Management > CIO

Great expectations

Charlotte Jee Published 04 January 2013

Looking ahead to what 2013 may bring, CIO David Wilde reflects on the latest developments in Essex including PSN, cloud, virtual working, mutuals and digital engagement

 

Like every other local authority in the UK, Essex County Council has had to confront cuts in central government funding, and has embarked upon a transformation programme, of which achieving savings is an ongoing objective. The authority has saved £300m so far, and has committed to save £200m a year by 2017, which it says will "place it at the forefront of local government and public service innovation."

IT has a key part to play in the cost-cutting drive. However, David Wilde, who has almost three decades of experience in the public sector, including three years as CIO at Westminster City Council, is keen to emphasise that IT is in a unique position, with potential to enable savings across the entire council.

"Our contribution to the £300m [saved so far] is around £27m.So going into next year, we'll be contributing just over 10%. And going into the year after that, IT's role is less about providing a direct contribution to savings and more about providing the enabling services to make further cost savings possible in other areas, through multi-agency working, convergence, etcetera. We are going into the really difficult stage now as it is much more about fundamental service redesign."

With the council having recently signed a 10-year contract, with Daisy Updata Communications, to introduce PSN-compliant services throughout the county, and possibly beyond, Wilde is also keen to promote the benefits of PSN. He agrees that PSN "absolutely has potential. I led the Next Generation Network (NGN) contract in Westminster that we awarded there, with Virgin on that occasion, which set up a framework for the whole of London.

"The difference with Essex County Council is that what I'm looking at here is a converged network. It has PSN compliance built in and from day one we have put in place a contract that covers the entire education and corporate networks, fire, police, health, district councils and potentially neighbouring counties to also take advantage of it if they want to. The nice thing is that it stands on its own two feet as far as Essex is concerned and there isn't any pressure to grow it apart from that fact that it would be an eminently sensible thing for the public sector to do. There are clearly advantages for everybody in growing it", he says.

Essex's contract is a "big win for PSN nationally because we're a big county", Wilde adds.

PSN is not the only area where Essex is innovating and developing IT capability, however. Wilde says that "over the next 12 months we are looking at voice, video and data convergence, virtual networking, and starting to do more in terms of co-location. We already do some of it in health in Basildon, Southend and so on. We are doing some co-location with Braintree council too.

"And, in Braintree, we have disposed of buildings and taken over a third of the civic centre there. We have put in county staff and realised savings by getting rid of two fairly substantial properties. NGN allows us to go onto the next stage where we can converge the networks around a single network, take a load more costs out, populate across the estate and not be constrained by physical networks."

On one of the latest hot topics in public sector IT, however, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), Wilde is more restrained. "BYOD is an interesting one", he says. "My take on it is that it's less about 'bring your own device', because devices are becoming a smaller proportion of the total cost of IT provision. It's about virtual desktops and being able to operate on practically any device."

To provide an example, as a result of changes in health, Wilde says that Essex County Council will have 600 to 800 people on NHS IT needing access to their systems. In effect they will become council employees.
"They have their own device, it's an NHS device, but we have to provide a virtual environment so they can use our resources. That's kind of the way it's moving now.

"BYOD was initially a topic because people thought 'I have a cool iPad, what can I do with it?', but now we've moved on. It's about virtual delivery now and that's the future of this stuff, whether it's a personal or a corporate device.

"The business case on BYOD is often that it can save money, but provision of end user devices is less than 10% of my IT spend here. If I ask staff to get their own devices, it doesn't save money. In fact it is probably more expensive because I can buy 10,000 devices much cheaper than my employees can individually."

Wilde is more enthusiastic about cloud, however, saying, "We've done quite a lot of stuff on cloud and NGN is very important in that regard. In the contract we have included the ability to host, so if we want to develop private cloud capability we can. In Essex, our entire payroll is on cloud and our CRM system is actually in Berlin. We're quite comfortable with the way cloud is going. It's shifting the dynamic of IT away from controlling the environment to tackling how the systems inter-operate with each other."

When asked how Essex fits into the bigger picture of the different approaches local authorities have taken to address spending cuts, Wilde says, "Essex is moving towards being a commissioning council and I think we have a pretty good handle on what that means. We aren't keeping everything in-house, nor are we outsourcing everything.

"What we are saying is that we are going to clearly distinguish between commissioning and delivery. For the latter, we will source in the cheapest way. It could be kept in-house if it makes business sense, and it could be outsourced if it saves money. We've got a local authority trading company [Essex Cares] which has been very successful around re-ablement services, and there are possibilities around exploring mutuals. I think that what we're seeing is a bit of maturity coming to sourcing- we're talking about 'right' sourcing, whether it's out or in.

"I was a bit surprised to see 'kitchen sink' outsourcing coming back, because the public sector often hasn't had a great record on that. But again, if you have a very good service delivery management function, you retain a very good ability to manage that and you can make it work and take costs out."

However, he added, "One of the very real considerations for some local authorities is local employment and regeneration. We shouldn't ignore local needs. If you procure things in certain ways that mean you can have quite a material effect on the local economy you have to consider that."

Wilde points out that Essex is following other public bodies, both local and central, in focusing on digital engagement. He says, "It's a big part of what we're doing around customer service here and channel shift. We're not doing anything radically different to anyone else, it's just about making the experience better for the customer. Admittedly some really complex services don't suit it, like social care.

"But if we provide more information through digital that's more transparent and easier to understand, that can go some way to make the population more informed so they don't necessarily have to go to the council straight away with any concerns. They might be able to solve some issues themselves. It's a lot cheaper than someone answering the phone in the office, and better, especially for rural areas.

"We're doing stuff on mobile channels. In particular, we've just launched a trial. Websites are 'yesterday' as far as transactions are concerned, it's about mobile today. The public sector needs to get a real grip on that and I think it's starting to. The real area around digital engagement is multiple agency working and collaboration environments. We're using Hubble, SharePoint and so on. That kind of collaboration environment can really up the ante on joined up service provision.

"For me, the government digital strategy has been a long time coming, but let's not lose sight of the fact that it's not just about the lens through which people access the services, it's about how they're provided in the first place."

 

 








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