Q&A with John Swan, Director of IT Services, and Chief Information Technology Officer, York Region, Ontario, Canada
The Regional Municipality of York, stretching between Toronto in the south and Lake Simcoe in the north, is a confederation of nine local municipalities. It provides a variety of programs and services to almost 1.2 million residents, 49,000 businesses, and 565,000 employees. As a corporation, York Region employs more than 3,000 full-time and 800 part-time staff and has a $3 billion budget for 2016. It is one of the largest employers in York Region and is among the top 100 employers in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) for 2015. AV Technology recently asked John Swan, Director of IT Services, and Chief Information Technology Officer, York Region, to explain how this unique region balances user-friendly design with flexible functionality.
How is AV/IT convergence playing out in your facility?
John Swan: The convergence of these two mediums is playing out in many ways. Instead of two different types of technology (e.g., audio-video technology like televisions and projectors and information technology like computers), we have hardware and software. Each device is capable of playing multiple roles and performing AV and IT tasks simultaneously.
We have users working out of multiple locations and it is important that they are able to communicate and collaborate effectively. By leveraging Microsoft Lync, a software that combines audio, video and text functionality, users are able to participate from wherever they are.
Some of York Region’s boardrooms are set up with Polycom CX5000 conference stations, which offer 360-degree video as well as audio. Using the conference stations, meetings can take place from separate boardrooms in separate buildings.
We are also preparing for future convergence by putting business practices, procedures, and standards in place that will allow us to adapt quickly to changes in technology as they happen.
What types of AV/IT problems have you solved recently?
John Swan: We have recently started outfitting our meeting rooms and boardrooms with television screens and Apple TVs. The Apple TVs eliminate the need for wires and offer more functionality than traditional AV technology. Apple TVs are also user-friendly, which helps shrink the technology gap between super-users and less tech-savvy users.
What types of new tech or products do you want to learn more about?
John Swan: Technologies that make it easier to connect and communicate without actually needing to be in the same room. These technologies open new possibilities for telecommuting and offer potential for saving time.
What technology do you hope to buy in the near future?
John Swan: Wearable Near Field Communication (NFC)-enabled devices to can cut down on the number of devices and identification cards our users need to carry. This offers even further potential for convergence.
For example, an NFC-enabled pendent worn by a user can allow them to access secure locations, offer communication with other nearby users and track location information. It can also increase user safety by providing our security staff information about the number of employees in a building during an emergency.
How do you procure/purchase your AV for in-house installs? Distributor, manufacturer, direct, in bulk, other?
John Swan: As a municipal government, our procurements and purchases must always be transparent and fair and made in accordance with York Region’s Purchasing Bylaw and Tendering/Proposal procedures. This information is available on our website, york.ca
Where are tech manufacturers getting it wrong or missing opportunities?
John Swan: There is an opportunity for manufacturers and suppliers to better understand municipal government. It is not the same as private business because we are not driven by profit. Our number one priority is to provide services to York Region’s residents, businesses, and visitors in the most cost effective and transparent manner.
We need holistic and reasonably priced technology solutions.
What is the biggest obstacle to collaboration? What are your collaboration strategies in the York Region?
John Swan: Our biggest obstacle is actually over-collaboration. Our employees have valuable knowledge and high-demand skills, and are often asked to collaborate on multiple projects at once.
One of our most effective strategies for collaboration is ensuring employees can share their expertise in a quick and easy manner. We are currently implementing a social media-style collaboration tool which allows employees to voluntarily offer input on multiple projects. The platform provides the opportunity for us to learn from each other while creating an open database of expert opinions on any given subject.