Most of my career has been spent as an ICT Contractor, in both private and public sectors, typically being dropped into an IT project that was on the ropes, or being brought in to scope up and design a large ICT programme and get it up and running.
In the first instance, it's quite easy to come in, drive a truck through something and write up a report of remedial recommendations. Then comes the difficult part of implementing it, turning the people around, making the stakeholders positive and making the delivery work. In terms of the second example, I always found it difficult to leave a programme once it had been set up and was on track to deliver. The most recent case of this, was the Hwb project, which I led for the Department for Education and Skills. This project was to deliver a learning platform, coupled with Office 365 to every learner and teacher in Wales, engaging with parents also. It comprised a total user base of around 800,000 and at the time was the biggest rollout of Office 365 in the UK and unarguably a noble project. In fact, after working for blue chips across banking, pensions and life insurance, it was the most worthwhile thing I had done at that point – the public sector can be very rewarding in this sense. Just as the project entered delivery, I was asked to get involved with the programme to setup Natural Resources Wales, reluctantly I agreed as I had such belief in what we were trying to achieve - and the rest is history. And Hwb rolled on without me.
Once the fires had been put out at NRW and we had a successful launch on April 1, 2012, I wrote the first iteration of our ICT Strategy. A five-year plan to make us the most technologically advanced and efficient public sector organisation in Wales, which built upon the information stores we had inherited from the legacy bodies we merged together on formation, and leveraged them for wider benefit.
Now, two years in, after hitting the milestones set out for the first two years, it's time for a refresh. This "difficult second album" is often where CIOs struggle most; after going into an organisation, defining a clear vision and then implementing it over a two-year or three-year period, most CIOs tend to move on to another role. Then a new CIO comes in with their own ideas and the cycle continues. Undoubtedly, experience gained from roles within organisations can be innovative and (good) disruptive and a change in face can re-invigorate the ICT function and agenda.
However, there is a lot to be said for seeing the job through, achieving the vision, but of course, modifying it as the business priorities change and new technologies and capabilities emerge.
Jumping off the ship when it's looking like its pointing in the right direction, isn't the same as seeing it safely to shore. And while with IT, there is no final destination - just an ongoing journey with different goals (not girls) in different ports – I really felt this time, like with Hwb, that I was a key part of the crew and wanted to stick around and make sure we avoided the icebergs. I'll end the analogy with another one – imagine an architect designing a building and never getting to see their vision fully constructed, well – that's not for me this time.
My view of the CIO role is that we should be Business Leaders first and technologists second, as an enabling force. That's why this year we will be joining up the business approach with a digital strategy rather than an ICT strategy – after all this makes a lot of sense as I have always said ICT is just the tools we use to do our job. The Digital Strategy will define a period of transformation where we will aim to digitise and streamline as much of our business processes and interactions with customers as possible, and keep NRW in its position as being seen as the leading public sector body in Wales in terms of technology.
So it's my job to make this second album is going to be more like Nirvana's "Nevermind", than the Stones Roses' "Second Coming".
Martin Britton is Prif Swyddog Gwybodaeth (Chief Information Officer) of Natural Resources Wales
[With apologies to Radiohead and Bruce Springsteen for cutting off your head - eds.]