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Alberta Energy Regulator Bridges Divide Between IT and Business Leaders

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CMSWire sat down with Alberta Energy Regulator CTO Tara Mulrooney, to discuss how big gov deals with the pace of tech and digital transformation.

Tara Mulrooney, CTO of Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), knew that in order to flourish in IT for an energy regulator covering the Canadian province of Alberta she had to understand the business side better. The friction — and lack of understanding — between business and IT is real. According to the 2018 Insight Intelligent Technology™ Index,  IT decision-makers are feeling the pinch of a few roadblocks working with business, including the following.

  • IT may not be set up for success because of competing demands and not enough resources to effectively support the organization (51 percent).
  • Requests are funneling into IT to support innovation, but existing processes, practices and business operations are not evolving to allow them to accomplish this (35 percent).
  • Shadow projects handed off to IT are diverting already-scheduled resources to fix systems built outside of architecture and processes (26 percent).
  • Out-of-process or hastily executed decisions on cloud strategy, architecture and platform selection (24 percent).
  • Lacking clearly defined roles and responsibilities within the organization (24 percent).

Regaining the Trust of the Business

AER, a quasi-government organization that provides the development of energy resources such as allocating and conserving water resources, managing public lands and protecting the environment, is ultimately just like any business in that its IT staff needs to better understand the business leaders and constituents it serves. There is hope, however, because of IT professionals like Mulrooney who wanted to bridge the gap with her business partners by supporting IT staff going out in the field and working with the folks on the ground.

It’s one of the strategies that won Mulrooney the IT World Canada and Information Technology Association of Canada 2018 Canadian CIO of the Year Award in the public sector. Mulrooney was also cited for initiatives that included retiring the mainframe, a core piece of infrastructure, building out the in-house talent and “regaining the trust of the business.” 

Tristan Goodman, incoming president of the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada, in his nomination of Mulrooney, wrote: “Tara has used her IT and regulatory knowledge to modernize the AER’s IT branch, and has been a key player leading the digital stream of modernizing the AER’s regulatory and business processes.” 

We wanted to know more about Mulrooney's story. Our Q&A with her (below) is the second in a series of stories talking to government technology leaders on the subject of digital transformation and transformative technologies in the digital workplace. 

Related Article:  Kansas City's Chief Innovation Officer on Smart Cities and Digital Transformation

Feeding Data Architecture with Sensors, Drone Data

Headshot of Tara Mulrooney
Tara Mulrooney

CMSWire: What technologies are you looking to learn more about/potentially infuse into the digital workplace in your new role?

Mulrooney: At AER, we leverage a low-code case management platform to automate and manage our regulatory processes. This platform is called OneStop, and AER uses this tool for receiving project applications from pipeline operators, sharing reports and making decisions. I am interested in how this might be used to support internal process improvement and the AER’s automation needs. I am also hoping to expand our data architecture to include feeds from various sensors and drone data that could help our technical experts.

CMSWire: Do you see artificial intelligence (AI) being implemented into your digital workplace, and, if yes, how so? If it already is, how is it working?

Mulrooney: Our data scientists use various models and tools to predict events in the field, such as the model they developed to predict pipeline leaks. Today this work is done using a variety of tools, but I am hoping that some of these findings can be integrated into the OneStop decision processes.

Related Article: 5 Places AI Is Impacting Today's Digital Workplace

Spatial Map Viewers Provide Public Transparency

CMSWire: What would you say is the No. 1 internal technical challenge for your organization and how do you plan to tackle it 2019?

Mulrooney: Our No. 1 challenge is demand. We have a very sophisticated set of internal clients who value what technology can do and want to use it to improve and streamline their operations. We have recently created new roles within our department to help build capacity to support this. Something we are looking into right now is piloting new technologies and learning to use them together.

CMSWire: What are some cool things your organization is doing for citizens/stakeholders digitally (e.g. smart cities, etc.)?

Mulrooney: We have built a set of spatial map viewers that allow the public to monitor activity within the oil and gas sector in Alberta. The viewers show, in near-real time, all applications and decisions we process, which helps landowners understand what is happening in their area of interest. This includes details about the application and the accompanying condition documents. We are working on providing stakeholders with the ability to “subscribe” to these events so that they can be alerted proactively.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: Reducing IT Complexity With Efficient Processes

Quest for Creativity, Risk-Taking

CMSWire: In my role as chief tech executive, I would like to have more ….

Mulrooney: … time to spend with my business colleagues and capacity to help them build digital literacy in the workforce.

CMSWire: In my role as chief tech executive, I would like to see less ... 

Mulrooney: … hesitation. Controls are necessary, but can we find a way to allow for more creativity and risk-taking? We can do great work by taking chances and carving paths for innovation.

The Ultimate Reward: Watching Colleagues Grow

CMSWire: How would you say the role of CIO/IT tech leader has changed from five years ago to today?

Mulrooney: IT leaders are no longer just managing cost centers. Today, they’re responsible for innovation and improving business processes.

CMSWire: What's one past achievement in IT you're particularly proud of and why?

Mulrooney: I am most proud when I help people I work with grow. It’s an amazing thing to be part of someone’s journey building their professional capabilities and celebrating successes. What has been especially rewarding is seeing this across our organization, not just with the AER’s technical staff, but also with those who have taken on new roles. Recently, our operations division created a new team responsible for OneStop delivery, and the partnership between our divisions has been very beneficial.

OneStop uses a set of core products from leading software vendors to support our business processes. It uses a complex set of built-in rules to automate low-risk applications and forwards high-risk and more complex applications to technical experts for review. This move to automation will allow our staff to focus their attention where it matters most, where the risk is higher. Since we’ve started using OneStop, we have significantly reduced wait times on applications; now, the processing time is a matter of hours instead of days. In the two years since the system was brought online, OneStop has processed almost 5,000 applications and saved the industry over $90 million.