Nine is Enough

David Laneville sits in the Timmins Police Service’s 911 dispatch centre, which handles all emergency, fire, and medical calls for the town. Laneville’s IT team of eight supports this and other critical city sites.

The City of Timmins’s director of IT, David Laneville, explains how he and his eight-person team support the entire town while working with the Canadian Space Agency

THE ROAD AHEAD

Like most towns, the City of Timmins has its eyes on the future. Here are a few ways David Laneville believes the burg can keep moving forward.

1. Get out in front of problems

Going forward for us means being proactive rather than reactive to specific issues.

2. Lean on the I.T. department

We’re going to have greater participation in major departmental initiatives [and] technology initiatives. We’re being seen more and more as a trusted advisor that can lend some support to those initiatives.

3. Embrace new technologies with caution

We always want to employ the better mouse-trap at the appropriate time. We don’t always want to be out there leading the charge with something.

Timmins, Ontario, about eight hours north of Toronto by car, has a population of approximately 43,000, and handling its civic needs is a slew of government departments that oversee everything from roadwork to the town’s school system. Of particular note is the City of Timmins’s IT team, which supports 22 lines of business, 500 users, and 1,000 devices. But unbeknownst to most of the city’s residents, that crew, which basically stands between them and any sort of total municipal network failure, comprises just nine people.

David Laneville is the director of IT for the Corporation of the City of Timmins, overseeing eight others, and he says his role entails consulting, mediating, translating, and even sometimes acting as a referee. He and his team provide IT support to all the operational units in the city, and though nine people doesn’t seem like a lot to service a whole town, Laneville prefers his small group because its concentrated structure helps with what he and it are trying to accomplish. “We didn’t and don’t want to decentralize the group very much or at all simply because we don’t have the economy of scale in the user departments to support smart money being spent on IT people out in the departments,” he says.

To help so many people with so few team members, Laneville’s crew makes the most of the technology it has, including a converged voice, video, and data network. The team also does most of its work from its desktops rather than by visiting sites, so it’s available to take the 5,400 or so calls it gets during the year.

Laneville has 35 years of IT experience and expertise, and he has learned that though technology may change, the logic of the way the work is done does not. “I’ve seen the various technologies come and go,” he says. “I’ve watched them die out, and the cycle repeats itself with newer, bigger, better, faster technologies. What hasn’t changed is the theory of how to use those technologies. Keeping that kind of front-of-mind really lets you work your way through the various swings of technology.”

How are you growing?

“One of my primary objectives is to illustrate and demonstrate to the various business units what collaboration and corporate thinking can do to maximize the technology investment. It really is tangibly laying out for everyone to see that the whole is in fact greater than the sum of the parts.”

Laneville is proud of the work his team does, but he’s always looking for ways to improve it, too. He uses the significant training budget he has to make sure his team is well versed in the technologies it’s thinking about using, and he has limited the amount of operating-system deployments citywide. A smaller support environment means the team can actually support it. “I’ll put them up against any IT team of any size anywhere in the world,” Laneville says. “I maintain my guys will come out on top.”

The team’s hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. It even got to work on a city project that facilitated collaboration between the French and Canadian Space Agencies. Laneville and his team developed a conceptual plan for a stratospheric balloon launch base and worked with consulting engineers and subject-matter experts from both agencies to finalize its design. After the concept was approved, Laneville’s team worked with the Canadian Space Agency to build a business case to present to management to secure funding. It was a proud moment for Laneville, who believes the project helped cement just how valuable an IT team as strong as his can be.

“I’m most proud of the fact that IT resources required by the various operational groups can now be considered a commodity,” Laneville says. “The ask has gone from ‘can we get such and such?’ to ‘when can we have this available to us?’”