Govlaunch Podcast

London, ON shares the secret to empowering teams to innovate

Episode Summary

When it comes to leveraging technology and getting the most out of their people to drive innovation, London, Ontario, stands out. We dive into the City of London’s strategy, centered on digital services and giving their people autonomy and full support to succeed. We cover a few of the neat projects in the works from use of AI and predictive analytics for insights on those at risk of falling into homelessness to an INFOSEC clearinghouse with potential to be leveraged by other municipalities.

Episode Notes

When it comes to leveraging technology and getting the most out of their people to drive innovation, London, Ontario, stands out. We dive into the City of London’s strategy, centered on digital services and giving their people autonomy and full support to succeed. We cover a few of the neat projects in the works from use of AI and predictive analytics for insights on those at risk of falling into homelessness to an INFOSEC clearinghouse with potential to be leveraged by other municipalities.

More info:

Featured government: London, ON

Episode guests: Mat Daley, Director of Information Technology for London, Ontario

Read more about how London takes technology beyond its city limits, from information security and AI to big-picture thinking around leadership, the city pairs technology with a thoughtful management approach to drive results beyond its borders.

Visit for more stories and examples of local government innovation.

Episode Transcription

Lindsay (00:05):

Welcome to the Govlaunch podcast. Govlaunch is the wiki for local government innovation and on this podcast, we're sharing the stories of local government innovators and their efforts to build smarter governments. I'm Lindsay Pica-Alfano, co-founder of Govlaunch and your host. 

We're very interested in local governments who have cultivated communities rooted in innovation. In this episode, I sit down with Mat Daley, Director of Information Technology for London, Ontario, to talk about the city's culture of innovation and how they're delivering real value to their citizens through a mix of cutting edge technology and good old fashioned teamwork.

Mat (00:45):

My name is Mat Daley. I am the Director of Information Technology Services with the City of London.

Lindsay (00:51):

Hi Mat. Thanks so much for joining me today.

Mat (00:54):

Thank you for having me.

Lindsay (00:56):

So tell me, how things have been going in London?

Mat (01:00):

Oh, things are going well in London. I think that really change management and innovatively responding to that change are really the predominant themes in both London, Ontario, and I suspect the world over.

Lindsay (01:14):

Great. Well, when we originally met to talk about this innovator piece and your role as director of IT, you were very quick to shift the focus on the city as a whole. We talked about the strengths of your team and the collaboration across departments, which really speaks to the larger culture of innovation in London. Can you talk a bit more about how your city approaches project management and innovation?

Mat (01:34):

Sure, I'd be happy to. Thank you for the question. At its core, we're seeking to develop solutions that create business and citizen value, and almost all of our actions are driven from that perspective. Over the last many years, the Information Technology Services Division at the City of London has been identified both from an operations, financial and project management perspective as a corporate leader. And fundamentally rooted in that, we have five key aspects of management that my poor team is, I'm sure, quite sick of hearing about, but it's five key pieces that we use to manage our operations. And that's ensuring that people that we're asking to deliver have the resources and direction that they need, ensuring that there's clear ownership, clear expectations, clear timelines, and expected follow ups in everything that we do.  

Outside of those traditional operational actions, we also have some cloudy goals. So I like to call these things cloudy goals, which are a little more visionary. And I don't think the same type of prescriptive approach works when we're talking about more cloudy goals. And that's when we use what I call the full support and maximum liberty approach. And what we find is that that's really where people shine, that's the fun work of problem solving, that's the exploratory elements. And certainly as a leader, my goal is to create an environment that has full support and maximum liberty to get out of the way of really smart people, but keep blocking for those smart people to use a football analogy. 

Lindsay (03:18):

You bring up some great points here. Everyone can get so wrapped up in the need for technology or product to drive innovation when perhaps the biggest indicator for success, which we're hearing more and more of after talking with so many folks in local government is leadership and really promoting a culture that's open to new ideas. I want to now jump into a few London's projects. Can you tell us about something that's in the works today?

Mat (03:40):

Sure, so right now our Information Security lead James McCloskey is leading what he has dubbed his information security clearing house. And what James identified very quickly was that there was a lot of repetitive work being done in information security in the municipal space, in that municipalities share similarities for the services that they provide. So why would three municipalities undertake three very similar information security reviews when they could share those? That would decrease costs and increase information. Very much related to the goal of Govlaunch and what you guys are doing, which is to provide that connection on innovation and experiences across municipalities. So big fan of what you guys are doing. And James has worked there is very much related. This is particularly relevant and important to smaller municipalities who may not have the resources to undertake these types of reviews. So they would be able to have access to those at much lower cost or no cost.

Lindsay (04:47):

Yeah. Is the goal to make this available for Middlesex and surrounding counties or the province as a whole?

Mat (04:53):

I love working with my good friend James McCloskey, and there's no question that his vision is to go big province-wide.

Lindsay (05:01):

Is the intention to get all major cities in Ontario to submit to the clearing house?

Mat (05:05):

Oh, certainly. Ideally we would love to have as many folks submitting as possible. I think that the greater diversity that you have, the more probability you have of getting information there that somebody else wants. So the broader, the better, I believe in something like information provision. And once again, you folks that Govlaunch are proving that.

Lindsay (05:29):

Well, we feel the sharing economy is hugely important, especially for those in public service. Let me ask you, how does the clearing house establish source of truth materials so you know the findings haven't been manipulated?

Mat (05:40):

That's an excellent question, Lindsay. Unfortunately it's unlikely that we'll have resources to sort of review validity and reliability, but the source of truth would be rooted and the reputation of the third party review and/or the municipal party that undertook the review.

Lindsay (06:00):

What's the timeline for giving smaller municipalities access to this resource and how do you envision implementation?

Mat (06:06):

So the City of London has already shared some reviews with smaller municipalities. Unfortunately the pandemic has shifted priorities for municipal information technology departments. So a specific timeline is not yet established, but James has already worked with a number of municipalities and a couple of provincial bodies that have expressed a lot of interest. And the response has been very positive.

Lindsay (06:33):

I know a lot of smaller municipalities would be very interested in this question. And are there any plans or discussions around providing bulk purchasing power to these municipalities who use the clearinghouse for a product, a service that London already uses?

Mat (06:47):

So there wouldn't be a approach built in to the clearing house. However, there exists other vehicles in procurement and in particularly information technology procurement. So for instance in Ontario, the province is really the leader for technological equipment and they'll sign a contract and I encourage everybody to make sure that their procurement policies then allow them to leverage that contract from that higher level of government. So there's a really big opportunity there for smaller municipalities to gain that economy of scale through that purchasing power and also to save costs on RFX undertakings. So there's a real interesting opportunity there. 

The city of London is also investigating what we're calling or lack of a better term upper limit procurement. And what we're going to be doing this year is we're going to be releasing some RFX is that note, the provincial VOR. And then we're going to remove some scope elements from that provincial vendor of record and really challenge the marketplace to come in under that vendor of record if we can. So we're going to try an innovative approach to even push procurement lower using that provincial VOR as a threshold to do so.

Lindsay (08:10):

We love what London is doing on the clearing house front by leveraging your resources to help smaller municipalities innovate. I know London has also been focusing some effort on AI and predictive analytics. Can you tell me a bit more about that?

Mat (08:22):

Absolutely. We are very fortunate to have a wealth of talent here in little London, Ontario. There is a large university and also a college which gives us great access to talent. So from an AI and machine learning perspective our head of AI, Matt Ross has developed an AI model that can predict with 93% accuracy from six months out, which members of our community will fall into homelessness. That is incredibly important to supporting the people working on the ground with our most vulnerable to address this very significant social challenge. It allows us to better streamline and optimize our resources in addition to really supporting those most in need.

Lindsay (09:15):

Have you gotten any pushback from the community on your use of AI or machine learning?

Mat (09:19):

There is an expected level of concern with the new technology, and I appreciate that trepidation that comes with that. We are blessed with Mr. Ross. He is a very passionate individual and he's an excellent teacher. So his ability to teach and articulate the, how these things are used, creates a level of trust with both the practitioners and those to whom he's speaking to. So those skills that he has do a really good job of supporting some of that response to pushback.

Lindsay (09:59):

What do you think the future holds for this type of technology? You know, AI machine learning, predictive analytics.

Mat (10:05):

I think that how we're making decisions is changing right now and how we're making decisions is going to continue to change. And I think that who or what is making decisions is changing right now, and we'll also continue to change. At its core, the better an organization can leverage these tools to predict business change rapidly and accurately and make decisions from those predictions will ultimately cascade and be essential for that business or public services’ success.

Lindsay (10:41):

Yeah, the wealth of data can definitely be used to make faster and more educated decisions and we're seeing the benefits of this for those using this technology, either in house or in partnerships with the universities, it's really neat stuff. So do you have time for a few more quick questions?

Mat (10:55):

Oh, I'd be happy to.

Lindsay (10:57):

One of the really cool things you told me about was London's use of VR for city planning. Can you quickly share what you're doing there?

Mat (11:04):

Thanks Lindsay, full credit to the city of London's Planning Division. This is their work and a young man named James Scott is leading it. And what James is doing is he's using virtual reality to model changes to the built environment, to better support how planning decisions are being made. So for instance, if a large building were to be placed beside a park, would that building put a shadow over that park for the vast majority of the day. These are important things that citizens want to use and James and his team are using an innovative approach through virtual reality to get closer to how that will impact our community.

Lindsay (11:41):

Yeah, really neat stuff especially when you think about how this technology can be leveraged moving forward. Are there any products that make your job easier?

Mat (11:49):

The information technology division at the City of London supports over 250 applications and many of those applications make my life and my colleagues’ lives easier each and every day. I don't know if I could just pick a few. I probably rely on 15 applications every day so there's a wide scope there.

Lindsay (12:13):

You know, a topic that comes up for us a lot, both on Govlaunch and in our conversations with folks in local government is this idea around eliminating paper. Whether that be through digitizing citizen services, or internal processes or likely a combination of both. You're doing a lot of work in London around this and have been pretty successful significantly reducing your need for paper. But you've taken a slightly different point of view. Can you tell me about your approach?

Mat (12:44):

Sure. I think when we look at digital transformation in particular digital transformation around process improvement, there is an immediate focus on the reduction of paper. And that's an important output of that process, but I think you need to be careful when you walk into a process improvement exercise with the goal of reducing paper. I think the process improvement exercise should be making that process as effective and efficient as possible through using technology while also ensuring that you're collecting enough information to support analytics and decision making. And if you focus on that, you're guaranteed to reduce paper.

Lindsay (13:31):

And what's something you've tried that didn't work?

Mat (13:34):

Something that I tried and didn't work...I'll speak to a non-technical piece and I'll speak to focusing in the wrong places. Through our education, when we're younger, we're taught to focus on the grades that are lowest. I've had a few lectures on getting my grades up in my lifetime. I took this approach into my first management job and I sought to win over some of the team that were most disengaged. I failed and I failed pretty fantastically in that endeavor. I should have focused on the group that was undecided on my leadership initially. That is where the opportunity rests. That being said, it's a hard habit to break, not to focus on those things you feel most deficient on, but that was one of the biggest things that I've tried that didn't work was focusing in the wrong places from a leadership perspective.

Lindsay (14:33):

Well, if only we were also lucky to have folks like you leading our local governments. So thanks for joining me, Mat. I've had a lot of fun chatting.

Mat (14:42):

Thank you very much for having me here, Lindsay. And I would like to say I am a big advocate and a big fan of the work that you folks are doing at Govlaunch to ensure that communities have access to better information to make better decisions to once again, support our communities.

Lindsay (15:08):

The story of London is not an isolated case. We've now talked to hundreds of local governments across the globe who've broken down communication silos and fostered a citywide culture of collaboration and innovation. While it's easy to focus on new fancy technology to drive smart city initiatives, we cannot underestimate the importance of leadership, teamwork and empowering your people and the greater community to come together to do great things. This is where true innovation lies. 

I'm Lindsay Pica-Alfano and this podcast was produced by Govlaunch, the wiki for local government innovation. You can subscribe to hear more stories like this, wherever you get your podcasts. If you're a local government innovator, we hope you'll help us on our mission to build the largest free resource for local governments globally. You can join to search and contribute to the wiki at Thanks for tuning in. We hope to see you next time on the Govlaunch podcast.