Meet the tech entrepreneur tasked with making Winnipeg more efficient

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Meet the tech entrepreneur tasked with making Winnipeg more efficient

On paper, the job title sounds like an oxymoron: chief innovation officer at the City of Winnipeg.

But that's what technology entrepreneur Michael Legary signed up for when he accepted the job of trying to make city services more efficient without actually spending any more money.

Legary is Winnipeg's first chief innovation officer, a new City of Winnipeg position equal to that of the chief financial officer and four other senior managers who report directly to chief administrative officer Doug McNeil.

Legary is well-known in Winnipeg technology circles as the founder of security company Seccuris. He started it uop in 1999, when he was 20, and sold it in 2015 for an undisclosed sum to a company now owned by Hitachi.

Now 37, he's made the jump from a rapidly changing private sector to the upper echelons of a municipal bureaucracy that employs 8,000 people and spends more than $1 billion a year.

His job? Getting this lumbering beast to move more efficiently.

"When the average person working for city comes to work, they're motivated to do good things, and what we need to give them is a vision to reduce some of those barriers that are in the way, get rid of some of the red tape that's preventing them from doing what they really want to do for us," Legary said in his new corner office on the fifth floor of city hall's administration building.

"The culture and the desire for change is here. A lot of it is getting the structure ready to make those changes."

He started two Mondays ago, two working days after Mayor Brian Bowman announced he had been recruited from the ranks of Winnipeg entrepreneurs.

Legary took courses in computer science and business at the University of Manitoba but did not graduate, focusing on Seccuris instead.

Non-disclosure agreements prevent him from divulging the company's sale price, the level of his security clearance when his clients included the government of Canada and whether he's even allowed to work in the private sector right now due to a non-competition clause.

He joined the City of Winnipeg's executive-level management team less than two weeks before McNeil implemented a hiring freeze on most departments. This followed a council decision to backstop this year's budget with $9.5 million worth of snow-clearing savings that failed to materialize in 2016.

Bowman said Legary is not working to cut costs.

"In some instances, I expect he'll be able to find some efficiencies that will save money. In other circumstances, it'll be about the value for money and the delivery of services," the mayor said earlier this week.

"I'm looking forward to working with him and obviously having deliverables in the near future."

Legary said he sees his goals as breaking down silos between city departments, ensuring city services actually use available technology and ensuring services improve without costing a lot more money.

"The constraints on the city to make change and keep within budget are incredibly more difficult than I think I even knew as an outsider," he said. "There is no money to experiment. Things are very lean."

He's cautious about adopting new technologies, because unlike a road or a street light, what works today may be obsolete in a decade, he said.

"Technology decays way faster than our regular infrastructure," he said. "If we're adding new things, can we really afford it?"

Legary said he's committed to spending five years with the city.

That means he could outlast Bowman.

"I've been given this opportunity and I want to make use of it to try to make a change," he said, insisting his job title is not an oxymoron. 

"It's not going to be easy, but it's a really, really interesting challenge and I'm looking forward to it."