APIs for Better Public Services

The Government Key Results Area (KRA) 9 Programme and NZ Tech hosted a workshop session to discuss the potential that APIs & access to backend government data might hold in terms of simplifying interactions with government, fostering innovation and contributing to better public services.

The workshop was attended by representatives from both government agencies as well as the New Zealand technology industry; in the spirit of looking for practical measures to accelerate progress.

We have been involved with KRA 9 & 10 for a while now and it’s great to see that the conversation as shifted from ‘should we’ to ‘how could we’ over the past few months. We have already started the adoption of the New Zealand Business Number.

The workshop session was facilitated – there was certainly plenty of active dialogue - and I left with some key thoughts & insights.

  • For APIs to be sustainable they need to be baked into the architecture of agency systems – not be seen as an ‘add on’ activity. Building your internal systems architecture around APIs just makes good sense and is part of the Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) approach – everyone knows the problems building monolithic software applications create.
  •  A mechanism – perhaps a ‘API Marketplace’ – needs to be put in place to allow government to understand the demand and priority for APIs & backend data access. Ensuring that resources are focused on the highest value items at all times – targeting the right problem or exploiting the right opportunity. The marketplace should be built on the principle of co-production between government and private partners.
  • An API equivalent of data.govt.nz is required (or perhaps the two can be combined?) to provide a register of API’s available across agencies. This could also be an opportunity to partner with other organisations (for example, Wiki New Zealand) on providing a standard set of interfaces/interface tools.
  • APIs need to operate within an eco-system (including both government and commercial partners) – including a clear consistent operating model, roles & responsibilities as well as funding arrangements. Stewardship is required to maintain quality, oversee the adoption of standards and ensure that changing demands/opportunities are considered and catered for.
  • Agencies needs to review their support mechanisms and structures in light of deploying API. Appropriate service levels need to be put in place – noting that often the publishing of API may shift agencies from 9-5 to 24/7 support models. This is another clear opportunity to work across agencies and even partner with commercial partners who may take on the support role (perhaps as service brokers?)
  • An ‘open by default’ approach (already being fostered by data.govt.nz and others) needs to continue to be the starting position for any API development. Ongoing work in the areas of information security and privacy needs to be accelerated to ensure that APIs are built appropriately and comply with legislation and appropriate use terms.

I’m a huge believer in the potential that public-private partnerships hold for growing NZ Inc and establishing New Zealand as leaders in the new Global Digital Economy. 

I’m looking forward to continuing to work with the KRA 9 & 10 teams to realize that potential and deliver real results that move NZ forward.

NZ Digital Manifesto - Who Is Keen?

During the course of the last year there has been a lot of talk about the need for stronger technology leadership in New Zealand, to make us a world leader in the new Digital Economy.

Companies such as Xero, Vend and Orion (amongst others, including some great work being done by ICT industry groups) have started putting New Zealand on the Global Digital Map and we now have an unpredicted opportunity to build on these successes to position New Zealand as a Digital Superpower.

To achieve Superpower status we will need the right people around the table and an action-oriented, coordinated plan - no mean feat for sure. I’m certainly not trivialising the effort required but the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. I put to you that coming up with a Digital Manifesto for NZ - to guide investment in people, businesses and government - is an exceptionally good place to start.

Over the past 3 or so months I’ve started thinking that we have now talked about the issue long enough* - its time for action!  I’m looking to form a coalition of the willing to work on formulating and promoting a NZ Digital Manifesto.

So what do you say, want to join us?

Tweet me, email me, call me - whatever works for you, reach out if you’re keen to be involved.

* the UK have in fact got a jumpstart on us (http://bit.ly/1m9ywzT) but in true Kiwi spirit I know we can make up for lost time quickly and soon become world leaders - plus, they have some reasonable ideas we can build on too.

Candid Exit Interviews - Insights Into What’s Really Going On

I can never figure out whether it’s ego or naivety that stops people from having candid conversation with people who are leaving their organisation - its one of the best opportunities to figure out what’s really happening in your organisation and yet so few people capitalise on it or pay lip services to it.

Over the years I’ve taken the time to talk to lots of people leaving organisations to figure out whether they are any common reasons people choose to leave and what we can learn from their experiences.

Each situation is different however I’ve compiled a list of common threads covered in ‘so, you’re leaving - why is that?' conversations. In no particular order:

  • They didn’t feel challenged - smart people don’t want to be doing the same thing day in and day out.
  • They didn’t feel like they were growing - there’s always room to grow and smart people are acutely aware of continuous development/improvement
  • Their contribution wasn’t recognised - great people do great work but we’re all only human - they want recognition for what they have done.
  • They didn’t feel like they had a voice - clever people have clever thoughts, hunches and intuitions; they need to be given the space to act on them.
  • They didn’t see any real leadership - businesses don’t fail, products don’t fail, projects don’t fail, and teams don’t fail—leaders fail.
  • They didn’t get new responsibilities - clever people need space to spread their wings, keeping them confined frustrates them as much as anything else.
  • They felt shortchanged - often the employer didn’t live up to their commitments/promises. More often then not its about growth/development opportunities or training; it is almost never about remuneration.

So many of these things can easily be addressed through a candid conversation with people. Forget the political correctness - sit them down over a coffee (or even a beer) and ask the ‘so, how’s it going?' question.

And then listen; really listen and do something about what they tell you before they vote with their feet.

Thoughts on #NZCIO Summit 2014

Conferences and summits are inherently hit and miss - they are often a mixed bag of content propped up by some okay networking opportunities. Too often there are too many cliche & platitude sessions and not enough practical, experience based content. That perhaps sounds a bit cynical but I’ve attended a shed-load of events over the years.

That being said the New Zealand CIO Summit 2014 pleasantly surprised me. I’ve been a long to quite a few of these Summits over the years (I think there have been about 8 in total - correct me if I’m wrong) and this years event was head and shoulders above previous years.

What I really enjoyed this year is that almost all sessions had a strong business focus. Often you go to IT conference and its a brief mention of business outcomes followed by speeds & feeds presentations (although that’s slowly but surely dying off).

Some other top of mind musings on themes and key outtakes for me - in no particular order - below.

  • Speed to delivery is an imperative for all industries. It used to be restricted to some industries - like retail and technology - but it’s now a key business drivers for everyone.
  • Information (data) is the new business commodity - almost every organisation is now in the information business, consciously or unconsciously.
  • All business strategies are digital - any business strategy that doesn’t factor in digital is doomed to failure.
  • Be adaptive or risk becoming irrelevant - change is the new normal.
  • When it comes to IT service delivery one size fits none - I’d argue this has always been the case. The ‘standard desktop image’ days were a misguided period driven by false economies.
  • We all need to think globally whilst we deliver locally - CIOs have a broad range of scalable, secure and cost effective solutions at their disposal. We need to tap into global platforms and services.
  • It always boils down to people - surround yourself with smart, capable people and support them in doing awesome things.
  • CIOs need to work hard at reducing the cost of ‘keeping the lights on’ each time they do any major IT asset upgrade or replacement - creating that space for doing the things the business values, not running infrastructure.
  • Demo Projects coupled with Design Thinking disciplines are taking off in a major way - we certainly had a lot of success with that approach in the last 18 months.
  • Agile has earned its stripes across NZ organisations - for a long time it was a nice concept but we see organisations really embracing it and reaping benefits.
  • Culture is simply the demonstrated behaviour of a organisation’s leadership - Barbara Chapman and the team from ASB have shown us what’s possible with a recognition of the role technology plays in business, the right culture and having awesome people on the bus.
  • Users will find ways to use great products and services - look at how many people have found a way to access NetFlix from NZ eventhough, technically, it’s not available here. You can’t fight it.
  • Connect with your users - don’t assume you know what they want; chances are pretty good you’re wrong. People want to be involved in exploring possibilities and building new things - tap into that.
  • The global talent/skills shortage is well and truly now hitting NZ but quite a few awesome initiatives are coming together to meet the challenge. I’ve always been passionate about talent supply chains and it’s awesome to see dots being joined across NZ.
  • Boards needs CIOs to help them understand technology better - managing risk better and capitalising on business growth opportunities.

The CIO Awards Dinner was a great event; congratulations to all the winners and nominees this year. Hilary Barry was a fantastic MC.

Congratulations to Kevin Angland on winning the CIO of the Year Award.

Rod Drury is a very deserving of his Contribution to Technology Award - a fantastic ambassador working tirelessly to put NZ hitech on the map. Good on ya Rod!

Congratulations to the CIO Summit organisers - 2014 was a great year. Look forward to what 2015 has in store for us.