Sydney Water CIO tells his story

Summary:Sydney Water chief information officer Tim Catley tells ZDNet.com.au in an in-depth interview how he restored the credibility of the organisation's IT department and exorcised its tech demons with strong governance and a simple 100-day plan.

Governance now the focus
The shift toward discretionary investment has forced Catley to show his hand on the issue of project governance. It had been a key point of failure in the CIBS project, which auditors had noted lacked adequate documentation of processes and actions taken throughout the project.

"Now governance is the big focus. We're better at delivery, we've created an investment road map and a new set of governance processes over the top of it. The challenge, now that we have grown, is that we are still doing the right things," he says.

Now governance is the big focus. We're better at delivery, we've created an investment road map and a new set of governance processes over the top of it.

Sydney Water CIO Tim Catley

Catley's approach to governance over the next 12 months will be critical as the board sweats over the possibility of another CIBS. One of the biggest tasks for the year is ahead in the coming week as he and the board select an integrator to implement Sydney Water's Siebel-based CRM system.

"Probably the biggest decision I need to make is to pick someone to help us get our CRM system up and running," he says.

The Siebel system will replace a raft of ageing applications which have been used to manage customer services. The new system is planned to improve customers' self-service options, as well as feed data back into its business intelligence platform that Catley's team have worked on since 2006.

The CRM system is also part of Sydney Water's attempt to reduce the number of "atomised" vendor relationships it has maintained over the years, which had caused it problems in the past, particularly around defining responsibilities when something went wrong.

"We've tended to have lots of small relationships, which was really hard to manage," says Catley. "And there is still the challenge of rolling those contracts into larger contracts, which will move us from 15 atomised contracts to around three contracts." While he will attempt to simplify those contracts Catley said he would never rely on a single outsourcing partner.

What's in store?
As a state-owned regulated entity, Sydney Water's funding is guaranteed, which means it can escape much of the turmoil related to the global economy that is currently affecting businesses.

It has been argued that an economic downturn could make open source software more appealing, however that is unlikely in the case of Sydney Water, according to Catley, who said that Microsoft was far too entrenched to even consider open source alternatives.

"Look, we haven't done much in open source at the moment. It's not something we have perceived there is a lot of value in at the moment," he said. "And while we have more than enough Windows servers to keep us happy, it's because we have to have Windows, because we have products that want to run there. We're definitely not going down the path of loading OpenOffice at the desktop level. Microsoft will remain there for a while," said Catley.

Linux

(Credit: Larry Ewing and
The GIMP, Free to use)

Also off the cards for Sydney Water is Windows Vista. "I think we might ... wait for 7 to come along," he said. "I don't think the threat of hardware vendors pulling support for XP is going to eventuate because now that they've announced 7 the heat will go out of it. And for us, you get some benefits out of Vista, like network roaming and better power management, but it's not really enough for us to make the move."

However the weak Australian dollar has already impacted the bottom line, said Catley, and could spell a change in how the business treats expenditure on hardware. "What we are experiencing is that people who are based in the US are putting their costs up. So we might get less for our dollar. Because of the way the dollar has gone Cisco have just done a 12 per cent price rise across the board, while Sun has done 9 per cent," he said, adding that it could see Sydney Water capitalising its hardware expenditure in the future.

But while hardware prices give a clear indication of future costs, the labour market, which hampered his top-down recruitment strategy, has been harder to judge.

"I can't figure out the labour market at the moment," said Catley. "I know some organisations are letting people go, but I'm not getting any consistent feedback. I'll talk to some agents who say that it hasn't come off at all and I'll talk to others who say something different. My general view, regardless if the market is really tight or has a lot of stock on it, it's still really hard to get really good people."

Catley's story is not unusual in government circles; IT projects gone wrong have spooked plenty into taking a cautious approach to IT. But it does emphasise the importance of strong governance in ensuring IT departments are run well in future.

Topics: CXO, Dell, Enterprise Software, Hardware, Laptops, Oracle, Outsourcing, Reviews

About

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, s... Full Bio

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