Warren Shera, CIO of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, is faced with the challenging task of reconciling the ICT needs of four departments, which bring very different established needs, priorities and styles of operation to the mix.
There are obvious economies to be gained in some areas by establishing more uniformity, he says, but on the other hand, specialist customer-facing functions of the constituent departments have established their own brand and it may be unwise to change some of them.
"A lot of the customer-facing websites and interfaces will still be specific [self-contained] entities, for example the Immigration entity," says Shera. "We'll have to take careful and calculated decisions about the branding that goes into those sites. But from an internal corporate perspective, we'll aim for a single identity."
The MBIE, which got the moniker of 'super ministry' when it was first announced, brings together staff from the Ministry of Economic Development, the Department of Labour, the Ministry of Science and Innovation and the Department of Building and Housing.
The single biggest immediate priority for what has been referred in media as the 'super ministry' is providing everyone with an email address that signals the organisation's new identity -- and giving everyone a "people-search capability" that will let them locate their co-workers in appropriate units of the new ministry.
"That's nothing too sophisticated, but it's a day-one requirement -- and we'll have that running shortly," he says. "Over a period of time, we will move towards and create a single integrated network -- in the sense not only of the telecommunications part, but also the core infrastructure of a desktop unit on a common email system, a common EDRMS [electronic data and records management system], a common telephony system and a common dial plan. Most organisations today would consider that a basically standard commodity.
"So I'll be bringing that together over coming months. It's essential."
Outside the immediate question of the development of a unified ICT environment other pertinent changes are in the wind; by the middle of next year, the new ministry will move its head office to the renovated former Defence building in Wellington's Stout Street. Shera sees this as an opportunity rather than a challenge. The move "forms an excellent catalyst for a change event to form a single integrated capability," he says.
"So what we're planning to do in advance of that building move is to create a foundation MBIE-wide platform, not only in Wellington but throughout the country and in some of the sites we have throughout the world. We will move to that over a nine-to-12-month window" -- though perhaps, he says on reflection, it will take a little longer.
The aim is to have everyone move once onto the final platform, rather than involve them in a series of interim moves, he says.
The change will also embrace other necessary modernisation on the ICT front "There's a lot of [Windows] XP out there, so we have to go through an upgrade process regardless." Some teams in the constituent departments are already using Windows 7, he says; the former Ministry of Economic Development is probably furthest advanced in that respect.
Will the combined agencies adopt one agency's existing processes and technology in areas where this is clearly best practice, as the ANZ Bank largely adopted the National Bank's way of doing things in its merger ?
"We're still working our way through that, but I think it's fair to say some systems are more current and more appropriate and fit for purpose [than others]. After doing some analysis, we'll make our decision about the platform we move to and that the others will fold into or migrate towards. All agencies will move to Windows 7 on the desktop "and we're dealing with security issues and compliance issues that were on the table a while ago."
He sees, not surprisingly, potential synergies between the work of the constituent agencies. "In some respects I'm still trying to work through what those might be as I try and get an assessment on what the four foundation agencies delivered in their current forms, then look towards opportunities of either refresh or upgrades.
"But certainly there's a lot of duplication out there, even in simple things like telephony systems," Shera says. "The opportunity to provide an application like Lync desktop-to-desktop unified communications, where we bring together desktop videoconferencing from an internal perspective, will be quite exciting.
"Today we run a number of separate call-centre operations. There are bound to be some synergies as they come together, from sharing premises and sharing systems and delivering a more effective service," he says,
Shera has spent more than a decade of his recent career in private industry, with EDS, HP and Datacom, but he came into EDS from Government Computing Services in 1999, and has an extensive background in public-sector computing too.
The beginning of his management career, he says, was managing the Wanganui law-enforcement computer centre at the time the development of new planned police system, Incis, had to be terminated.
"Then EDS came along and we shut the Wanganui Computer Centre down and relocated people and teams. I came down to Wellington and got to be part of the EDS team integrating the Databank organisation." Then as EDS "grew and grew", he played a role in a number of major integrations with that company. "Big integration projects and big complex technology solutions have been at the core of my career over the years.
"In some respects," he says, "this opportunity with MBIE in bringing the four foundation entities into one has a lot of similarities with some aspects of my previous career in outsourcing, where [the emphasis was on] transition of people, transition of systems; getting those systems up and running in a Day One scenario and then changing them over time into a better and more sleek and efficient platform."
Is much of that 1990s public sector background of relevance today? "I think there's a foundation there when it comes to people-change and how to embrace some of these changes. You're right, in terms of technology some of that work counts for nothing; but certainly the history, the learnings and experiences over the years stand you in good stead."
What was particularly attractive about the MBIE assignment? In reply, he points to the MBIE charter: "That reminds me every day; we're playing a central role in maintaining and developing a strong New Zealand economy -- being part of an environment in which we could improve the way in which services are delivered.
"Growing the NZ economy in the context of that is part of my history," he says. Also part of his history, he reflects, is experience of some negative aspects of a multinational's venture into the New Zealand market.
"I spent a lot of time working in the multinational environment and a lot of time in that context with EDS. In the latter stages of my time with EDS there was a significant drive to move positions and workloads out of New Zealand. Taking a personal view of this, I got my start as a trainee computer operator and a lot of those opportunities have been disappearing -- being offshored.
"So the opportunity to be part of something that was about growing New Zealand for New Zealanders was pretty exciting. But even if you put those aspirational areas to one side, the ability and opportunity to be part of a team that was going to be front and centre in creating that ICT platform for the MBIE environment is pretty exciting too."
Does he anticipate he'll bring a different leadership style to the unified entity than the constituent departments have been used to? "In the first couple of weeks in my new role here we brought together essentially that new structure and a new leadership team. So by the end of last year, I was able to appoint my direct reports."
Shera himself reports to Peter Thomas, who runs the corporate services group. Thomas, former Defence CIO, reports to MBIE chief executive David Smol. "The core corporate services: IT, legal, building premises, procurement; and finance are in there as well reporting to Peter; we as a group are providing those services out across the wider organisation.
"So as CIO I have an operations manager and a CTO and a business administration office and I have a capability team that runs projects, testing and the business architecture team. They form the core of the IT structure going forward.
"As to leadership style; I'm decisive; I'll make decisions, take actions with a high degree of urgency. I hold people and organisations to account. Also I'm very open and transparent about the conversations and communications we'll have as we go through the next 18 months. We'll make and meet commitments when it comes to delivering these IT projects.
"One thing that surprised me is that there are a lot of services that to all intents and purposes have been outsourced or are delivered to or by service providers. I think one of the key things I have to do in the very short term is ensure those service providers accept accountability and step up to their obligations, as our internal providers do, in a way and at a pace that suits the speed with which the new ministry wants to move forward."
Shera thinks, however, that there is a good overall balance between in-house and outsourced services in the constituent agencies of the new ministry. "I will have to go through some refinements, but we already have extensive service agreements with a number of the key organisations around the New Zealand marketplace -- Fujitsu, HP, Telecom, Datacom, TelstraClear (now Vodafone) and Dimension Data -- and those organisations represent, long-standing arrangements, for example in HP's case, managing the AMS immigration system.
"A number of those other organisations represent the all-of-government initiatives that we're utilising -- Datacom with the all-of-government Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Vodafone on syndicated procurement for mobile phones and other devices.
"So there are a lot of improvements that we have to make about our engagement with them and making sure they understand our priorities."
Some of the constituent agencies that form MBIE were already using IaaS; "There's a significant workload with Datacom -- particularly from MED -- and MSI [Ministry of Science and Innovation] with Revera."
He discounts any possibility of conflict or friction in having the former MED as part of his organisation while at the same time it steers elements of the all-of-government programme. "On the contrary, I see a lot of synergy and benefit in using those contacts and the knowledge and the IP that they create for us," he says.
"I think as DIA [Department of Internal Affairs] moves forward with its new initiatives, the challenge -- or opportunity - will be lining up our change with the release of new products or capability that they bring to the all-of-government table. I see that being a critical success factor in my taking MBIE forward to use those capabilities -- as and when they're either mature enough. We've got great value out of the IaaS capability."
DIA is "definitely" on the right track with the all-of-government ICT programme, Shera says. "I couldn't offer any more comment than that; I haven't been in the chair long enough; but definitely with regard to synergies, there are a lot of areas where you can make significant improvements just in our own environment with a common approach to the acquisition even of simple things like telephones or telephony systems as an example."
There is some feeling in the industry that DIA's and MED's preference for long-term contracts with panels of vendors for all-of-government supply excludes new, small and local companies. Shera takes an optimistic view.
"I'm probably not able to comment with authority," he says. "What I can say is that panels are a very powerful tool to deploy or enact a technology platform or system or obtain resources. Panels in my experience don't necessarily have to be a static thing. Perhaps with projects like IaaS, when you're talking about multi-million dollar infrastructure upgrades around datacentres [you have to look at long term contracts]; but in terms of software providers [panels are] something we're constantly looking at."
The merger exercise is "an interesting challenge; there are obviously four different entities, four different technology sets and perhaps four different models for how they work and how they address the challenges they're presented with.
"Perhaps my biggest challenge -- or opportunity -- is aligning the IT services division with the new business leaders that report to David [Smol, MBIE CEO]; and aligning my team to support them in the development of their new business-facing initiatives and strategies as they bring these products and services to market.
"So as a general statement, I think there will be a requirement to adjust to a new leadership style, a new model, a new culture as it evolves, as MBIE develops."