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A Team Effort

Mar 3, 2004

by Rita Feutl

“Shared vision, stretch goals and acceptance of contribution (role and responsibilities) provides the framework through which effective communication, teamwork and leadership can thrive.”

Running under every tiny town, hamlet and city of Alberta is a web of water lines, sewer pipes and storm systems. Some of these systems have been there for close to a century, and many have been altered, replaced or even forgotten, making it difficult for municipalities to manage their infrastructure.

What was needed was a simple, easy-to-use system that would allow Alberta municipalities to keep track of their road, water, storm and sanitary networks. Enter MIMS, the Municipal Infrastructure Management System, designed by a group of 10 dedicated employees in the Edmonton office of Sierra Systems Group Inc.

The committee of municipal associations and Alberta government departments overseeing the development was so pleased with the results that it awarded, in total, eight contracts for further work beyond the first competitively won project.

“Through tireless teamwork, they provided implementation support for the Municipal Infrastructure Management System to over 40 municipalities across the entire province, ensuring that the MIMS system was properly used to solve critical management planning challenges,” says Ray Johnson, Sierra’s vice-president and Edmonton branch manager.

The Sierra group has won this year’s Team Performance E Award for innovative team-building to tackle a challenge or a project which could not be dealt with by an individual.

Municipalities need a simple way to collect and store data that allows officials to access it easily, says spatial project lead Rod Schatz. “Historically, the public works manager or foreman knew everything, and back then, people would stay with an organization for a lifetime.”

But problems arose when paperwork was lost, people retired or started to change jobs more frequently. He cites one community in which a water main broke after the longtime public works manager retired and moved to B.C. “They couldn’t find where the valve was, so they had to turn the whole town off.”

The MIMS tool set allows municipal employees to easily locate important infrastructure electronically; report on inventory; track the condition, testing and maintenance of assets; share information with engineering and other partners effectively; and use common and standardized terminology.

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The team spent a long time gaining the trust of those who would be using the system, says Schatz. “A lot of municipalities in the past have been burnt by consultants and GIS (geographic information systems) vendors.”

Instead of building a giant program that would intimidate the end-users, Sierra started at the grassroots. “We know who our core audience is and we don’t try to overwhelm them with technology or jargon,” says Schatz.

“Barry and Kevin looked at the business dynamics around infrastructure. They looked at what the people needed in terms of infrastructure understanding, and then they looked at how people are currently doing things. And that drove the business solution.”

The team’s dedication paid off. “Through my involvement with the management committee, my skepticism of ‘here is just another government project’ truly became one of cogent commitment and sound support,” says Brad Watson, Swan Hills town manager.

Project director Barry Huybens notes that the teamwork went beyond the Sierra staff. “The collaboration has truly been between ourselves, the municipalities and the different government departments,” he says.

Schatz lists collaboration, innovation and commitment as the reasons for the Sierra group’s success. “We were a team of overachievers willing to do anything to get things done. Each team member brought a positive attitude and lots of enthusiasm,” he says, as well as “a willingness to listen, watch and learn from each other and the end-user.”

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