Dr Vladas Leonas: pioneering change in public sector and beyond

Dr Vladas Leonas: pioneering change in public sector and beyond

The veteran CIO leads large groups through major projects and change

One leading CIO, with more than 30 years' ICT experience, has always sought to be at the forefront of innovation and technology and be involved in the most challenging projects.

And that’s just what Dr Vladas Leonas, the CIO of Sydney Motorway Corporation (and former deputy CIO of Transport for NSW), has been doing for the past 16-18 months with his latest batch of projects – one of which was implementing holistic outsourcing of the ICT function using a pioneering approach with an ‘as-a-service’ model.

Over the years, as CTO and CIO, Leonas has accepted major challenges and led large groups through major projects and change.

Leonas, who was born and educated in Moscow, USSR, migrated to Australia in 1991 under the skills-based migration scheme. By the time he reached these shores at the age of 35, he already had a lifetime of experience under his belt.

He held a degree deemed by NOOSR as equivalent to a PhD in computer science and was an established ICT professional with over 50 publications including a children’s first book on computers. He also headed an R&D function of the very first ICT joint venture in the USSR (150+ people), had been the founding chair of the Soviet UNIX Users’ Group, and a member of the board of the European UNIX Users’ Group.

In Australia, he has held a variety of roles including Telstra general manager of technology, national IT manager and section head of intelligent networks; GTech Australasia director of technology; CTO of Australian Centre for Advanced Computing and Communications (ac3); CIO of NSW DPSW; CIO of NSW Land and Housing Corporation; the CIO of Transport Construction Authority; as well as acting group CIO and deputy group chief CIO of Transport for NSW.

He was also made a fellow of the Australian Computer Society (ACS) in 2011, which recognises ICT professionals who have made a significant contribution to the profession, and holds various executive roles within the ACS.

Pioneering as-a-service

And he has a long list of professional achievements, what he calls “once in a lifetime” initiatives of national or state importance.

For example, as CTO of ac3 he oversaw the delivery, commissioning and operation of the very first Australian supercomputer with performance exceeding 1 TFlop for less than $1 million. As a national IT manager he oversaw the replacement of 35,000 public payphones across Australia – from tender to full implementation ($132 million) and managed pioneering work – such as the first in the world introduction of multi-functional smart cards.

As a CIO at NSW Land and Housing he oversaw the replacement of the core housing management system for Housing NSW. As acting group CIO/deputy group CIO he established the ICT function at Transport for NSW.

More recently, he has helped change mindsets and pioneered the rollout of an as-a-service model into the public sector arena.

Over the last 18 months (as deputy CIO of Transport for NSW), Leonas had the “interesting opportunity” to set up ICT for WestConnex Delivery Authority and subsequently to outsource it end-to-end on the basis of "as-a-service" model.

“The first six to eight months I spent setting up ICT in effectively a greenfield environment, which included establishing ICT governance, service delivery model and processes, as well as implementation of key business systems and associated business processes. All business systems established and implemented have been implemented in SaaS and thus nothing on the premises.”

As part of the project, he established core business processes and business systems, ICT systems and subsequently implemented holistic outsourcing of the ICT function using a pioneering approach with an ‘as-a-service’ model.

The Transport cluster is a federated organisation that amounts to about 30,000 staff and contractors. It includes Transport for NSW, Sydney Trains, NSW Trains, RMS, and STA. He said the WestConnex Delivery Authority used to be a part of Transport cluster, but in October, 2015 it was transformed into Sydney Motorway Corporation (SMC) and is no longer part of the Transport cluster.

“When we were three quarters through, setting up IT, the government decided to privatise WestConnex fully. Originally, they were two entities: one was associated with financing and it was called Sydney Motorway Corporation and another one was associated with actual delivery and it was WestConnex Delivery Authority.

"When we were three quarters through, setting up IT, the government decided to privatise WestConnex fully." - Dr Vladas Leonas
"When we were three quarters through, setting up IT, the government decided to privatise WestConnex fully." - Dr Vladas Leonas

"On October 1, 2015, the government decided to transition delivery function onto the Sydney Motorway Corporation so there was a definite need to ensure that the newly established entity, or new reincarnation, had the right IT. One of the mandates was to move all of IT out of Transport NSW.”

As such, over the last twelve months, he has been focusing on extrication of SMC ICT from the Transport cluster and outsourcing it end-to-end on "as-a-service" basis.

“This included outsourcing the vast majority of ICT (on the basis of a select RFP) to Australian company The Viatek Group, which is a services-based organisation, offering tailored business solutions in print, telephony and all aspects of IT.”

“Viatek has done a terrific piece of work, transitioning us out of Transport very, very smoothly within a six to eight week transition period. I had promised the CEO that we would be transitioned out by July, but we finished transitioning by the third week of June. I am happy and pleased with this because apart from obvious benefits of achieving the board direction to be out of Transport, we have achieved significant improvement of quality of service and time to market. We even achieved cost savings on a number of fronts. In fixed telephony we have achieved significant savings, probably about 50 to 60 per cent.”

Asked the overall reasons for opting for an as-a-service model, Leonas said there are many benefits, from minimal upfront IT investment (no asset ownership) to a reduction in overhead costs. He said you also get regular, predictable expenses - the ability to budget accurately - as well as agility and better time to market, and continuous monitoring of services.

“IT as a service model is not a cloud-based model and transformation to this mode of delivering IT to an organisation is really a ground-breaking thing. IT as a service has numerous and diverse benefits including: being able to focus on what is important for the business - business outcomes, rather than aspects of technology, people management and multiple skillsets,” he said.

“Everything is outsourced on an as-a-service basis. What I have done here is probably slightly different to what is considered to be mainstream today. People typically are looking at multi-source, but multi-source requires an as-a-service integrator or significant maturity within the organisation to do service integration in-house. We didn’t want to have a service integrator and we didn’t have maturity within Sydney Motorway Corporation so we outsourced everything except for two small towers to a single service provider.”

Leonas said the two aspects that didn’t get transitioned over to the single service provider was its managed print services, which are being maintained by Fuji Xerox, and the other line of service provision not with Viatek is mobile voice and data, which is directly with Telstra.

“This was my life for the last 16 to 18 months. I’m very pleased with what I have achieved there. It was quite well accepted by the CEO.”

Managing big projects

Asked what life is like being a CIO and delivering on massive, large-scale projects, Leonas said it involves ensuring you have a good business case and good governance.

“If you don’t have the right business case, you can’t deliver. It has to have total cost of ownership including putting a system in, considering operational costs and the refresh cycle. It has to clearly demonstrate the benefits of what you do, whether this is cost savings, new revenue, improved efficiencies, compliance, managing the risk. Whatever it is, it has to be very clearly articulated and measurable at the end of the day.

“The next step is strong governance and good governance because if the steering committee doesn’t perform, it is a great recipe for disaster. The next extremely important thing is people. If you don’t have the right people with the right capability and the right culture and the right mindset there is no chance that you can deliver large and complex projects.”

Typically, large projects are business projects, he said. “It is just an enabler and if we don’t have the right engagement, and right relationship and trust and ability to work with the business, it is a huge risk to any large program.”

He said typically the business is impatient. “They want everything today. If not today, then tomorrow. And large programs sometimes, like in Housing, it took us three years to put a new system in place because of the complexity and size of the system. So it is about managing expectations. It is about structuring the deliverables in such a way that whenever possible you do quick wins. And you do at least something to give to the business as soon as possible, something that they can is a very complex thing, delivery of large projects and programs.”

One of the complexities in this space is coming from multiplicity of large initiatives that any reasonably large size organisation has at any given point in time, he added. “Where the bottleneck usually comes is within subject matter experts on the business side,” he said pointing to an example in the department of housing.

“We were doing housing reform. We were pushing in a new housing system. We were also tweaking the old system because this is what was required to support housing turned out that subject matter x, y, z - we needed five of them, and we only had one. So actually getting the priorities for the business right is another big challenge. If you don’t do this by the book, you as a CIO will be treated as somebody who is not delivering, while in fact your issue is a bottleneck on the business side.”

And while challenges and bottlenecks occur, he said there’s no stopping the digital transformation push that’s taking place in government, particularly on the government to consumer front.

“All parts of government are going through absolutely massive transformation. . . Everyone is working on things like omni-channel and ensuring a significantly improved customer experience. Know your customer, even if you don’t.”

But one of the biggest challenges government has is dealing with its large number of legacy systems, he added. “This dictates two speed IT because doing something dramatic with legacy is expensive and takes time, so very often legacy systems are being left almost untouched, or fully untouched, up until the time to refresh cycle arrives. And the focus is being put on new things that can be delivered as a best practice in the 21st century.”

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Tags Transport for NSWas-a-serviceSydney Motorway CorporationWestConnex

More about ACSAdvancedAdvanced ComputingAustralian Computer SocietyFujiRMSSMCTransportViatekXerox

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