Jos Creese, Chair Local CIO Council, Socitm Director and CIO, Hampshire County Council sets out some views that he presented at an Inside Government Conference on 12 July 2012
I would like to start by setting out a context:
- There are more phones than people in the UK.There are 900m Facebook users worldwide, 40m in the UK which adds up to a lot of social interaction, yet we know that civic engagement has fallen.People are social networking but they are not engaging with the key decisions that affect their communities.
- Within the last few years, WiFi is available nearly everywhere at least in urban areas.It took over 50 years to get the equivalent coverage in telephones.
- In the last four years alone over 700,000 Apple apps were launched, at an average of less than $2 each.That number doubles if you include all Android apps.
- You may have seen the YouTube video of the one year old using a Smartphone.These tools are accessible, easy and ubiquitous.
- We spend £13b/year on IT in the public sector, yet it is mostly on traditional tools and the big suppliers, whilst the world shifts from web to social media.
- And this is not just a public sector issue.The banks have found it is easier and cheaper to patch old systems than to fundamentally change how they work, with a patchwork of old, difficult to maintain and patched-up systems ... but it's a growing risk to adopt such a strategy to avoid facing.
The point is we have the technology, and technology is not generally a barrier to business improvement and modernisation of the public sector. It's not even in the cost in times of austerity.The barriers lie in adoption.
The austerity measures cutting across the whole of the public sector have had enormous impact, and many have ironically been positive:
- Many things have stopped - non-essential projects, programmes, overheads.
- Structures are becoming flatter with broader spans of control.
- Productivity has had to increase, with a smaller workforce providing the same level of service where possible.
- New sourcing models have emerged strongly, especially where both insourced and outsourced models have been proved expensive.
- New contracts, partnership working and a stronger focus on the commercial reality of delivery are all increasing.
- New technologies are being adopted as business tools which might previously have beenresisted ... such as small apps, social networks and Cloud.
- An increasing focus on technology as an agent of change, not
just a cost and a risk.
Many organisations are now within the public sector are beginning to see IT not as a support service or a 'technology and engineering department', but as a source of innovation, business change, customer service improvement - a risk no doubt, but one which must be embraced, not avoided.
The public sector has woken up to this later than the private sector.Despite immense strength in the provision of technology services within government, especially some of the examples at a very local level, the degree to which technology is truly embraced to change how our organisations function is still relatively limited.
But there are good examples of how IT is beginning to change things:
- New job design, with more flexible working, less travel, more autonomy and virtual teams with matrix management.
- Removing layers of middle management, supervision and administration.A modern business based on good communications technologies just doesn't need the same 'command and control' overheads of the past.
- A move to a 'digital by default' model - for customers and for staff - with a presumption of self-service.Faster, easier and better for all if done well.
- Shared services underpinned by common and shared IT infrastructure.This improves service design around the customer and drives efficiency.
- Use of personal equipment at home (PCs) and on the move (BYOD) and 'work' being something you do, not somewhere you go.
- Use of 'free' (or very low cost) tools - apps, cloud services, social networks, open source, to replace or at least reduce dependence on 'large IT'.
In addition to becoming more efficient, the UK government has a range of other aims which are all underpinned by IT as I see it:
- Modernising government departments, making them better designed around changing public expectations.
- Being more transparent and open.
- Making government easier to deal with - for the public and for the private sector.
- Encouraging smaller organisations to flourish, public and private sector, reducing dominance of large organisations where appropriate.
- Re-vitalising our communities and getting them more involved in decision making and support.Encouraging us all as individuals to take more personal responsibility.
- As a result of the above, create a smaller state with more sharing and less centralisation.
Whilst this may look like a traditional Conservative Party ethos, it is also an inevitability of many of the changes that are afforded now by modern technologies, affecting all governments and businesses.Any government would be likely to support these aims, although they may implement them differently.
Yet in many ways we are still 'fiddling in the margins' of the technology revolution.There is still a tendency towards big, central IT programmes, and 'agile IT' is often used as a misnomer to use technology to prop-up outdated business practices (eg. it's up to IT to prove its 'agile' by accommodating every flavour of practice desired).Our adoption of Cloud, social networking, Bring Your Own Device and technologies such as iPads is still in the tactical deployment stage.As with all new technologies from the PC to the new opportunities, the life cycle is always the same: Deny, Resist, Tactical use, Embrace fully.
But the pace of change is now increasing and has a predictability from the past.Things moved slowly in the l970s and 1980s when the 'Anoraks' were in control of technology.Things moved a little faster during the 1980s and early 1990s when the 'men in suits' took over through the Dot.Com 'boom and bust'.It is now the era of the consumer being in control.And the customer is always right.
It is the job of the modern IT department and the CIO to make sense of this new world.
- To exploit the potential and to manage the risk.
- To manage expectations and to help design and lead change programmes.
- To ensure IT is seen as an enabler not a barrier, whilst constraining costly variation.
This last point is critical: there needs to be a stronger compulsion to adopting standard ways of working - local sub optimisation may be necessary in order to achieve overall corporate optimisation.This is a tough trick to pull off, but essential if we are to maximise the value of IT investment.
There is another dichotomy - more choice and less choice.There can and needs to be more choice in the way we design a Digital by Default delivery of electronic services, putting the customer in control of their interactions with government - when they want and how they want.Yet there also has to be less choice as we standardise the means of delivery if we are to drive efficiency.This means moving away from so many different flavours of technology solution and recognising that IT is in practice driving many of the changes that we see in society and in our organisations.
Change leadership skills and experience are limited, but essential, and simply 'buying in' does not always work well - we need to build internal capacity, and overcome any resistance to IT professionals being able to take on the role:
- Technology professionals often have the commercial, project management, and cross-organisational knowledge coupled with business analytical skills to be well placed to lead change.
- In any event, IT enabled change should be a partnership between business ownership and professional technical, HR and financial capacity and skills.
This is all about what we can do with technology, not about the technology itself.ERP, CloudStore, Agile, Opensource etc are of little value in themselves, it' s how you use them.But the pace of change of technology and its consumerisation has forced some IT professionals to spend too much time worrying about the technology and too little about its application.For example, RAD/JAD pre-dated 'agile' and many IT departments had been delivering on a 'cloud' model before the term was coined.
It is essential therefore for standard ways of working, and less tailoring of applications. "In the past we could afford and had got used to tailoring our suits.Our purse will now only allow an 'off the peg' suit.This does not mean it will not fit!."
Whilst IT costs are usually visible in making change, the inherent costs of not changing have been hidden or assumed 'sunk'.This, coupled with an in-built resistance to change, makes a traditional ROI business case very hard to produce or to realise.Moreover, true costs of running IT are very variable across the public sector.Transparency of cost, and consistent benchmarking are needed to share outstandingly good practice and to deal with poor performance.
There has also been too much reliance on the private sector, especially in the management of risk. What we do need to do better is to focus on smaller projects and be prepared and able to stop them earlier when they go wrong.
There are some other inhibitors to address:
- Sovereignty and control - individual IT (and other) departments, organisations and teams wanting to do things the way they have always done it.
- Ensuring that IT is seen as something much more than a utility or a source of technology.IT departments themselves need to take a lead and to think beyond a 'client-supplier' provider model.
- Understanding that IT is actually not the same as 'magic'. iPads, Cloud computing, social networking all have their place, but these technologies alone do not solve every problem.
IT strategies therefore must be business change programmes, not technology plans based on a set of IT methods.This includes driving new and standard ways of working, high levels of IT competency and awareness in our leaders and higher levels of IT professionalism within government as a whole.Critically, IT within the public sector must seem to be pan-government, not within the silos of central and local or the delivery sectors of Health, local government, Police, Fire, etc.
The synergy and integration between operational IT activity, strategic development of technology adoption and business enabled change is essential - services locked into inflexible outsourcing arrangements will not do.
- The IT model in public sector still needs to mature.This requires changes both within the IT professional group but also with government as a whole as to how IT is perceived and positioned.
- Procurement, contracts and the way in which we set up partnership/shared working arrangements needs to change - too many have failed to deliver against aspirations.
- Technology will drive change in a modern society.That doesn't mean we should not be in control of the change.
- Technology is the key to a more efficient, transparent and smaller public sector, which can none-the-less improve what it does for citizens.
- Done well, IT is the key to a more efficient, transparent and customer centric public sector, and one that empowers both its staff and its citizens.