‘Without vision, the people perish' says the Book of Proverbs, and the idea surely applies to CIOs everywhere - and not least to those in the UK public sector. It's not hard to see why, once you look at the forces of supply and demand currently impacting the world of public sector IT.
On the demand side, the clamour for IT to ‘do the impossible' shows - as ever - no sign of abating. Value for money, streamlined working across the organisation, data security, citizen-centric services, joined-up government, sustainability - these and many other desirables are all expected to undergo a magical transformation through the work of you, the CIO, and your team.
On the supply side, it can seem harder by the day to make sense of all the new ideas and technologies that never stop coming. Utility Business Infrastructures, Mashup Applications, iPodification, Googlefication, Jericho-Style Security, Rich Internet Applications, Sensing Networks - how to get your head around these developments, how to understand where they fit into the big picture, how to separate the wheat from the chaff?
Whether you look at the great expectations your peers have of IT, or the new technology hurtling down the line, the demands being made on CIOs are clearly high and rising. Fortunately, however, they don't need to tackle the many formidable issues alone and unaided. Help is at hand, from colleagues in the public sector and from consultancies.
A recent one-day workshop, for example, jointly organised by my colleagues at Capgemini and the Cabinet Office, brought together 29 CIOs/CTOs from central and local government to hear all about, and discuss, some of these emerging technologies. Jointly led by Andrew Stott, Head of Service Transformation (pictured below) for the Cabinet Office and Deputy CTO for UK Government, and Pierre Hessler, Executive Director of the Capgemini Group, the event focussed on the impact that current and emerging technologies will have on public sector IT delivery and costs over the next few years, and how they might help government deliver better services to citizens.
The workshop used a framework that we have developed to provide a practical guide for discussing clusters of new technological developments, and the impact these could have on specific business drivers.
In reviewing the output of the day, it struck me that a number of fundamentals stood out - and need to be kept firmly in mind when assessing which technologies can best be used to improve delivery of public services, and in moving from vision to delivery:
o Technology strategy must be aligned to clear business drivers- always. This is just as true in the world of the cloud and mash-ups as it ever was.
o There is a clear need to prioritise - focus on the things you must do to deliver business value, and prioritise these above the ‘nice to have's'. And giving priority to something needs to have consequences.
o As with all IT initiatives, the ‘how' is as important as the ‘what'- new technologies must still be deployed robustly, effectively and efficiently.
o Sharing experiences helps a lot. The workshop provided a great way of kick-starting a culture of share and re-use across multiple departments. Taking this further, lean on other external bodies, like Capgemini, to gain access to as much practice- good and bad- as possible. Benefit from other people's hindsight.
o Timing is everything- it's not just a question of whether a technology is available and sufficiently mature to use, but are you ready to exploit it?
It's a view echoed by Andrew Stott, who commented: ‘This workshop, which harnessed the collective expertise of our chief information officers and technologists from across a broad spectrum of government organisations, helped crystallise our thinking. Our challenge was to understand those emerging technologies that the UK government needs to consider strategically - and potentially build capability in. We needed to understand what the critical business drivers were, what our strategic technology choices were (and especially what emerging technologies would be important in the future) and what were our priority technology choices.'
It is reassuring to see so many of our leading public sector CIOs/CTOs devoting time from the pressing needs of today to look at the needs and opportunities of tomorrow
It is a good reminder for all of us, that however busy we are with the challenges of today, we should continue to keep at least one eye on the future.
And for CIOs in all sectors who might be interested in our framework, it's called TechnoVision 2012 and material at all levels of detail, from introductory overview onwards, is now available on request. Feel free to benefit from our spadework!