Transforming Public Services in an Age of Austerity

Written by Sam Phillips, Head of Marketing for Skyscape Cloud Services

The second Digital Leaders Wales Salon discussed transforming public services to deliver improved customer service at a time of severe budget cuts — with lead discussants Emyr Roberts, CEO of Natural Resources Wales and Laura Dewis, Deputy Director for Digital Publishing at ONS.

Three organisations were combined to form NRW, with over 2,000 employees, an expanse of inflexible legacy systems, performance issues, old hardware, little or no mobility options, and an extremely complex contractual scenario. An ICT strategy was developed that included migration to cloud-based platforms that would offer flexibility and remove the dependence on large service providers.

There were headaches: the legacy providers, the cost of change and the speed of progress.  But Emyr understands the importance of information and data to the success of his organisation — it is integral to everything he does. His advice to other CEOs facing similar challenges? Recruit a good CIO if you haven’t already got one, be brave. There will be issues but you can work through them, and you need to in order to get in front of the game. If you don’t, you will simply join a race to the bottom.

Laura spoke about the challenges faced by siloed organisations with broken technology that are constantly subject to public scrutiny. The ICT challenges associated with rebuilding those organisations, managing reputation and building capability. Laura’s advice to those facing these challenges included the importance of building a better informed business case, embracing agile development and changing the behaviour of delivery teams. Laura also raised a theme that spans most Digital Leaders Salons — technology is easy, it’s the people and the culture that is difficult.

The key to success is changing mind sets. Laura agreed with Emyr. To deliver successful digital transformation, those involved need to be bold and be brave and they can’t afford to delay. What is key is putting citizen need at the heart of everything and striving to deliver better service for less.

The group discussed the importance of leadership that wasn’t scared of sharing data, was brave enough to invest in order to save, because after all the cost of not investing, not innovating, is far higher. Leaders have to challenge the status quo ―negotiate contracts, break the contractual cycle and tackle ICT issues in order to transform services. Take the long-term view and take risks. Start off with a small project to prove it works as this will give confidence for the next step.

And for Wales what will be key to success will be building and keeping the digital skills required in Wales. This theme spans all Digital Leaders Wales events. The group agreed on the need for apprenticeships, changes within the education sector and collaboration across organisations in the region. And it is that collaboration that Digital Leaders Wales looks forward to supporting.

Sam Phillips is Head of Marketing for Skyscape Cloud Services.

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