Suffolk has a population of around 720,000. The county generates a substantial amount of its business and income through agriculture. Currently, Suffolk is one of the only counties to not have a city and until recently was also one of the only counties to not have a university campus. The County Council employs around 21,000 people, including teachers and has a budget of £1 billion.
Former CIO for Suffolk County Council Mark Adams-Wright, who now works for Telefonica, was responsible for the council's ICT, customer services and information management functions.
"We want this organisation to be as flexible as it can be. We are going to be less about delivery and more about community," Mark Adams-Wright told CIO earlier this year, adding that this will change the technology landscape Suffolk operates.
"Over the last three years I've challenged the views of what can't be done and on the issues of risk, which are often about a lack of understanding. So the strategy now is about the impact of cloud for example," he says.
"We use Smartsheet, a project management tool in the cloud. It's like Microsoft Project, but better, and we are now a very large user of it. We now have pockets of cloud-based solutions and we are analysing the opportunities that Google Apps offers.
"We decided it was time for us to look desktop automation and challenge the 'Microsoft-only' question as it is a huge part of our spend. We asked ourselves - is this the only way? We looked at whether Google Apps could be used by the council as a truly viable alternative and a real game-changer in the way the council approaches the utilisation of its desktop tool suite.
"We are not doing a like-for-like comparison, but what I want to do is make sure that we have the right tools for an organisation that is shrinking.
"We must be brave and honest enough to ask ourselves whether Google does enough to be a viable alternative, and whether the organisation is ready for browser-based desktop access? So a pilot group of 60 users is using Google as their main environment. Some of the feedback is positive, some less positive and that is no surprise. Some of the issues are about the way that people use applications - habits and expectation - and reflex actions forged using Office are challenged with Google's suite.
"Where we have teams working on complex spreadsheets, then Google is less popular, but in Communications they love the collaboration on Google as they can use it wherever they are, especially if they are out in the field and need to create information for press releases or update their teams.
"Our strategy is to have a multi-vendor approach and that is the way the cloud works," he says. Adams-Wright is excited about cloud computing freeing IT to deliver value rather than spend its time on integration.
"Integration has placed itself at the wrong part of the food chain; it is a by-product of getting something right.
"This strategy shows we can be valid and we are trying to break moulds and actively challenge. I think this is a brave new world and that only the brave can do well in it."
Adams-Wright is Suffolk County Council's first CIO, creating the role by bringing ICT and Information Management together, and he has worked with its leadership to inspire new levels of interest in technology.
"In my first meeting the leadership said the new strategy sounded good, but then who were they to question it?" he admits. So he brought in fellow trail-blazing local authority CIO Jos Creese of Hampshire and some Gartner analysts and presented the technology strategy to the leadership again, with Creese and Gartner there to scrutinise the plan on the behalf of the management board as 'Critical Friends'. That move, Adams-Wright says, changed the engagement towards ICT and created a real buy-in to the IT team's journey and aims.
"They have moved from a position of reticence to knowing what they want and they are hungry to have it," he says.
Back in 2004, Suffolk was one of the first authorities to form a major joint venture with a business when it signed a 10-year service provision deal with BT Global Services, called Customer Service Direct (CSD), reported at the time to be worth £301 million to the telco. By 2010 the deal wasn't performing and the council leader that struck the deal had left. With four years remaining on the deal when Adams-Wright joined, ensuring that the that relationship remained healthy and beneficial to both parties was critical.
"Just like any long-term commitment, you don't get what you want and need if you don't work hard at it on all sides as we needed to work harder to keep the partnership successful," he says.
"I felt we were not getting the best value we could at the same time as the downturn in the economy began. The cost of change was too high and becoming beyond affordability for the council. So by the time I joined there was a need for a re-think. The key issue was that change was chaotic - anyone could make a request for a change and work statements were created all over the council. We lacked the rigour and control we need to scrutinise spend, for example we had amassed nearly a dozen different reporting software solutions, and not enough drive was in place for corporate solutions evaluation and re-use.
"So we set up a corporate process for any change over £500 to be assessed and a Commissioning Board now meets every Tuesday with senior representatives of all business areas, the Contracts and Procurement team and the CSD team. The need for commissioning new work has to be evidenced and explained by the Requestor at this meeting and the board judges whether it is in the interest of the council to spend money on that requirement. It has been a hugely effective process, saving the council upwards of £8 million in unnecessary or non-value-added spend over its life to date.
"The ICT relationship management team was also brought back into the council from CSD so that the business areas could be both supported and challenged more effectively.
"As investment money is harder to find, every authority is going through transformation, requiring massive levels of support from technology. It will not change as far as the eye can see so we have to think laterally. Initiatives like Public Service Network (PSN) and the G-Cloud which allow the advantages of collective bargaining to be driven into the local environment are essential to create the impetus for affordable technology-led transformation but as a sector we have to be more open and positive towards sharing and working together.
"If we can work together to create centres of excellence across geographies then we will have a platform to deliver what our organisations need and keep the purse strings tightly managed."
The panel felt that Adams-Wright is one of the government CIOs really pushing the organisation and the public sector to think and act differently from the previous modus operandi. The hack days and embracing of Google Apps, while challenging the existing deal with BT earned him priase and a place near the top 10.
IT leader: Mark Adams-Wright, CIO.
In role since: CIO from February 2010 until February 2013.
Reporting line: Director of Resources and the CFO/COO.
How often does the CIO meet with the CEO: All the time as she works in the same office.
Board level seat: Has a standing open invite to the management board. I attend meetings as and when they are relevant.
IT budget: Revenue is £312 million, capital is between £12-20 million.
IT estate and or number of log on accounts under the control of the IT leader: 12,500 log-in, 21,000 members of the workforce.
IT staff currently employed: 160.
Split between in-house/outsourced staff: Most of the staff are outsourced 10 are in-house employees, 150 outsourced.
IT management team and reporting structure: Around 27 people who report to me. Includes IT relationship management, strategy and development managers, accountants and client engagement managers.
Primary technology platforms at the organisation: We have around 250 applications across all our platforms. Some of the most vital are Tier One platform, Insight for construction, CauseFirst for social care, Oracle for finance, Northgate PSE, Microsoft desktop, Capita One.
Primary technology suppliers: Outsource with BT global services.
Significant strategic technology deals struck in the last 12 months: There have been several; we have virtualised the desktop environment with Citrix, introduced Cognos for business intelligence and mobile apps such as Weejot from Jadu. The authority has also recently acquired a Google licence with aspirations to move all their applications to the cloud. The authority also has a Smart sheet for cloud planning. Also have a new website based on open source technology, PSN compliant network for schools and corporate network, multiple satellite cloud based solutions and a new asset management approach and software.
Percentage of your applications/infrastructure run from the cloud: Around 5% of applications are in the cloud, with aspirations to increase that to 50-70%.
Major technology or transformation project recently completed and how did it transform operations, customer experience or the organisation: The authority has a new virtualised desktop and asset management system, also an upgraded social care and child care system. We have also set up a pre-qualification test lab, which has assisted with the implementation of PSN.
Did the above project reach its cost, timing and transformation objective: Everything reached its time and cost limits, we have never gone over budget on a project.
Business transformation programme – beyond technology – that the CIO owns or is a major contributor to: I have set up a Public Access for Suffolk which aims to address citizen concerns by increasing the channels for communication available.
Strategic aim of the CIO and IT operation for the next financial year: To introduce public internet access and a BYOD programme. We are working to create a sandbox for the iPad and tablets. This allows the iPad to become an enterprise tool with secure document sharing. There is also a re-specification for the payroll platform and the potential to introduce CRM for cloud.
Strategy in the use by employees of their own technology, use of mobiles and how social networking is impacting operations, customer experiences or the organisation: Looking to improve social media use by pushing the use of apps. Suffolk County Council has a positive attitude to BYOD, as it can improve efficiency and the ease with which information can be shared amongst colleagues.
Technologies being considered to enable transformation: Everything! We don't rule any technology out. The department has a lab which tests all potential software. They are currently using the lab to test their applications compliance for the cloud.
Transformational inspiration sources: Peers and public. Leading lights in the private sector and other people who are technically advanced, not necessarily working in local authority. Niche players in technology such as Weejot.