Geoff Connell shows how digital service redesign and the advanced use of data and business intelligence can help councils not just to cope with extreme funding cuts, but also to improve customer experience and service outcomes. His data warehousing, consolidated single-customer view and business intelligence initiatives allow scarce resources to be targeted ever more effectively and to predict future service needs. The data warehouse is even helping to minimise sham marriages, to ensure that only eligible families go on to the housing waiting list, and that single-person discounts are not falsely claimed.
Name and job title
Geoff Connell, director of ICT at OneSource for the London councils of Newham and Havering.
How are you influencing the products, experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
I have created and communicated a set of digital principles, which is being used as a checklist and call to action to systematically review and redesign all corporate correspondence and interactions with our customers (be they residents, businesses or visitors to the boroughs). This has already resulted in more than half of all transactions being consumed online in both boroughs. Customer satisfaction is actually higher now than when transactions were predominantly face to face.
I have also been instrumental in developing partnership working arrangements, which have resulted in pooling of best practice and budgets from different organisations in order to maintain and improve customer services despite massive funding cuts. Improvements include mobile working, process changes, more online services and business intelligence.
How as CIO have you driven cultural and behaviour change in your organisation, and to what extent?
I have primarily worked with corporate and departmental leadership teams throughout the organisations that I support to show how digital service redesign and advanced use of data/BI can help them not just to cope with the extreme funding cuts, but also to improve customer experience and service outcomes. I have taken the digital principles and exemplars of service redesign, channel shift and business intelligence to the masses, personally briefing 1,300 staff this year. While not everyone is thinking differently, enough have done so for my next challenge to be related to skills shortages and prioritisation rather than apathy or lack of awareness.
I have also increasingly looked towards a diversified ICT team to help see the opportunities and possible solutions in different ways. Engaging more young talent (digital natives) and developing women in my ICT team to complement the already culturally diverse workforce has helped to ensure services reflect the needs of our customers. I would describe my approach to changing culture and behaviours as one of collaborative leadership, working alongside business leader to develop sustainable capacity for new ways of thinking and working.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the past 12 months and their impact on your organisation's company performance
Online self-service interactions now account for three-quarters of all transactions in Newham Council and over half in Havering Council. This reduction in face-to-face and telephony contact has enabled savings of well over £10m per annum while improving customer satisfaction and service accessibility. Indeed, around half of all the transactions now take place while the councils' offices are closed. These figures are exceptional in local government due to the breadth and complexity of transactions as well as the statutory nature of many services. Newham's demographics also make this challenging given that one has the poorest, youngest, most multicultural populations in London; Havering by contrast has the oldest population in the capital.
Use of data has also allowed the councils to target scarce resources far more effectively, with one service improving from a 50:50 success rate for enforcement up to 99%+. Mobile and flexible working projects have allowed office accommodation to be released, enabled co-location of health and social care locally, and have enabled staff from social workers to gas repair engineers to spend more time with their customers and less time in the office or travelling. In some cases these changes have generated a 100% increase in productivity.
All this and many other changes have been achieved while further reducing the ICT budget by over 10%. Efficiencies have been gained by supporting services across other boroughs, including a London borough, a district and a county council.
Describe how you have used organisational and third-party information to provide insight that has benefited your organisation, its customers and products or services
Newham Council is a recognised leader in local government for the use of data warehousing, consolidated single-customer view and business intelligence. Real-time data matched from all the council's major line of business systems enables customer services staff to have the best view of the customer when they are serving them.
The children and adults' safeguarding service benefits from a data warehouse-enriched view of the person or family that they are protecting. It includes data from all relevant council application systems as well as partner agencies such as health and police. The data has been used recently to ensure good landlords are supported and bad ones efficiently targeted for enforcement (with a 50%-99% success rate). Poorer residents have been targeted for benefits both financial and other such as loft insulation to reduce fuel poverty.
The data is used to target increasingly scarce resources ever more effectively as well as to predict future service needs. Early intervention to improve children's outcomes and reduce costs associated with social care is a key area for predictive analytics in the council. Anti-fraud work has also been a big focus area, with the data warehouse helping to minimise sham marriages, ensure that only eligible families go onto the housing waiting list, and that single-person discounts are not falsely claimed, among many other use cases. This work is growing rapidly in terms of importance and capacity, leveraging a growing internal team of ICT staff and data scientists, supported by a partnership with a local university and industry experts, using machine learning, cloud storage and tools.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
ICT is centralised and shared across the two main councils as well as supporting other boroughs on specific projects and activities. Increasingly we are using a two-speed development approach to support traditional big systems as well as the more agile web and mobile developments. We have a significant ICT projects/programmes and architecture team, which designs and implements new solutions and works in conjunction with the ICT management team to provide a trusted adviser function to the business leadership.
I present to the boards regularly on our programme of activities to ensure alignment and prioritisation corporately. I also chair ICT steering groups to ensure we align at a more operational level. Information governance and security is increasingly critical and I act as the SIRO for one of the two organisations and support the SIRO closely in the other council. ICT manages the security function but also helps the business to ensure it exploits data effectively where it is legal and ethical to do so. The traditional aspects of ICT service desk, printing and reprographics, unified communications and procurement are all centralised for maximum efficiency.
Describe your role in the development of digital strategy in your organisation
I own the digital strategy on behalf of my organisations and have developed it in conjunction with political leaders, executive management, departmental management teams, my own staff, partners and peers. I also manage a joint development team for online systems, which I share across three councils.
Describe how you use and promote technology to redesign the processes, services and structures of your organisation to enable it to become more efficient and customer-focused
The digital principles are used at management teams and forums at all levels to help ensure the councils take a consistent approach to developing new processes and ways of interacting with customers which exploit technology and the internet effectively. Lean and agile approaches are used for service redesign as well as increasingly for deploying minimum viable product early and iterating and building, based on customer feedback.
How do you engage regularly with your organisation about your team and the role of technology in the organisation, and what impact is this having?
I present regularly at all levels in the organisation. I have regular ICT summit meetings with the mayor, the chief executive and other key stakeholders. I present general programme updates and strategic direction to the exec boards as well as regularly attend directorate management team meetings (shared responsibility with my ICT management team colleagues).
I also run a regular ICT steering group, which has organisation-wide attendance. I speak regularly to wider groups of politicians, managers and frontline staff (1,300 in the last few months) to present on digital, BI, digital inclusion, online self-service, etc. There are also weekly newsletters to all staff, which always include at least one ICT/digital update.
How do you use social networks to engage in conversations across the industry about the opportunities and challenges technology is creating?
I chair the London CIO Council (and coordinate the communications outside of the meetings). I am vice president of the Society of ICT managers and will become president in April; this gives me lots of networking opportunities with my peers and suppliers. I speak at and attend conferences regularly to see the ideas of other organisations and suppliers, and to network. I participate in various LinkedIn and other online groups and have an extensive network of council, government, international, academic and supplier contacts with whom I liaise regularly. I also read CIO magazine and enjoy its events!
How do you bring the organisation together to explore and discuss technology and its challenges and to develop stronger alignment of the technology function with the full business?
This happens through various stakeholder groups at various levels across the councils. I run member briefings for politicians, I speak at directorate management away-days, showing the tools that are available and how other services have used them effectively. I use transformational change teams to take the digital principles out to services where they express a need for support or where I can see their use of legacy channels is higher than it should be.
I also cross-fertilise ideas from one organisation to another, either via the ICT team or by introducing the respective services to each other. Finally I use cross-cutting groups such as the data warehouse and business intelligence programme to work across services from director to practitioner level. This is one of a number of examples where the ICT service works in partnership with a business function or unit to deliver ICT-enabled change.
Describe how you keep up to date with developments in technology and IT management
I use the groups that I manage and attend such as Socitm, London CIO Council and (national) local CIO Council to keep up to date with developments. I also attend and participate in various conferences. I liaise with contacts at research organisations such as Gartner and academia, as well as special interest groups such as those in the security community. I use supplier relationship activities to get briefed by industry CIO/CTOs. Finally I read – a few physical publications, but mainly online articles and news feeds, and use Twitter contacts, LinkedIn communities, direct email feeds from my peers, suppliers and government agency contacts.
Provide an example of how you have developed the diversity and improved the culture of your team
This year I have continued to build on the long-standing policy that I have developed of embracing young talent. As well as work experience and student placements, we have taken on unemployed young local residents who have a good attitude and aptitude, but not the experience. We take on degree students in their gap year from the University of East London, international interns and I have just agreed to take on a further five apprentices who want to go into ICT, digital and media.
I have also supported initiatives to bring more women into ICT and to support those already in my service to develop their skills and ambition. This coupled with an already high proportion of BME representation in the team means that we have an increasingly healthy diverse mix of employees. The digital natives really help to add a fresh perspective as well as energy and challenge. The women in more senior roles help with customer focus and softer skills, and ultimately the whole team working together helps us better reflect the needs of our diverse customer base (Newham is among the most culturally diverse locations on the planet).
Describe how you collaborate and influence the organisation and its leadership team
I try not to tell any of the services what they have to do. I always try to take a collaborative approach. Sometimes this is not possible – for example, when it comes to information security – but generally it work well. I use face-to-face contact wherever I can to build and maintain relationships, at least initially. I attend most senior management teams regularly as well as various project/programme and change boards. I always try to ensure change initiatives are business-led or owned, but supported and enabled by ICT. Business transformation will usually be built upon digital principles and delivered by joint teams from the business and ICT, utilising external support for capacity or scarce skills/external experience where appropriate.
Tell us how you have developed your own management, leadership and personal skills, perhaps through mentoring, training or external activities
I have come up through the ranks, having performed many of the roles across my ICT service. I have also worked as a relationship manager, strategic adviser, business change leader and supplier manager, so I have taken learning from all these roles to bring into my leadership style. I have enjoyed refining my leadership skills through organisational leadership development programmes (particularly those focused on the collaborative elements). I have benefited from these as much through joint working with my peers as from the training content itself.
I have learnt a huge amount from my various managers over the years as well as from the most capable of my peers. I was a spokesperson for the government national ICT programme many years ago and still reflect on how useful the associated media training was. I am an "ENTJ", a "promoter" and naturally collaborative, so I think modern ways of leadership lend themselves to my natural preferences (which is lucky!).
What new technologies are you investigating, tracking or experimenting with?
Machine learning and data analytics are a focus area at the moment. Smart cities/IoT is also an area where I am starting to see some practical applications start to develop, but it's not yet mainstream for my organisations. NoSQL is being used for real-time merging of customer data to get the best available joined-up view to improve customer service. End-to-end process redesign to enable self-service and then automation of all elements which do not require human intervention is helping save costs and so is a top priority. Using portals, sensors and mobile technology to help residents become more independent and resilient is also a key objective for us.
How do you decide where to apply the best technological approach?
It's primarily based on RoI, although agility is increasingly important. We run a hybrid on-prem/cloud model to get the best of both worlds, although it is increasingly shifting away from on-premise. The build or buy question is a combination of cost and agility too, but with more of a focus on how good a fit the packaged solutions are for our needs and whether we can sell or share any solution that we build to reduce direct costs.
Do you give yourself and your team time each month to assess or learn about technology vendors outside of the established providers?
I always make time to hear from niche/innovative/disruptive new sources of software and services. I have recently implemented a Scandinavian solution on a no benefit, no cost basis. I have brought a social care provider over from the Far East to disrupt a failing market and am always looking for solutions which can enable services to be delivered quicker, cheaper, better. We cannot afford to keep doing things the way we have in the past.
Describe your sourcing strategy and your strategic suppliers
In-house first as I like to build and maintain a pool of talented ICT professionals where I know they will be fully utilised. Then I look to share costs with my peers; shared services development is an area in which I have led for years. Then I like to work with suppliers who are brilliant at providing products and services. Either big suppliers like Microsoft, HP and XMA, where I have developed strong working relationships through long-standing partnership working arrangements or niche suppliers such as Visionware, where they are innovative and agile and our business is very significant for them. I also like to work with talented independent contractors as and when appropriate projects require their skills.
Describe the technology innovations that you have introduced in the past year and what they have enabled
Many of the innovations have come from taking existing solutions from one part of the business and re-using them in another. For example the residency checking automation developed for sham marriage fraud detection is also being reused for housing eligibility and to get more people onto the housing register. Generic mobile working capabilities for housing repairs are now being redeveloped for us in diverse areas such as pest control. Extracting data from police pdf correspondence and auto-loading into CRM is helping to detect children at risk sooner and with greater certainty. Risk-based approaches through better use of data is helping to speed up and automate previously slow manual processes, helping to save money and improve the customer experience.
What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom? What uniquely do they bring?
Use of Microsoft Azure and Power BI is helping to enable more real-time evidence-based decision-making across the organisation. Total mobile software is enabling multiple front-line services to dramatically improve their operational efficiency, delivering a variety of different services, using different devices, but using the same software. Azeus Social Care software will transform the delivery of social care services through use of new processes, mobile working and a richer view of the client. Finally the introduction of Oracle ERP this April will allow full efficiency to be leveraged by joint working across Newham and Havering.
Rate how important your sources of innovative technology suppliers are
- Always referred to: CIO peers, media.
- Often use: industry body.
- Occasionally use: analyst houses, consultants.
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
How is cyber-security led and discussed by senior management?
I am the SIRO in Newham and work closely with the SIRO in the other borough. I have regular board-level discussions on the matter and input to a corporate governance group. Data loss is on the top-level corporate risk register.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What is the annual IT budget?
How much of your IT budget is capital and how much revenue?
£8m revenue. £3m capital.
What is your budget's operational/development split?
How many users does your department supply services to?
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?
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
How many employees are there in your IT team?
Are you increasing your headcount to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?