29/05/2010 by Jos Creese
I attended a meeting of the National Government CIO Council at the Cabinet Office this week to discuss the impact of the recently announced cuts and moratorium on IT spend.
I attended a meeting of the National Government CIO Council at the Cabinet Office this week to discuss the impact of the recently announced cuts and moratorium on IT spend.
Text of the open letter dated 28 May 2010 from Jos Creese, Socitm President, to Doug Maclean, Socitm Consulting Manager.
"As new President of Socitm, I am taking the opportunity to write to all key parts of the Society. Consulting is an area which has seen much change and pressure, and which has a critical role in the future success of the Society through the value it offers to our members.
Socitm Consulting is the biggest and most complex financial area we have. I am familiar with the difficulties of running a consultancy business and recognise that the current economic environment poses many challenges for consulting organisations. However, I am confident that Socitm Consulting's many strengths position it, uniquely, to take advantage of the opportunities that these challenges bring.
For me, Socitm Consulting plays a vital role (much more important than the money!), through its specialist consultancy services to the public, independent and third sectors. Your professionals enhance the capacity and capability of public service organisations to reform, collaborate and innovate. You are also often the 'face of Socitm' - our professionalism and our style. This sometimes feels to me to be undervalued in our strategic planning. Never has the need for high quality, high value, relevant and suitably experienced public sector IT consultants been greater. There is no shortage or choice in the marketplace, but few competitors have the public sector business awareness edge of your teams.
I applaud Consulting's focus on enabling its clients to deliver 'more, better for less', a theme that you have built into the Council of the Future initiative. In developing this theme, I would like to encourage stronger integration with other business streams of Socitm - Socitm Futures, Insight and Events. It will also require continued strengthening of the working relationship with the Head of Policyand the Local CIO Council (LCIOC). I know that Consulting is supporting the work of the Society in championing the role of IT in local public services reform, building practical models for the future shape and contribution of councils, third sector, health, education, emergency services, etc. These support our members' challenges and link to the four agreed Socitm policy areas:
This also resonates with my priority to get members more engaged with our work - you have many 1000s of skilled IT professionals you can potentially call upon, and their instincts must help you to anticipate business opportunities. How can you realise that potential?
Consulting's activities are therefore driven by a 'marriage' of Socitm's policy priorities, as determined by Socitm Futures, and of the demand for its specialist consultancy services. The Society must avoid inventing new vision and priorities, however well intended, or chasing 'themes' which emerge but are outside our agreed priority policy areas. This is a general message to all groups in the Society.
You and all the members of Socitm Consulting have my full support. I am happy to help you in any way I can in these causes, and I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this further, perhaps in a roundtable. Please let me know if this would be helpful.
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Text of the open letter dated 27 May 2010 from Jos Creese, Socitm President, to Martin Greenwood, Programme Manager, Socitm Insight.
"As new President of Socitm, I am writing to each part of the Society to encourage dialogue.
Socitm Insight plays a key role and you know I have been dedicated to its successful development over many years. Through its best practice research, direct member engagement, and careful anticipation of changes affecting local public services, it must help local public services to reform, collaborate and innovate by using technology better. Never has Insight been more relevant to lead the thinking about the role of IT in addressing the joint challenge of cuts and growing demands.
You will not be surprised if I emphasise how important I feel that it is for the Society that Insight's activities are driven by a marriage of Socitm's policy priorities, as determined by Socitm Futures, and our members' interests, both of which I know are high in your priorities. Integrating Insight's activities in this way will strengthen what we do and build on the undoubted creativity of Insight. Harnessing the views and capacity of the membership is a personal priority with which I hope you will help me.
This integration of priorities will help to avoid any competing vision, however well intended, or chasing 'themes' which emerge but are outside our chosen policy areas. The Head of Policy, Socitm Futures and the Local CIO Council (LCIOC) are all important partners to assist Insight.
I'd also like to ask Insight to champion the work of the Society on the role of IT in local public services reform, building practical models for delivery which can be used in councils, third sector, health, education, emergency services, and central government. The themes we have already agreed in this respect include information and data sharing, efficiency, shared services and citizen/staff engagement.
The Socitm Insight team have my full support, and I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this letter further if this would be helpful for you, the Insight Steering Group and Insight team.
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Well, with the cuts announced it’s all over bar the shouting...if only that were true! It’s always risky to say too much too early or to do too much too soon in the face of quickly implemented large scale change, although that’s a lesson neither the press
It is interesting to read some of the press, including the 'technical' press, some of whom have been at the forefront of criticising many of the large IT systems that are now about to be 'scrapped'. In fact I seem to remember some of them have called for this type of action in the past - although not specifically on economic grounds. With Labour still maintaining that spending is the way out of our debt problem and the coalition having reached a negotiated conclusion that immediate and radical savings (cuts) are the only way to start it seems that only time will tell...quite risky, but what can you do?
For most of us (well the non economists) there is something counter intuitive about spending your way out of debt - certainly my credit card provider would not agree with the theory, although the way they still try to push credit on me you'd be forgiven for thinking they have had a change of heart! For those of us who are trying to run commercial organisations at this or any other time we know that the 'spend' message is a little more subtle than it first appears. If the spending is the type of spending that creates opportunities and jobs and increased revenue then it has genuine merit. However, if the spending is focussed in areas where nothing new is actually produced then it is never going to dent the debt. From a commercial company perspective the answer would seem to require two seemingly opposite but actually complementary areas of activity. The first is the identification of savings and this may need to be radical and tough but this surely must operate with a parallel policy of investment in areas that are designed to create opportunity and generate income. Even the most basic logic dictates that cuts alone will ultimately fail as a strategy.
Another area in the programme of cuts is that of renegotiating contracts with private sector contractors. Again, hardly a strategy that gives a high confidence factor in terms of its likely success. That is, unless the government(s) acknowledges that significant contributory factors have been very poor government procurement processes (all flavours of government) often combined with programmes that are too large, overly complex and poorly specified.
Anyway, as they are saying, 'the David will be in the detail' so I'm sure we all await with interest the parallel investment strategy, the growth plans and the 'hope factor'. Whilst cuts are hard to live with they are relatively easy for the politicians to target whereas the investment and growth strategy will be far more comfortable to live with but it's much harder work for the politico's to develop. Let's hope they learn very quickly!
Lots of press coverage has used the word 'draconian' with regard to the announcements and a real worry with hastily implemented 'draconian' measures is the high probability of unintended, but equally 'draconian' consequences. The coalition needs to learn from the last crowd who got the implementation of 'fag packet policy' down to a fine art, the consequences of which will continue to play out for some while to come.
A final word about where IT fits into all of this. There seems to be a great danger that both baby and bathwater are about to be jettisoned on the basis that because the hoped for efficiencies appear not to have been delivered under the previous administration it is somehow the fault of the technology itself! I believe nothing could be further from the truth. The effective implementation and running of the correct technologies is still the business critical bedrock of any real efficiency, transformation, service delivery improvement and the delivery of key business objectives. Just because the IT industry is saying this (well they would wouldn't they) doesn't mean it isn't true. It is certainly something the Society wholeheartedly endorses.
Text of the open letter dated 17 May 2010 from Jos Creese, Socitm President, to Dylan Roberts, new Chair of Socitm Futures.
"A new President of Socitm and a new Chair of Socitm Futures - this is an opportune moment to affirm my belief in the crucial role of Socitm Futures in the life of the Society!
For me, Socitm Futures is the 'powerhouse' of IT strategy for local public services. It should, for example, be the generator, owner and promoter of any local response to the Government ICT Strategy setting our local vision and priority for each of the strands of the Strategy (eg G-cloud, Public Sector Network and Data Centre consolidation) and in positioning Digital Britain firmly in local delivery of digital inclusion.
A key challenge will be ensuring that activities are focussed and support the Head of Policy on agreed priorities - this will help to avoid other parts of the Society inventing vision and priorities, however well intended, or chasing 'themes' which emerge. Working alongside the Local CIO Council (LCIOC) will also be valuable, picking up and developing the thinking on issues that the LCIOC cannot do on its own.
In particular, I hope that Futures will be able to spearhead the work of the Society in championing the role of IT in local public services reform, and in building practical models for the future shape and contribution of councils, third sector, health, education, emergency services, etc. In building these models and approaches, there are four agreed Socitm policy areas:
These are central to the 'whole place' approach to reform, collaboration and innovation in local public services and Futures can use them to drive a range of support through Socitm Insight, Consulting, Learning and Events. Harnessing the views and capacity of the membership will also be needed.
I am keen to encourage this mandate for Socitm Futures across the whole of Socitm; please let me know how I can help. You and all the members of Socitm Futures have my full support and I wish you well in your new role as Chair of the group.
I am conscious of not having posted much recently, and this is not only due to the fact I have had a holiday...
I have been involved in a lot of internal stuff which will, quite frankly, be so dull for external readership that you would soon lose interest and I wanted to post piictures on the blog but for some reason it does not allow me to....although I have been using my private blog for more interactive stuff.
I have had an interesting meeting with a new person who has arrived in the Cabinet Office (won't use names because I haven't asked permission and I suspect the CO could get sensitive about that) to work on professionalism generally, but an initiative called 'Partners in Professionalism' in particular. Partners in Professionalism is a 'coalition' (good word) of groups, including Cabinet Office, Socitm, BCS and Intellect, who are seeking to raise the profile and importance of professionalism and professional development in our respective sectors and organisations. Like many of these groups there is the 'gut feel' that we are probably doing something of worth but aren't quite sure what that might be (yet)....but it was a really positive meeting and I think it will help give us some positive steer, so i'll report if this is the case after the next meeting.
We are now starting to get to grips with the specific areas that our new 'Heads of' are involved in and particularly the Commercial role. I am beginning to hear some concerns about our membership expansion into the 'supplier' sector. The concerns go something like this ' the Society will chase hundreds of supplier members in order to boost membership income and we will be flooded with people trying to sell us stuff'. Often, in a communications vacuum people will be reduced to worst case scenarios, and before long it's 'fact'.... It is our fault for not communicating more clearly.....When i studied media and communications (another lifetime ago) I learned a basic principle that if people are not hearing what you think you are communicating the problem usually lies with the communicator.....
We are beginning a process whereby we can offer a range of options to our supplier community that meets a wide range of their needs, not all of which will be membership based. A new 'Corporate Membership' category is being explored which will include designing a menu of appropriate options that will enable an organisation to engage with the Society in ways that fit their buisness objectives. It will also include, is some cases, the opportunity to design a program of engagement over a prolonged period. This will be a managed process that should provide for the needs of all our members. If you are part of our supplier community and would like to talk about corporate membership please e mail email@example.com . Of course any person can join as an individual member from the public or third sectors or suppliers to those sectors, quite independantly of any corporate scheme.
On another note we are also discussing 'organisational membership' with a number of our public sector members. This will include individual memberships and will be focussed around professional development / CPD as well as offering added value to the organisation through bundled or discounted access to other services. We will give further information about this, and contact details, when the planning has progressed a little further.
I am off to the Intellect Annual dinner tonight, at the Dorchester, with Greg Dyke speaking - suppose somebody has to do it...
You may have read about our collaboration with LGA and OpenlyLocal to encourage councils to publish local election results in open data format on their websites. This blogpost celebrates the pioneering councils who've already achieved this .....
Socitm has prepared a 7-point plan – its hopes for a new Government after the General Election. This is our assessment of the main parties’ manifestos (Conservative, Green, Labour and Liberal-Democrat) in relation the aspirations expressed in our plan.
Renew locally determined and delivered public services, empowered by information and technology
Each manifesto sets out a case, to a greater or lesser degree, for locally determined and delivered public services, underpinned by transparency and accountability to strengthened local communities.
All of the parties make propositions for decentralising and delivering public services through radically different organisational models. These approaches align well with Socitm's thinking. All parties would need to address how people (as public sector staff, as consumers of public services and as citizens with rights and responsibilities), how information and how technology can be brought together to achieve better value for money through this decentralised, locally accountable and transparent service delivery.
A significant gap in all of the manifestos is the lack of attention to central government service delivery and how its redesign will fit with attempts to decentralise decision-making and delivery of public services.
Aspirations such as the Conservatives' notion of 'The Big Society' - a society built on principles of self-help, social responsibility and community self development - represent a major cultural shift that will require the mobilisation of people and the groups to which they belong, including professional groupings, such as Socitm.
Infrastructure to support decentralised public services is addressed solely in terms of the exhortations by Labour and Conservatives to deliver near-universal superfast broadband. However, neither addresses the key issue of how they will ensure the reach and funding of superfast broadband into, for example, deprived rural communities.
The Greens advocate cessation of PFI and other privatisation initiatives, which would have implications for current and future models of IT delivery.
Re-align IT governance
The management of information and technology assets and their re-use will become ever more critical as financial austerity bites. This issue is addressed directly by the Conservatives in their Technology Manifesto, where they outline a stronger role for the government chief information officer (CIO) with new powers to implement open standards, open data and other IT policies across government departments.
The other parties support similar principles but without going into detail about how these arrangements will be implemented or governed.
Focus on public services outcomes
All of the parties employ the rhetoric of better value for money and radically improved service outcomes, driven to varying degrees by a belief in local action and third sector engagement.
The view that the third sector could become a major delivery agent for niche, targeted public services is widely canvassed. What is not clear is how, in its various guises, the third sector could become a trusted partner, sharing sensitive, personal information over government networks in order to deliver value for money public services.
Ring-fenced protection of service areas such as the NHS, education, childcare and policing, suggested by Conservatives and Labour is unlikely, on its own, to deliver better service outcomes and could actually mitigate against them in a local, whole-place approach to determining and delivering public services in the most effective and efficient manner.
Re-think public service design
All of the manifestos talk about greater citizen/consumer engagement in determining what services to provide. What remains unclear is how citizens and consumers of public services can help to shape, target and deliver more and better public services at significantly lower cost.
The future of digital public services delivery is addressed by the Prime Minister in his speech on 22 March. The Liberal Democrats align with similar thinking about a digitally inclusive society, while the Conservatives emphasise a technology-driven economy.
All of the parties advocate opening up government data, with the implied opportunities this brings for new services to be built. The Conservatives take this further with a 'right to government data' and the creation of a small IT development team in government - a 'government skunkworks' - to develop low cost IT applications in-house and advise on the procurement of large projects.
None of the parties considers how new social networking technologies and the semantic web could transform the landscape (and cost) of government IT, although there are some implied references to increased opportunities for democratic participation.
A number of the parties intend to scrap ID cards and close down Contact Point. Whilst this may be attractive politically and economically, alternative models, such as federated trust and identity are not addressed in the manifestos, nor do they address the question of how public services can collaborate effectively and efficiently to deliver services that are easy for the citizen to access, while offering protection to the vulnerable. Paradoxically, the Conservatives talk about the improvements in policing that are achievable with better, more joined-up use of information.
The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Greens all take issue with current IT procurement arrangements that they say tend to favour large scale contracts and few suppliers. The Conservatives offer commitments to a level playing field for open source software in government procurements and a presumption against IT contracts worth more than £100million.
Continue to build IT professionalism
This theme stems from the programme of work developed by the CIO Council and the Cabinet Office. It is implicit in the Conservative's Technology Manifesto, with its proposals to strengthen the role of the government CIO and programme/project management, and is implied in education and skills aspects of other manifestos.
Concluding commentWhatever is the outcome of the General Election, it is clear that Socitm can play a significant role in helping to shape how implementation of the new government's policies can be underpinned locally by better information handling and technology deployment.