Geoff Connell has proved that shared council services can work, capturing huge savings for Newham and Havering councils through joint working, pooling skilled staffing, sharing best practice, and systematically seeking out and redesigning old-fashioned processes to reduce expensive face-to-face interaction where no online processes were available.
Director of ICT for Newham Borough Council.
When did you start your current role?
2014. I am now employed by a joint committee-based shared service entity on behalf of two London boroughs.
What is your reporting line?
To the managing director.
Do you meet with and discuss business strategy with the CEO every week?
Yes, either with the oneSource MD or the CEOs of the councils that I manage or advise.
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What other executive boards do you sit on?
Corporate leadership boards at Newham and Havering London boroughs.
Does your organisation have a CDO?
We do not have a CDO. More accurately, we do not have a separate role for a CDO as I fulfil the role within my position as director of ICT.
What non-technology responsibilities do you have in the organisation?
Printing and mailing, translation services.
How many employees does your organisation have?
Does your organisation carry out significant trade in the EU?
How many users does your department supply services to?
How do you ensure that you have a good understanding of your business and how your customers use your business's products?
I understand the business of my organisations (I work with three) through regular engagement with politicians, CEOs, directors, heads of service, lower level management and frontline staff. I'm on the operational boards as well as many of the major project and programme boards. I use the services as a 'mystery shopper' for that first-hand experience. I engage with my customers regularly one-to-one and in steering groups to understand their business challenges and show them the art of the possible. I also chair many regional and subregional groups of peers to better understand wider market factors, share best practice and look for collaborative working opportunities. Finally, I also work closely with system and service suppliers to share market intelligence and as a source of inspiration and innovation.
Newham Council technology strategy and agenda
Is your organisation being disrupted by the internet, mobility or technology-oriented start-ups?
Are you empowered by your organisation to disrupt from the inside?
Describe a disruptive measure you’ve led or played a major part in?
To improve business efficiency in line with an online digital agenda, I have systematically sought out and redesigned old-fashioned processes. I have done this by targeting high-volume transactions that drive our customers to contact us face to face, via postal communication or by telephone where the web is a viable alternative – for example, following any transactions which involve a payment by cheque or physical signature. This has let us target resources for end-to-end process redesign using agile techniques focused on user value on lean principles. The net result in Newham is a reduction in recent years from 67% face-to-face contact with residents to 12%.
What major transformation project has been recently completed or is under way at your organisation?
Full corporate back-office shared services between two London boroughs enabled by the ICT partnership that I set up five years ago. The cultural fit, cost savings, service improvement and technology foundation created through the shared ICT working paved the way for wider service sharing and cost reduction.
What impact will the above transformation have on your organisation?
Millions of pounds of savings a year through joint working as well as pooling of increasing scarce skilled staffing resources, and sharing of best practice. Ultimately significant improved efficiency in use of taxpayers' money, allowing us to protect frontline services from the threat of government austerity measures.
How has your leadership style contributed to the outcomes of the transformation project?
I have a collaborative approach, am customer-focused, show a can-do attitude and a visionary approach. This has enabled the CEOs and politicians in my organisations to see that sharing services can work for both councils despite opposing political leaderships. This provided the opportunity and the confidence to invest in it. I look for fair win-win scenarios rather than try to benefit one organisation more than the other. I'm not in it for personal glory: I'm happy for the political or executive leadership to take that and simply take pride in helping to make positive change happen.
What key technologies do you consider enable transformation?
Essentially those that provide access to information in new ways. That means the internet for new service delivery models, mobile technology for richer access to information when out and about, tablets for making information accessible to execs, politicians and other groups that would have traditionally avoided PCs. It's also the prosaic stuff like federated identity management and standards to allow easier access to shared information. And finally analytics to turn data into information and actionable knowledge.
Are you increasing the number of cloud applications or infrastructure in use at your organisation?
What is your information and data analytics vision for the organisation?
Secure, controlled access to all data for all staff from any location where it helps them to perform their operational role more effectively or aid better strategic decision-making. Information security and making sure staff only see what they are entitled to is essential to maintain trust and comply with the law. But where these requirements are not compromised, the organisations I work within are increasingly valuing and investing in the 'corporate brain', which means a simple joined-up view of the customer, of properties and locations, understanding of future demand and pressures, insight to enable earlier intervention, for example in social care and health.
How is mobile and social networking impacting operations and customer experience?
Mobile is a huge growth area for us, with smartphone apps used by staff and residents, laptops, tablets and wearable technology used by staff for dozens of different applications, along with new developments to separate the user experience from the back-end technology and give greater agility. Social networking is in its infancy but is increasingly being used for better customer services and corporate communications with residents. Sentiment analysis and feeds into our CRM and data warehouse are also being considered.
Describe your strategic vision towards shadow IT and BYOD. How do you influence and engage executives and employees around choice?
I welcome controlled shadow ICT activity as a way of gaining more engaged internal customers, extending my service capacity and prototyping new ideas and innovation.
I also welcome use of BYOD, particularly pilot activity so that staff can try out different devices, use technology that they like and will train themselves to use. I don't think BYOD really saves money on the devices themselves, but it can aid productivity. My only caveat is information security, where I insist that a risk-aware approach must be taken and BYOD use of shadow ICT actions taken in appropriately managed circumstances. My customers are not unhappy with this balance as they can see I am helping to keep them safe while being as flexible as possible.
What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom?
Azeus has brought in public sector solutions from Asia Pacific into a new marketplace, disrupting the UK social care marketplace, where innovation has previously been lacking. Microsoft has reworked its licensing and services model to accommodate the needs of public sector shared services. EE has massively reduced our mobile telephony costs, while still maintaining a strategic relationship to drive mobile working. Capgemini introduced a shared ERP system, which is now used in seven of the 33 London boroughs. Visionware manages the single view of the customer in one of the most diverse customer (resident) environments on the planet.
Who are your main suppliers?
Microsoft, HP, Cisco, EE, Northgate, Capita, Civica, Capgemini, Oracle.
Newham Council IT security and budget
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
Has cyber-security risen up your management agenda?
Does your organisation understand the potential cyber-security threats it faces?
Has this led to an increase in your security budget?
What is the IT budget?
How much is the IT operational spend compared to the revenue as a percentage?
What is the strategic aim of the CIO and IT operations for the next financial year?
To enable new, more efficient organisational operating models and associated processes which enable the councils to provide as good if not better services to residents despite the massive funding challenge we are facing. This is through increased channel shift, self-service, shared services, spinning out commercial entities, mobile working, multi-agency working. It should be an interesting year!
Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Are you looking for recruits in the EU to fill the skills shortage you have?
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
Newham Council technology department
How would you describe your leadership style?
Collaborative, facilitating, visionary, customer-facing and can-do, but unthreatening and low on ego-centric behaviour.
Explain how you’ve supported and developed your senior leadership team to support your overall objectives and vision
As far as the council's senior leadership team (my managers and peers) is concerned, I help them help me implement high-quality ICT-based solutions by being an active part of their team, engaging regularly in operational management and strategic planning activities. I take time to go with them on site/supplier/conference visits. I sit on project and programme boards with them. I make sure their personal experiences of ICT are good and that they get to see and hear about new opportunities and developments whenever possible. I engage them in service planning and strategy development. And, crucially, I ensure we succeed in our objectives, thereby building confidence for future developments.
I have also developed leaders from within my own ICT team who operate autonomously when I am at other sites. They are empowered and entrusted to act on my behalf without reference to me, unless they choose to. They understand how I operate, my principles, morals, ethics and the vision to which we work. I ensure they network extensively both internally and externally, have internal and external skills development training and plenty of time on the job acting for me on various boards and meetings to put into practice what they learn. I am pleased to say that I have developed members of my team who have subsequently gone on to become CIOs in their own right.
How many employees are in your IT team?
What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?
Does your team include key skilled workers from the EU?