CIO for the World’s Largest Water Treatment Facility Talks Digital Transformation 

Pat Phelan
2 min read

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago may be one of the most progressive government organizations in the world.  

That’s the impression one gets when listening to MWRD CIO John Sudduth, anyway.  

Sudduth was featured recently on the “Modern CTO” podcast, where he talked about his work leading IT for the world’s largest water treatment facility.  

He talked security: “Cybersecurity is not just an IT initiative. It’s a company-wide initiative.”  

He talked cloud: “We’re at about 90 percent in the cloud right now.”  

He also talked about a bone-chilling task some MWRD employees managed before the organization deployed a network of IoT devices. “Prior to having these IoT devices, we literally had people who would row out in a boat to the middle of a waterway and measure with a stick the height of the water,” Sudduth said. “And then they would write that down on a piece of paper. They would row back to shore. And enter it into a computer system. We literally went from a 1940’s process over to a modern-day IoT implementation.”  

Third-party support model

Sudduth said transitioning to a third-party support model for its SAP applications has been central to MWRD of Chicago’s ability to push the progressive IT agenda. “One of the reasons I wanted to go to a third-party provider was to improve customer service, which has worked out tremendously,” he said.  

MWRD has relied on Rimini Street for support for nearly four years. The main driver was to improve satisfaction among what Sudduth calls “internal customers” — essentially any department within the organization that utilizes IT services. “We could not turn things around fast enough, so we ended up with a pretty large backlog because things kept coming up while other things were not getting resolved,” Sudduth said.  

That has all changed. Sudduth said the backlog is gone. Systems run smoothly and reliably, and internal customer satisfaction scores have significantly improved. “It’s been a great partnership,” Sudduth said about Rimini Street. “They’ve worked very well with us and allowed our internal IT team to focus on other things.” 

Getting buy-in

Decisions that affect an entire organization require buy-in from top to bottom. Switching to third-party ERP support is one such decision. As Sudduth put it, with change comes angst. He said the key to securing the buy-in he needed to make the switch was to show stakeholders both where the organization was in its current state and where it wanted to be. But securing buy-in is only the first step; the next is to deliver results. “As soon as [Rimini Street] started to chip away at the backlog, we started to build credibility with our internal customers,” Sudduth said. At that point, there were murmurs around the organization wondering why such a powerful change didn’t happen sooner.  

Funding innovation

Working with Rimini Street has cut ERP maintenance costs in half for MWRD. Sudduth said the organization has reallocated the savings to implement an IT service management solution, deploy the aforementioned IoT devices, rearchitect the utility’s SCADA security system, and double-down on the cloud. “We’re light years ahead of most government organizations right now,” he said.   

All to the benefit of more than 10 million people in the Chicago-area, who rely on the MWRD to treat 1 billion gallons of storm and wastewater every day.   

Read more about digital transformation at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. 

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