Digital Ambition

NeilFollowing an event we held last year, we started an online twitter conversation with Neil Prior @PriorNeil, Independent County Councillor and Cabinet Member for Transformation and IT in Pembrokeshire County Council. For those of you that don’t know him – here is a great blog about his first year as a County Councillor.

Neil couldn’t attend our #WAODigital18 event but he wanted to share his story about the change in digital confidence in Pembrokeshire County Council, and how this is creating lots of small cultural shifts in the way they work… 

Digital Ambition

You don’t need to be a soothsayer to know that the world we live in has changed dramatically with the general purpose technology that is the internet. A glance at the Internet Minute reveals how ‘digital’ has become an essential part of our lives, informing the way we communicate, shop, watch TV, listen to music, date and share the details of our lives with the world. As a new Councillor and Cabinet member, and with a new portfolio of transformation and IT at Pembrokeshire County Council, my ambition is to see how digital can help us deliver better public services.

My printer is broken, can you fix it?

The traditional view of ICT in councils has been that they are there to keep the lights on. They manage and maintain the critical legacy line of business IT systems that were probably procured by finance, they fix your machine when it crashes, they provide the networks, infrastructures and applications that allow council staff to turn up to work, and work. But very rarely is your ICT department seen as the strategic leaders in your council.  And yet the world has changed.

Inheriting a transformation programme that had poor internal visibility and was struggling to get going, I started by looking closely at ICT. With a Head of Service that welcomed the political support, we set about re-writing the technology strategy to simplify it and set our own ‘destination of travel’, moving from a ‘reliable service doing the best it can’ to ‘solving business problems by working in partnership’.

This was not particularly difficult to do. Facilitating a workshop with key IT staff and users, we were able to assess where we were and where we wanted to get to. Coupled with SOCITM benchmarking and a look at what other councils in the UK were up to, such as Enfield with Amelia and Aylesbury Vale with Alexa, enabled me to take a compelling story of our ambitions through the political process, highlighting the need for investment, not cuts, in  ICT. The result? A £600,000 investment and protection from budget cuts for the next four years.

Agile Digital People

Our strategy is very simple. It’s about being more agile in the way that we work, meaning that we are smarter in our use of office space reducing the expenditure on bricks and mortar to spend our money on people and services instead. Digital focuses on the need to expand our digital offering to customers and to encourage digital confidence amongst staff, encouraging a more modern approach to how we operate. Finally, I want to see us focus on developing our ICT department’s skills and knowledge so that they become catalysts for change in the Authority and are recognised as the technology innovators who can work across the organisation making digital transformation stick. Our organisation will be full of agile, digital people.

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Digital is not a thing

Digital is not a thing, it is a way of ‘doing things’. So for us in Pembrokeshire, the biggest impact from our recently adopted technology strategy has been to implement an ambitious ‘smarter working’ project. In this, a cross departmental team are reconfiguring County Hall to create smarter working zones that will see us maximise the available space and establish a more modern working environment. This has been a huge piece of work from a small team who are energised and committed to making it a success. Along the way we have consulted, communicated and cajoled staff, and whilst it’s fair to say that there have been a few heels that have dug in, I don’t think anybody could argue with the reasons for doing it. With planned completion by the end of the summer, the real impact of our digital ambition is that we will have achieved the biggest culture change for our Authority in decades.

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A challenger mentality

We’ve achieved much in the last 6 months or so, but it won’t stop there. Yes, we’re doing other good things, such as increasing our use of SMS for communicating with residents, expanding the ‘MyAccount’ offer for digital self-serve, working with departments who are now coming to ICT and asking for help, and we’ve got more senior officers and councillors on twitter (for a not exhaustive list, click here). For me, this is digital confidence in action and is creating lots of small cultural shifts in the way that we work. But the challenger mentality in me says we still have much to do and our digital ambition story is just starting to be written.

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