Sustainability Victoria CIO Lars Sorensen shares his information management strategy

Sustainability Victoria CIO Lars Sorensen shares his information management strategy, in this transcript of a speech he gave at OpenText's recent ContentDay in Sydney.

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IT in Australia & New Zealand


Can I just have a show of hands, who’s awake?  Half.  Who is not awake?  Oh, you’re a worry.  There’s something...

else that I want to ask you, a little bit left field, who knows the band Pink Floyd?  That’s great, because I had a bit of an experience on the weekend, I went swimming and then I had my ears blocked.  So I can’t hear in this ear, I’m half deaf on that ear, and that means when I’m talking it sounds like an echo in my head, something like one of the early Pink Floyd records.  So if I suddenly start playing air guitar up here, you know why; and all you that put your hands up, please join in.

So what I’ll do now is I will actually call this presentation here, Piper at the Gates of Dawn in memory of Pink Floyd, because I’m going to take sustainability, we are at the gates of dawn, and I think I’m the piper.

Sustainability is a relatively new organisation.  Through mergers and reorganisations and as sustainability became more and more of an issue for the society we have grown and we are getting more and more funding.  We are fully funded by the Victorian Government, either through direct funding or through some of the government levies that they are charging for various things, and we are charged with the task to make an environment friendly behaviour a common thing, through schools, through businesses, households, etc.  So whenever we work, rest and play, we want to think sustainability.

The household portion of it, I just have to use my notes here because I’ve been told I have to get these things right.  When it comes to all the stuff I know it back to front.  But for households, we’re doing a lot of things for households.  Some of you, especially you Victorians, may have heard about the appliance rebates, solar panel rebates, etcetera, that be our doing.  We have a detox your home program where we send professionals out and collect all your old paint tins and chemicals and stuff and dispose of it in a responsible way.

We have green power promotions, getting people to actually buy renewable energies rather than the fossil fuels, and one of the latest things we have done successfully is Greenhouse Games.  Now that was somewhat of a challenge for the IT people because what we actually wanted was to get the general community to participate in a game, to tell us how green they are at home, and depending on how green they were at home, we would give the club of their choice a donation.  So if they were 50 points green, we would give them $50 to the club, or 100 points, we’d give them $100.  I don’t know how honest people were, but we gave away a lot of money.

On the educator’s side, of course we want to be in the schools, ad as you will see a little bit later, this is one of my pets.  Right now we have various programs in the schools.  We are part of the Australia wide sustainability school initiative where we are encouraging schools to actually start initiatives to be more sustainable, but start it as part of the general curriculum.  So the science classes are coming up with stuff, etc, etc.

On the business side, I’m trying to move along at a reasonable pace so you’re not falling back asleep again.  On the business side, we assess businesses with design to implement a renewable energy course for new dwellings, for renovations, etc, and we actually provide a lot of funding for sustainable sites, especially around sustainable precincts.  I don’t know, how many have you have heard about Armstrong Creek down near Geelong?  Nobody.  Yeah, one.  Armstrong Creek is a whole precinct.  That is there is businesses, there’s houses, etc, and we have been working with the developers in that to make it a zero waste environment.  We are working with them to make it a renewable energy environment etc, so that is how we go in and create a whole community to assure that it is actually profitable for business to make this sustainable living.

On the government side, of course we are working with local and state government, especially to integrate environment management with the operational processes.  Of course being a government agency ourselves, we know how stiff processes can be…I won’t say that, how difficult that some government agencies can be to work with when we want to change their ways.  But we are working with them, especially towards zero waste movement.  That is something that Sustainability have come up with and we are working with the local councils right from the getting rid of the plastic shopping bag, to the recycling of the kerbside waste collection and anything in between and they are achieving remarkable results.  Back in the office, we’ve actually shown that it is possible for business to recycle 100% of the office waste.  We are doing that at Sustainability, 100%, that’s quite remarkable.

Now so we are basically working across the board right from the minute things that you do in an everyday life right through the very innovative, leading edge innovations and trying to introduce them to business and show them that they should actually go down this road.

Now how do we do it?  We have four groups.  We have a Sustainable Living Group, we have a Sustainable Environment Group, and when I find my note I’ll tell you the rest; we have the Climate Communities Group and Sustainable Productions.  So that is four sort of like organisations or groups with the Sustainability Victoria that we have come up with and those groups, they are coming up with ideas, they are like think tanks and they are producing guidelines, they are looking for research, and having all those people, they are looking all over the world, they’re looking at the world wide web, and they’re looking for the latest in terms of technology and methodology in their area that can enhance the sustainability that they want to deliver.

Of course we are creating quite a number of publications and we give away money.  Now once these groups here have come up with an idea or an initiative and that gets approved, then we appoint a project manager and say right, now it is your job to take this away, to get this out to the community and this project manager, they are working really hard, because they have to continue the research to make sure it is current, they have to check the technologies, because whatever they put out in the field, that better be right because otherwise I’ll come back to us like a boomerang and whenever we fail in one of these projects here, it’ll take us a long, long time to recover for every single failure that we have.  So I think that my executive team is quite pleased that Mr Garrett isn’t working for us, because that would be difficult to recover from that one.

This project manager, he is out there with the school, he is out there sharing the knowledge, he is out there educating, and with the schools he is helping them setting up little projects.  Whether it is a science project in a single class, or whether it is a project across the schools, whether it is a TAFE, university or primary school, he is out there delivering the ideas from the think tank.

In terms of initiatives, we have a vast amount of initiatives.  Last financial year we had over 150 projects on the go.  Now you may not know, but in Sustainability Victoria there is 150 people.  That’s about one project for every person in the organisation, including the receptionist, and of course that is very, very difficult to do, deliver, I don’t have the fine details of how many of those actually succeeded, etc but I’m sure that that is in the Annual Report somewhere.  But I am part of the planning process for 2010/2011 and the aim is to cut back on the number of projects, because it was obviously stretching us too far.  I think there’s about 120 projects for the financial year 10/11.

Black balloons, you may have heard of that, Keep Australia Beautiful, that is some of our key initiatives.  Of course we are reporting to the board, and to the government, performance is key, and of course our primary initiatives, they are monitored.  That is where the compliance comes in, that civil people have been talking about in the past, and of course lessons learned.  Lessons learned and knowledge gained in order to put that into the next section.

That’s all I’m going to say about Victoria, Sustainability Victoria.  Now I’m more on a home ground I don’t need my notes anymore.

I started with Sustainability Victoria about a year ago and at the interview they showed me this and I looked at that and I said wow, look at all these little fellows here, look at them.  Does anybody recognise that?  That is when you are putting stuff into a system and then somebody looks at the screen and says hey I want that over here, and then you just over there and type it in.  Or they may produce a report and take that report and put it somewhere else, retype it in.  So you can see the number of stick men that we have here, and the number of little x’s, databases and spreadsheets, that’s just symptomatic of how the situation was when I arrived.

And when I’ve just told you about how we’re actually operating, you can imagine the amount of information, the amount of content that we actually get in to the organisation and we have to push out.  It is very important to make sure that that content is right and we can’t have one project using content from one area and somebody else use it from another area and it being different, because we are the source of truth, because we at Sustainability Victoria, we know what we are doing and we are the ones that are guiding the community.  So whenever we get it wrong, that is of course a serious impact on the way that we work.

When I looked at that I said to myself yeah I’m going to take that job.  The guy that introduced me didn’t say it, but my background as an enterprise architect is actually working in very, very large environments.  Environments that are expanding worldwide, and I have standardised organisations that are spanning all five continents.  That took me about five years to come up with the architectural standardisation for that.  When I saw this here, I said to myself that’s the job I want, because I’m near the end, and I’m going to fix this one in 24 months and then I’m going to retire, I’m going down to part time, that’s great, that’s perfect.

Well this is was my first job in government, and when I put up my road map…I was very ambitious; after three months I put up a road map, saying this is where you are, this is where you’re going, and three months, six months, twelve months, and this is the delivery route we are going to make and one of the executives put a hand up and said well Lars, we haven’t met, but welcome to Sustainability Victoria, but may I advise that you change the months to years, you’re in government now.  So having been there a year, it is not quite true, but I can see there is something about that.  It isn’t going as fast as it does in corporations.  But I’m actually, I’m getting there, as you will see.

Now a reflection of that stick man, little diagram there is of course on the IT spend because when you have pockets like that, when people work like that and they work in their own little world and say “I want this over here and I just want to type it in” or ”I want an Access database over here”, then reflection is on the IT spend, and as you can see here, all our spend was below $25,000 in any one hit.  As an enterprise I don’t understand that, because I don’t spend anything less than six digits, right, then it’s not worth buying.

So when I saw this it was actually from a report that was generated before I started, and when I saw this I thought that is really really interesting, and the effect of that was when I started digging a bit deeper, we had over 100 websites.  Each website had at least one database, and we used eight different service providers.  Now can you see where my content is, can you see how spread out it is?  How on earth can we manage that? 

So that happened because when the content is managed at a project level, then one of these projects, one of these think guys say hang on a tick, we’re going to do this, we’re going to have a new website and somebody took that and went out to market and hired somebody.  Whether it was Joe Blow in the garage or whether it was Open Text or whoever, it didn’t matter, they hired somebody, created a website, got somebody to host it and we are away.  The project manager moves on to the next job, what happened to the website, oh it works.  Then when it is not used anymore it just sits there.  Forty of these websites here were defunct, but the content is still sitting there.  How much of it is current, how much of it is important, how much do we need to keep for compliance reasons?  I don’t know, but I’m about to find out.

So that was the situation that we had at the time.  However, there were some strong pillars within the organisation, and part of those pillars that I saw that was worth building on, there was document management, they had LiveLink in there, and they were doing some reasonably good work with that.

They spent a couple of years putting together a taxonomy structure in order to put the methodiser in place and I said well probably not the way I would have done it, but it is certainly a solid approach and is something we can build on.  They have record management in there, so for compliance reasons of course we have to provide a lot of information at any point in time, and we have to keep records for a certain length of time, and that was also quite good.

Web content management, they had a little bit of a mismatch but the main side was developing Red Dot.  So about 50% of all the web content were developed in Red Dot, so I say hmm, I may have a connect here because they were all from the same vendor.  Now as you can see on the web content there, it just goes out.  We put up stuff, have it presented through the world wide web.  What happens if you get stuff in?  Well there wasn’t any at that point in time.  See web content management, we’ve got these little stick men again, a bit fatter this time, and there is, this stick man is putting the content and this stick man is also taking the content out and may put it in through the document management, again a manual interaction.

Other pillars were a content management system, that was an ERP system, sorry contract management.  Using an ERP system, and I mean an ERP system, accounts payable, general ledger, the whole shebang, we used it for contract management.  So I guess you can compare that to use SAP for invoicing only, no customers, no nothing, just paid the invoices, that is what we use our ERP system for.

There was also a project management system that was in house built and it had to be at the place quite urgently because it was again one of those access databases, but there was a lot of rich functionality that the organisation was relying on, so I said well that is something that we can operate, we can replace it, and we can use it and finally finance management in Microsoft, great pains.

So that was sort of the pillars that I had to build on, and from there I put together a targets date and said right those 100 hundred websites that you have out there, we’re going to get that data home because we need to understand what our data is, we need to understand that enterprise asset.  So what I did, I identified that we will have a bunch of data repositories.  Now here I’ve just depicted some of them, like finance, local government surveys, business and asset stakeholders, waste and energy contracts are there.  I expect we will probably end up with about 15 different object oriented data marks and those data marks, they will then be wrapped around workflow management, systems, integration and reporting and portal.

That is sort of the key components, architectural components, that I will expose to the business.  So they will end up with one view through the portal, all the business applications will come through here.  We will have automation, so no more stick men, through the workflow management, and finally the system integration and reporting where any business user must be able to get to any of these data or content components from the one platform and get to any of them and combine them all in whichever way they want.

Finally of course security.  Now around it we have all the various access paths and utilisations that have to interact with our environment.  There was somebody earlier that talked about ops, that’s something that we are really focused on because I have I think about 20 people in the organisation that spend 10 hours a week, every week, surfing the net, looking for content.  Now they’re only surfing the websites where they think they will find the content, they’re not surfing all of the other ones where there could be a gold nugget in that specific field.  So I’m looking now to automate that function so we can actually get web ops and get the content in that they’re looking for and then put it in so they just have to go through what we have found, because they don’t know what they can’t find until we actually find it for them.

Other things, collaborations, and we also talked about PDAs, remote access, mobile access, that is something that we’ll be really, really big on within the next 6-12 months.  So we need the content right out there in the field.  When we’ve got officers out there in the field and people are asking how do you know that, what do we build that on, I want them to be able to pick up a PDA and get the research right there and then, right in the face.  I want you to be able to have the remote access so people at home can get into our research repositories, into our LiveLink repositories, not directed, we’ll stopt them at the front gate, I’ll be the piper at the gate of dawn, and then a link in so they actually select from a list and say that’s the one I want and we will go in and give it to them.

So that was a target state that I put through the executive team.  Now how are we going to get there?  Well state one we are in progress with this now, we already have record management, document management, and we have web content management.  I have already spoken to Howard, we have to get email management in place now because, as I said, I started year ago, prior to that there wasn’t anybody that had looked at this.  We have way, way more emails than Microsoft would ever condone having in Outlook.  So one way or the other I’ve got to get it off before the whole thing collapses or stops working, simply because there is so much volume in there.  So we have to put email management in place, it should be based on business processes absolutely.  But in lack of business process I will make the executive decision and say we will carve it like this and we will archive it off and then you can get it out of archive if you need it.  So it’s just in order to get things moving.

Digital asset management, that is something that we will commence within the next… Just the business case is done, I’ve just got all the gateway documents on my desk yesterday I heard, so I will expect that within the next month or so we will actually progress with the digital asset management.  Now with that, we have a wealth of digital assets.  We take photos and videos everywhere and at the moment they are probably like most of you, on CDs in a drawer somewhere, or on somebody’s C drive, it is all over the shop.  If somebody uses and image in a report and the CEO says that image in that report, I want to use that, heaven help us, because we will have no hope to find it again.

So I will actually have everything catalogued in the digital asset management system, but I’ll also have it in LiveLink.  I want the thumbnails in LiveLink because I want the general project managers, so whenever they are doing that stuff I want them to say well I want to use this research here, I want to use this document here, I want to use this data and I want to use these images, put it over to the communications and marketing team with the thumbnails and then they can, they will remain as the real digital assets.

Business process management, we have a lot of business processes, like any government department.  I’ve never seen so much authorisation happening.  I think we’ve got four levels.  We have to get the money approved, then we have to get the purchase approved, then we have to get the spending approving, and when the invoice comes, guess what we have to get approval to pay the darn thing.  It is amazing.

So business process management is really important because our contract, our legal team got hammered because it could take up to four months to get a contract through.  So they started recording, alright we got it at this date, it went out this date, it was sitting on somebody’s desk for this date, and they identified it was sitting and waiting for a signature with some manager somewhere for six weeks there, and another six weeks here.  So by putting in the business process management and we actually ping the manager saying you’ve got to sign this and escalate it if we need to, that will save us a lot of time.

Over on the other side of the dotted line, so this is the back end, now we are looking to the big world.  Web content management we have just upgraded to version 10 of the web server development and management server, because I want to connect from here, right back to document management.  So when if somebody out there on our website has subscribed to a certain type of documents and a research team are putting that type of document into LiveLink, I want that document PDF’d and transmitted through the front end out to that user, untouched by human hands.  I want that to happen, and it can happen.

I also want collaboration and community [25:59] management.  Now that is one of the exciting procurements that Open Text have done, and I’m really keen on that because we are about collaboration.  We are about collaborating with the general community.  If we can get them to understand and be interested in what we are doing, we will actually get a lot more out of them.

So by getting into the households and getting direct interaction with them, whether it is through Facebook like, or on their mobile devices, if they subscribe to anything we can provide it, we will let them upload documents to us and with various controls we will again put them straight through, if it is positive research because it is not just mums and dads, there is scientists out there that is writing great white papers, and they are sitting on some dead website somewhere and never see the light of day.  So we really need to get a lot more of that going.  Now the logistics of it, I’ll leave that to the business management.

Underneath all of that of course we will have the data marks that I mentioned before, and then we will have an enterprise integration and reporting layer.  Now basically I want to have the users not worrying about what is behind the screen.  Whether it is this system or that system, this technology or that technology, they should not even know about it.  They should say I want this and then an integration layer will got and get it for them.  Whether it is going to get it from a library or from a structured database or from LiveLink, I don’t care, but that integration layer will then understand that request and go and get the information.

That is what we call a layered architecture and separation of concerns.  I’ve used that term from day one at Sustainability Victoria, and it is the one thing that rang through with the CEO.  So that just goes to prove, if the CEO just understands one thing, well that’s great, then we are getting somewhere because she understood the separation of concern and don’t worry about what is below the line.  So that’s the reason why I got away with that.  Of course we will have our corporate website and communication to the outside world.

Stage two, some of those pictures will look familiar because they to…Now we are suddenly talking about how we are going to actually integrate these things here and courtesy of Alistair Duck, we will get a few lines and a few animations.  From collaborations, Open Text [29:10], we will actually be collecting stuff, as I said we will have the workflow using the content server, we will have website management with the web content management server.  We will have LiveLink views, and we will have reporting.  Now the vision is corporate memory, I just love that term because the corporate memory to me encompasses all of the knowledge that we can encapsulate, both from the community and from our own company, but also from our stakeholders.

I just had a chat with the guys from Vic Roads over lunch and Department of Education, and it dawns on me we have so much to share, and of course thinking about EPA, we have so much to share and they are of course external stakeholders to us, and whichever way it is that we are doing it, whether it is through wikis or whether it is some of these social websites, we should be able to create that corporate memory.  That one there, that is saying it all, we’ve got the workplace, we’ve got the marketplace, we’ve got the community, we’ve got the partners, we’ve got customers, and in the middle we hold hands and sing hallelujah.  It can be done, and I’m going to take Sustainability right to the end.

I intend to use all the products, all the modules from Open Text, I’m going to string them together, I believe we are going to be the first in the Australasia to do so, so I may be out on a limb, but I have researched the products and some of the purchases, acquisitions that they have done, I think it can be done.  I’m pushing them pretty hard to work with me, and I daresay that we will be a basket case over the next 18 to 24 months.  Whether I’m there still, I don’t know.

That’s about it for me, any questions?  Anybody awake?  Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, I didn’t do too bad then.  Thank you very much.



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