WINDSOR, ON. – Connie McCutcheon is a firm believer in the value of collaboration.
It’s the first subject the newly-appointed Municipal Information Systems Association of Ontario (MISA) president brings up when asked what led her to the organization 10 years ago – and she’s eager to help leaders and IT staff at other municipalities learn why.
“The municipal space is unique compared to the rest of the tech industry,” she tells ITBusiness.ca. “We aren’t like the private sector. We don’t compete. We collaborate.”
To that end McCutcheon, a senior business analyst with the Niagara region and seven-year veteran of the MISA board who accepted her two-year term as president on June 5, is equally eager to bring up the organization’s newest service, an Infobase directory that offers users instant access to the various technology solutions its members are currently using.
“One of the biggest questions we get is somebody asking, ‘do you know who else is using x for x?'” she explains. “In the past it was all in my head, but now you’ll be able to plug in the asset management solution or area and get a list of contacts that you can follow up and share and collaborate with.”
Welcomed from the beginning
McCutcheon’s journey with MISA began 10 years ago, soon after she joined the Niagara region after a 15-year career in resource management, web design, and IT with the city of Toronto and its predecessor, the city of North York.
“When I worked with the city of Toronto some of my colleagues were involved with MISA, and sometime after I arrived we happened to be hosting the conference in Niagara,” she says. “There was an opportunity to give some of our foreign guests from LOLA [Linked Organization of Local Authority ICT Societies] a tour around Niagara, and I loved it, so I got more involved.”
The opportunity to interact with foreign guests was especially enticing, she says, and helped her identify MISA’s role in a larger movement she had long identified with, one focused on engaging citizens through the world wide web.
“Having conversations about subjects that impact municipalities in a global sense is a very, very powerful feeling,” she says. “I don’t know that I’ve ever met a more welcoming, more collaborative group of people, and I love that our MISA family gives us the opportunity to reach out to them worldwide.”
Placing relationships above technology
Even today, McCutcheon’s favourite part of MISA remains the people.
“I think the relationships you build, the conversations you can have, and the information you share, are our biggest asset,” she says.
She’s also quick to note that it’s not only the technically inclined, but anyone connected with one of MISA’s municipal members, who benefits from the program.
“When you’re a member of MISA, it’s not that you’re personally a member, your whole municipality is a member,” she says. “Events like our annual conference aren’t just about technology – they help you see the art of the possible. So while we’re imagining how to deliver better services, there are many, many other opportunities to invent something completely new.”
For example, she says, the city of Ottawa once collaborated with MISA to create the Paramedic Public Access Defibrillation Program, which standardized the city’s defibrillator data collection standards and allowed city staff to program an app that could identify the nearest defibrillation machine, regardless of where the user happened to be.
McCutcheon’s work with the Niagara region, too, echoes her efforts with the organization she now leads: Like MISA, the Niagara region is building an open data project aimed at uploading data from as many different local organizations as possible online: “collecting data, putting it in the hands of the people, and seeing what opportunity it can bring,” as she puts it.
“I think I’m a better person today thanks to my involvement with MISA,” McCutcheon says. “I’ve learned to reach out to somebody that I see doing great work and touch base with them. I also do that for my colleagues.”
“By acting as a conduit for that knowledge, I’ve developed so many contacts in various municipalities that when somebody’s looking I can help them find the information they’re looking for,” she continues. “But more importantly, seeing the great work that other municipalities are doing has improved by vision of what’s possible.”