Management > CIO

Delivering on digital the local government way (without tee shirt and jeans!)

Published 16 October 2014

London Borough of Camden CIO John Jackson says local government CIOs don't need a government platform or wear a uniform of tee-shirt and jeans to prove they can do digital. Camden already has an 'open' architectural blueprint and a 'mobile first' principle and is delivering on digital - now!


I read with interest recent triumphant pronouncements that government as a platform (GaaP) will be with us in three years.

Well, in local government, I think we already have the blueprint for digital government and we need to make more noise about it. We also need to fight back (at least a little!) against the prevailing wisdom that we're (i.e. local government CIOs) a bunch of geriatric numpties in suits who don't get digital because we don't wear tee-shirts, bandanas and jeans.

Fundamentally we all need to get away from being told that trendy digital service types ought to drive IT in local government (possibly a good thing ...) and focus on what matters more right now - an architectural blueprint for government that is flexible, open, interconnected and scalable. And create the social platforms, tools and communities of practice to collaborate, share and innovate

And it will happen.

Over the last two years Camden has focused on doing five things that we thought mattered:-

  • Building an architecture that enables customers to design the channel experience so it works for them rather than Big IT suppliers spoon feeding us ineffective interfaces on proprietary platforms;
  • Using modern and open platforms that enable us to re-engineer business processes and create a much better on line customer experience without spending vast amounts of money with system integrators;
  • Maximising our existing infrastructure and, therefore, avoid spending loads of money on swapping out legacy systems for incremental benefit, at great cost and diverting lots of organisational energy in the wrong place;
  • Designing a local Government Digital Service that not only supports channel shift but delivers cross cutting council transformation in areas as diverse as analytics, workforce automation and partnership working to help us tackle inequality, grow the local economy and deliver customer centric services; and
  • Partnering across government to reshape tired supplier markets and engender much greater openness and interoperability across government.

Our technology blueprint is a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) and open source responsive user interface; we've been working on this since the start of our digital journey. We are now moving towards a mobile first principle. We are using the platform to build standard web services and APIs that can be shared so government doesn't need to pay for stuff lots of times and authorities can realise benefits quicker.

Our platform is consuming open source applications and third party services that enable interoperability and so saves money and leverages the potential of the crowd. And this is incredibly powerful.

So, for example, with FixMyStreet our SOA platform enables us to consume FixMyStreet as a service and share data with it in two directions. This is hugely significant:-

  • FixMyStreet is a great application developed by a community with citizen needs at the heart of it. Its there, we don't need to reinvent it or pay a supplier for something called FixManyStreets;
  • We are using an API compliant with the open standard Open311 to move data between the application and our legacy systems and back again to enable end to end tracking;
  • The blueprint and learning from Camden can be applied in any council and doesn't need some vast, centralised GaaP "platform as a service" to deliver it.
  • Whilst we've made progress there is still so much yet to do

Camden isn't perfect and we still have a lot to sort and resolve in digital, and this is set out in our Digital Strategy . But we are passionate about open systems, open source and APIs. They are the foundations, I believe, of the future of technology in government. And while we wait with baited breath for Whitehall's government as a platform, we already have our platform, it's here and it's working now.

Lets get digital the local government way.

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