What the buyer wants - Why Sydney Water is now open for business

What the buyer wants - Why Sydney Water is now open for business

When it comes to tracking down the right partner for tech projects, sometimes you must look for the best cultural fit

George Hunt - CIO, Sydney Water

George Hunt - CIO, Sydney Water

About two months after Sydney Water CIO and Digital Services general manager, George Hunt, started his tenure at the NSW Government- owned company, the entire business embarked on a major transformation program.

For some, such a big undertaking so soon would have seemed like a proverbial trial by fire. But for Hunt, it offered the chance to shake up how the government corporation approached its IT strategy.

“It was an opportunity for me to say, ‘let’s review how we want to shape ourselves’,” Hunt said.

At the time, Sydney Water claimed a smattering of partners with which it had relationships.

These external suppliers were used predominantly to run and support core pieces of Sydney Water’s application and infrastructure estate, according to Hunt.

Prior to his appointment and the subsequent transformation activities, Hunt said that the company had historically taken a kind of “need to” approach to engaging external IT providers, that is, it would only bring partners on when it had no other choice.

Now, Hunt is trying to take a different approach to how Sydney Water engages outside help for its IT infrastructure, with the IT team
working to a new tagline: “open for business”.

“It’s also a message out to our supplier community, or our strategic partner communities, to say we’re actually open now to doing some interesting things with you,” Hunt said. “We would have historically been pretty closed.”

This move has fundamentally changed what Hunt and his team looks for in an external IT partner.

Where once it was all about going through the traditional governmental request for tender and selecting partners based purely on the numerical advantages for a set time-frame, it is now more about the cultural fit, and how a relationship might fare over the long-term.

“Our traditional tendering processes followed the pattern of writing down our best guess as to what capabilities or requirements we have,” Hunt explained. “Then issuing a document out to a group of pre-selected or pre-qualified partners, and saying, ‘can you give us your best price or best credentials?’, and we would select the best partner on that basis.

“But that wouldn’t work in this case, so we went through a different process, which is called an interactive dialogue process,” he said, referring to a big SAP project Hunt and his team undertook after his appointment as CIO.

Another important factor in deciding upon a partner was the kind of commercial appetite the outside supplier had which, for Hunt, is about how much the partner was willing to put at risk for getting the right outcomes — how much skin in the game it had, so to speak.

Only once these two things were established did he and the partner get down to capabilities and credentials.

“As we went through this process, we started to realise which organisations we were listening to and were listening to us,” he said.

One organisation that was in the running to partner up for the project, for example, started off in a certain position and never budged, according to Hunt. Basically, the partner was trying to push Sydney Water towards its own preferred outcome.

Another potential partner, however, started out slightly distant in terms of its proposed solution but, through the dialogue process, it learned, evolved and listened, ultimately bending its own approach to fit in with what Sydney Water actually needed.

“It was that kind of behaviour, that kind of relationship that we wanted to find, and we found it,” Hunt said. “We’re buying an outcome together rather than buying a solution.”

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