October 17th 2016 - October 18th 2016

Speaker Q&A

Ahead of this year's Socitm Annual Conference, read the thoughts of our speakers, as we ask them about some of the key issues affecting public sector ICT.

Martin Reeves, Chief Executive, Coventry City Council & Spokesperson on Digital Leadership, Solace

This year’s conference theme is ‘reforming relational services’. In your opinion, how can the public sector use IT to improve complex services such as elderly care and childcare?  

Delivering services that meet the needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens in times of drastic reductions in budgets across all public sectors is one of our most acute leadership challenges. By harnessing the power of IT and digital platforms however we can ensure we put these citizens at the heart of our re-design of services and at the same time seek to reduce cost to serve.

What is the most significant challenge currently facing local public services’ IT teams?

The most significant challenge for IT teams in the public sector remains a fascination and indeed fixation with the technology and seeing the kit and the systems as the aid in themselves. The most effective teams are those who are integral to the design and re-design of services that meet agreed outcomes – with the technology then enabling this transformation to happen and to be sustained.

What can the public sector do to meet this challenge?

A clarity of vision and purpose of digital enabled transformation. An investment programme which is realistic and understands that some of the benefits (even from the best conceived business case) will take time to flow and be realised, above all of course it’s about leadership

How do you think Brexit will affect efforts to create digital government?

The decision for the UK to exit the European Union in many ways represented increasing concerns among large areas of the country that decision makers, policy makers and power is to remove and disconnected from how people choose to live their lives in their places. Digital transformation has the potential power to connect people to each other and within their places whilst simultaneously making connections at an international / global level.
 

Professor Liz Bacon, Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor, University of Greenwich, & Past President, BCS

This year’s conference theme is ‘reforming relational services’. In your opinion, how can the public sector use IT to improve complex services such as elderly care and childcare? 

I think IT will have a huge impact in future as traditional care for the elderly is already proving too costly given how much longer people are living. IT will involve a lot of intelligent automation, smart homes, monitoring, reminders to take pills, remote communication with healthcare professionals, support from robots etc. Childcare is no different although given the additional educational expectation of many childcare services, it will be interesting to see if people are willing to leave their children in the hands of robots or if the robots will support people delivering traditional childcare.

What is the most significant challenge currently facing local public services’ IT teams?

Keeping up with technology, recruiting in the face of a growing skills shortage and ensuring security of organisational systems, which is becoming an ever more challenging game of cat and mouse.

What can the public sector do to meet this challenge?

If we had as many women in IT as men, there would not be a skills shortage. However, despite many initiatives over a very long period of time, the number of women in the IT industry in the UK continues to slowly decline. There are many reasons, from workplace culture to the perception of the industry, which casts a career in technology as a career for men. There is no easy solution and the public sector cannot solve the problem on its own. However, where organisations have had success in encouraging women into the industry, it has been where they have been really determined to create an appropriate and nurturing culture.

How do you think Brexit will affect efforts to create digital government?

I think it is too early to say at this point as there is no clarity on how Brexit will work, but I see no reason that this should affect progress in this area.

Harry Turnbull, CIO, City of Windsor

This year’s conference theme is ‘reforming relational services’. In your opinion, how can the public sector use IT to improve complex services such as elderly care and childcare?

There is no service that is untouched by technology and elder and childcare are no exception. The complexities around these two areas make them prime candidates for process improvements. Quality of life issues like being able to stay in your home longer can be enhanced through technology. The vast amounts of data collected for these two segments of the population can take advantage of big data for better decision making.
 
What is the most significant challenge currently facing local public services’ IT teams?

There is a lot of pressure for government to be more efficient, transparent and open.  Modernization agendas look to take advantage of new technology to make this happen but increasingly, these agendas are being controlled outside of IT, without an understanding of how all the pieces fit together. This puts the organization at the mercy of consultants and external “experts”. Budgets spin out of control and there is little coordination between the various groups all trying to “modernize”. If IT leaders do not step up to fill this gap there are significant risks of instability, lack of interoperability, weak security and unsustainable solutions.

What can the public sector do to meet this challenge?

It is critical that while we try to modernize our public services, that we do it in a coordinated fashion, understanding that the data is the key to everything and it must be available and secure.  Avoid the rogue projects and ensure that your teams are well rounded with big thinkers as well as cautious pragmatists. Avoid the latest bandwagons; they are distractions.  Instead, create an environment that is robust, yet nimble enough to adapt as technology changes. Never forget that all the pieces fit together and whatever you can do to control that complexity will allow you to do more within your limited budgets. There is a need to find that balance between keeping the lights on and modernizing. Put clear governance in place that ensures that as you modernize, it is done in a way that ensures it can be sustained.

How do you think Brexit will affect efforts to create digital government?

It is always better to learn from the successes and failures of others. Digital government is no different; we are all trying to move this agenda forward and having an ability to learn from your peers around the world is priceless. Hopefully Brexit does not impede your ability to collaborate.