the Smart Christchurch programme at Christchurch City Council (CCC) initiated a three year trial of an earthquake response network, EQRNet, with local company Canterbury Seismic Instruments (CSI). EQRNet is a dense network of more than 150 ground-based accelerometers which allows Council to manage its earthquake response in real-time; safeguarding communities, staff, and assets above and below ground.

Using EQRNet, we can instantly compare localised shaking to every building’s design intent and NZ Building Code Limit States using best-practice spectral analysis techniques. The network’s output provides defendable real-time information to building managers, emergency teams, and the public, allowing better management of response during seismic events.

A key challenge with this initiative was the traditional model of deploying seismic sensors:
Seismic sensor solutions are seen as very expensive and delivered by major engineering firms with a profit incentive.

Sensors are a capital cost for building owners who may not see the value in providing seismic monitoring as it is their leaseholders who experience the business disruption.
Experience with the Christchurch rebuild showed that seismic sensors in buildings were often de-scoped during cost-cutting exercises during construction.

These silo-ed implementations do not have a public-good imperative and therefore do not typically make their data available for emergency response purposes or for the public to make individual quake response decisions.

In addition, there were also several instances where seismic sensors had been implemented but then were not working during seismic events so effectively useless.
We overcame these challenges by disrupting the traditional silo-ed capital cost delivery model with a ‘seismic resilience as a service’ model for public good:
Changed the model from a one-off capex cost to a monthly operational cost (like an insurance premium).
Each additional sensor (whether public or private) provides exponential benefit for emergency response and informed decision-making for the network users.
All sensors provide data for emergency response purposes which leverages both public and private sensors for the network.

What did you learn from this project? What did it achieve?

This trial was initiated on the back of a 10-sensor pilot in the Christchurch central business district which demonstrated significant variations in ground-shaking over distances as small as 100m. This proved that a much greater level of monitoring was required than currently existed through GeoNet instrumentation.

With 150 sensors (and expanding from private implementations), the Council can now optimise the risk and cost balance, with defendable real-time information.
Our facility managers will benefit from instant, real-time alert information to manage earthquake response at each of its many assets, both above and below ground.

Private building owners and infrastructure companies who participate in the network will also receive real-time alert information to manage their earthquake response at their assets; both above and below ground.

Regional emergency management will benefit from an instant ‘birds-eye’ view of potential damage across the city (at a building-by-building level), allowing instant triage of the most affected areas and prioritisation of resource and response.

In 2019, EQRNet won the SoLGM GHD Advisory Award for Innovation in Asset and Infrastructure Management. The judges has this to say about the EQRNet project: The importance of quality information to good local governance cannot be underestimated. Christchurch has successfully married good science, good infrastructure, the smart application of digital technology and building information held into a tool that will support effective regulation and civil response. Importantly, this innovation will allow the rapid targeting of earthquake response where differential ground movement means not all areas, and not all buildings will be impacted equally. The service is readily transferable to local communities both here and overseas.

What excites you most about the future?

I’m excited about the prospect of citizens having more participation and control in democracy and those things that are traditionally thought of as ‘government business’ going back into the hands of an empowered and engaged citizenry.

As trust is built between citizens and government, we can have special interest groups and communities provide information with a higher degree of accuracy and more efficiently than traditional government processes. For instance, a cycling advocate group can provide real-time information to Councils about cycleways; where they work well, where they need improvements, and whether maintenance is required.

Crowd-sourced data like this would be kept up-to-date and be relevant to the people using that infrastructure rather than one of several datasets collected from a Council which is soon incorrect and ultimately becomes unreliable in our dynamic cities of today.
I’m also excited about innovation that reduces dependency on single-occupancy cars such as autonomous vehicle fleets, ride share, and micro-mobility solutions.

These solutions present a viable alternative to the inefficient single-occupancy car use which has dominated our cities’ urban planning, infrastructure, and landscape.
Our roads and traffic & congestion management practices must cater for peak flow and we use valuable city real-estate to store vehicles as they sit unused for most of the day until their driver takes them home to sit dormant in their own little purpose-designed house for the evening.

As our population ages, these solutions will help people to be mobile, independent, and socially connected.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone looking to further their career in government, what would it be?

The institution of government is (necessarily) risk-averse, bureaucratic, and cautious. If you would like to further your career in government and be rewarded with a myriad of opportunities, then do the following:
Leverage other projects where possible and share generously with your colleagues – eliminate patch protection and ego from your way of working.
Take time to understand the many sides of an issue then be confident to make a decision on a course of action / direction.
Maintain momentum and get the right things done quickly and efficiently – without putting the organisation at undue risk.
Take accountability when mistakes are made.
Never let a failure go to waste – commit to implementing those lessons in your next project or role.

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

One of my favourite rules of being an ‘expert’ is the three book rule (attributed to Tim Ferris); if you were to read three books about a topic you would be an expert compared to 99{802238075386540f56ff51177b29e561e146d6ad749d3ad56f8d94eb00021cb8} of the population. Obviously in the digital age, we can replace three ‘books’ with other media such as podcasts, or industry groups set up to provide research and support for the sector it represents. The Smart Cities Council Australia New Zealand provides a library of resources including the Smart Cities Readiness Guide, the Information Centre, and participation in conference calls drawing on experts from around the world.

What are you most looking forward to at the event?

The opportunity to network with professionals in other cities is always beneficial. I’m looking forward to the keynote speech where I will hear how other cities are grappling with the problem of knowing when to invest in technology given that it may soon be obsolete – the balance between risk and return on investment.