The Great Delegator behind Peterborough’s smart meters

If Larry Franks ever suddenly decides to switch careers after an impressive 35-year run in IT, he would make a talented public relations agent. Casual small talk with Franks about his hometown of Peterborough can prompt an enthusiastic recommendation to go visit the Canadian Canoe Museum. The museum, says Franks, has treasures that recall the Voyageur era, and it can even boast Pierre Trudeau’s buckskin jacket. “If you ever come to the Peterborough area, you have to go see it.”

Franks is less comfortable talking about himself and singing his own praises. Though he’s Computer World Canada’s IT Leader of the Year in the small and medium business category, he’s quick to attribute his accomplishments to his team of 25 staff at the Peterborough Utilities Group. While he calls the award “a real honour” and says he was flattered that other members of his organization put him up for it, he claims, “I was only one of four or five people who stick-handled the project.”  
Franks took point on the utility’s initiative to install 26,000 new “smart meters” for electricity from 2008 to 2010, along with the supporting hardware and software infrastructure. In the end, Franks’ team came in just under the allocated $6.2-million budget. In the nomination for his award, he’s credited for “instantly (ending) the conflict and lack of goals that had previously prevented any productivity. Larry insisted on a re-assessment of roles and responsibilities, then monthly progress and budget-to-forecast reporting.”
“I’ve been a long advocate of project management philosophies and methodology,” says Franks.
To a certain extent, he had to work with what he was given, as the consortium of local distribution companies for power in Ontario had already decided on most of the technology to be introduced into the customer environments. It makes one wonder then how a leader reconciles what could be a tug o’ war between the “must haves” for the technical end versus the project’s budget requirements. “Way early, there was the blue-skying and white-boarding” that was necessary, and by the time the project “matured” and came to him, it was a matter of deciding “how to put the troops on the ground.”
“At the end of the day, it worked well,” says Franks. “The board (of Peterborough Distribution Inc.) was pleased.”
Franks gives the impression of being the Great Delegator. He says that he has a strong interest in the financial side of projects, and that he draws heavily on his team — some of whom have been on the job for more than 30 years like himself — to resolve the technical controversies and “flush those through” with all the “detail grinding” before they even present him with options.
“I come from the old mainframe COBOL environment,” he says. “The management philosophies have stood the test of time, but what has changed is the technical infrastructure, so I rely on my staff” to weigh the merits.

— Jeff Pearce

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