Former City of Lethbridge general IT manager and Peter Bennett award winner Sabina Coyle (right) with former MISA Canada president (and past Peter Bennett award winner) Kathryn Bulko during MISA/ASIM Canada's Municipal CIO Summit in September. (Supplied Photo)

Published: November 28th, 2017

For Sabina Coyle, it’s all about collaboration.

During September’s Municipal CIO Summit in Montreal, Coyle received the prestigious Municipal Information Systems Association (MISA)/ASIM Canada Peter Bennett award for her work as the former general manager of IT for the city of Lethbridge, Alberta.

And according to Coyle the award, given annually to a municipal IT employee who embodies its namesake’s spirit of exemplary leadership and commitment to going above and beyond in their role, was for an initiative she led that effectively converted Lethbridge’s IT department from a utility service provider to a full decision-making partner.

“I led a culture change,” she explains.

Through MISA, Coyle also laid the foundation for Lethbridge to become an intelligent community: as the former president of MISA Prairies, she helped build a regional collaboration group of 18 municipalities that collectively applied for and receive funding from the province of Alberta’s former Regional Collaboration Program, which led to the municipalities (including Calgary, Edmonton, and Banff) working together to identify a technology collaboration project they could undertake.

“It was pretty prestigious to get the grant, but more importantly it actually gave us a chance to identify opportunities such as sharing data centres and creating a shared disaster recovery plan,” she says.

A new, more collaborative path

Though she left the municipal IT space in 2015 to live with her husband in Belleville, Ont., where she now works as a strategic client engagement manager with enterprise software solution firm Aptean, Coyle served Lethbridge for nearly seven years, and still remembers well how siloed the city and its neighbours were from each other when she arrived in 2009.

“I think everybody in the municipal space has an understanding that we’re very similar in terms of the way we do business,” she says. “However, we often go back to the idea that individual organizations are unique – and they are, in the sense that they have a separate culture, and that perhaps their communities might have different priorities – even though at the end of the day municipalities are there to serve their communities.”

Coyle credits MISA Prairies to opening her eyes – and those of her colleagues – to the benefits of collaboration, which led to her proposal to apply for, and subsequent receive, the Regional Collaboration grant.

“I think the first problem we solved was recognizing that we are more similar than different, and could therefore identify that we had similar challenges when it came to, for example, disaster recovery and business continuity,” she says.

To cite two initiatives that came from the grant, Lethbridge and Calgary began considering their proximity to each other (the cities are approximately 200 kilometres apart) as an opportunity for each to store the other’s data in the event of an emergency, which in turn led to the administrators of both municipalities proposing that they share their networks to increase employee performance.

“By bringing people together, we were able to identify problem-solving techniques that we could use across our organizations,” she says. “It helped us create an actionable strategy, and I think that was key.”

“Oftentimes municipalities say, ‘yes, we go to MISA,’ ‘yes, we share stories,’ ‘yes, we talk about lessons learned,’ but that’s not the same as actually working together to deliver something of tangible benefit – not only to your organization, but to your communities,” she continues.

Award was “a complete surprise”

Coyle says that while receiving the Peter Bennett Award came as “a complete surprise,” the Municipal CIO Summit’s organizers made it clear they were honouring her term as MISA Prairies president, along with the leading role she played in bringing the Alberta municipalities together and securing the regional collaboration grant.

“I think when you bring people together to create something, it’s different than when you’re just individually working on your own activities, if that makes sense,” she says. “As the president I feel like I created a value proposition, helping people understand MISA’s value and feel like they were part of a greater good.”

Bennett himself would likely be proud of Coyle’s initiative: the city of Winnipeg’s former IT manager was known for his tireless service to his community, volunteering at his church and as a Beaver and Cub leader in addition to his work with MISA, according to the Winnipeg Free Press, before passing away of a heart attack in 2005.

“I’m really proud of the work that I did in Lethbridge and with MISA,” Coyle says. “The MISA group is like a family unit – you learn so much from the people that you meet, but it also creates great leaders, by inspiring people to do things they didn’t feel like they had the ability to do before, and to give something back to the communities they live in.”

“I think it’s those relationships, and my membership in that organization, that helped me achieve such amazing things, not only for Lethbridge but for myself personally,” she adds.

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