Wellington North council endorses IT collaboration efforts

WELLINGTON NORTH – Council here has endorsed a consultant’s report on IT collaboration between Wellington County municipalities and directed staff to implement its recommendations where feasible.

A resolution passed by council on Jan. 11 also endorses applications for future funding opportunities through new intakes of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) Municipal Modernization Program, or other programs applicable to the opportunities identified in the final report from Blackline Consulting services.

In 2019 the county and its seven member municipalities participated in an Operational Service Efficiency Review with funds provided through the Ontario government’s Provincial Modernization Grant.

The review included an exploration of common IT systems and resources among municipalities across the county.

Blackline Consulting was selected to conduct the review and issued a final report that identified several opportunities to be implemented over a suggested three-year time frame.

Identified opportunities ranged from pooling purchasing power to obtain IT equipment, to consolidating IT infrastructure in order to enhance collaboration.

“A lot has come to light in terms of opportunities” through the review, finance director Adam McNabb told council.

“The least of which would be the opportunity to pool our resources from a purchasing perspective.”

McNabb said if fully embraced, the recommendations in the report could lead municipalities “to work more as a consortium than independently, to ensure we’re receiving both our best dollar for our IT spend and increased enhancement from not only a security, but from a resiliency standpoint.”

“How will this moving forward with procurement or purchasing affect shopping local?” asked councillor Sherry Burke.

“That’s a great question,” said McNabb. “It remains to be determined how that will affect shopping local, from a procurement perspective.”

While noting municipalities will have to develop standardized specifications in order to make joint procurement feasible, McNabb added, “It does remain to be seen in terms of what that will mean for us independently and some of our vendor networks.”

Councillor Lisa Hern was enthusiastic about the recommendations.

“There’s such a ton of money to be saved here. And not just money, but making us work better,” said Hern, who thanked McNabb for his work on the review committee.

Mayor Andy Lennox also thanked McNabb for his leadership on the review.

However the mayor also expressed concern about the possibility of losing the advantages of dealing with local vendors.

“Because of our more remote location … timeliness of response to our needs is also a major concern to me and making sure that our suppliers are able to respond to us in a timely way and we’re not relegated to a lower priority,” said Lennox.

However, he suggested McNabb will be “very diligent in making sure we don’t end up on the bottom of the list.”

Lennox also suggested more discussion is needed around cybersecurity.

“We all hear the horror stories of what’s happened to other municipalities,” said Lennox.

“Collaboration, if we can get the right resources to protect ourselves from (cyberattacks), it’s extremely valuable. It’s hard to put a dollar value on that upfront.”

Councillor Steve McCabe said, “Collaboration is great and I’m all for saving money and finding efficiencies … But, if we are all collaborating and tied to one another, does that make us more susceptible to hits?”

McNabb replied, “I don’t think working as a collaboration or a consortium in this regard puts a bigger target on our back.”

He added working together with other municipalities “affords us a greater opportunity to layer our security.”