The digital and strategic IT queen of Coventry, Lisa Commane is driving the transformation agenda for a city. She has kickstarted the digital journey with a completely new customer service centre, with payment kiosks, a meet and greet team with tablets rather than stuck behind desks, and an ACD telephony system for the contact centre. To get it up and running took just 18 months from start to finish and customer self-service has soared from less than 1% to 20% as a result. She has also introduced agile tools and developed a digital skills strategy to enable 5,500 staff to work in more efficient ways.

Name and job title
Lisa Commane, assistant director ICT, transformation and customer services, Coventry Council.

How are you influencing the products, experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
I have a broad role with strategic responsibility for not only ICT, but also the council's transformation agenda and 100 different customer services ranging from housing benefit and adult social care to waste and parking. I am leading the council's digital transformation programme, which is defining how we maximise the benefits of technology, coupling that with business process redesign to modernise the way we deliver services to 350,000 city residents in a digital age.

How as CIO have you driven cultural and behaviour change in your organisation and to what extent?
I co-led the political decision to consolidate our office accommodation from 27 buildings to eight in a £59m programme to kickstart a business district next to Coventry station, transforming the city and the council, and delivering savings by 2017. I am now leading all the associated new ways of working required to transform the way our 5,500 employees work. This includes leading our workspace strategy – standard tablet, unified communications system, Office 365, follow-me printing and smartphone rollout – and our information management strategy. As part of this work we are reducing paper storage to one linear metre per person and introducing Sharepoint and [email protected] for all teams.

I have already delivered a new £3m customer service centre that consolidates 14 reception points and lets 150 team members work, in very different ways, using digital tools in customer-facing roles and adopting more collaborative, open-plan methods. I am embedded in all of the council's change work.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the past 12 months and their impact on your organisation's performance
I am at the heart of the council's transformation work, which has both internal and external implications:

  • Financial. I have contributed £1.7m of revenue savings towards the council's target of £65m. This has been delivered through a mixture of digitally enabled service redesign, aligning roles and responsibilities across the ICT, customer and transformation functions and relying less on external advisers – so growing our own.
  • Regeneration. I introduced agile working tools and consolidated phase one of customer-facing buildings to free up sites for the regeneration of the city centre to drive inward investment, a vibrant city centre and business rate growth, which is critical for the future financing of local government services.
  • Workforce. I have developed a digital skills strategy to enable the council's 5,500 workforce to work in new ways, capitalise on the opportunities that digital brings and deliver better, more efficient services.
  • Digital redesign for better services. I have driven up customer self-service from less than 1% to 20% – a further advance on the 16% achieved for the last financial year – and started to transform services using digital principles. This enables customers to access our services through MyAccount 24/7. I am leading digital process redesign work that will transform the way we deliver services to homeless and adult social care customers in Coventry, improving outcomes for these service users in a more efficient way.
  • Digital City. I developed city centre public Wi-Fi, digital wayfinding totems and an innovative partnership with Cityfibre to make Coventry a gigabit city.

Describe how you have used organisational and third-party information to provide insight that has benefited your organisation, its customers and products or services
Alongside the introduction of digital kiosks and delivery of the single customer service centre, I have led work using data and insight from customer surveys, mosaic and frontline experience to target a sustained campaign to encourage customers to pay online or by direct debit rather than in person. This will deliver a better customer experience and save money. We have 100,000 council tax accounts, plus payments for lots of other services still in person and in cash. I have grown direct debit take-up by 10% (10,000 customers) as a result of this work. I am now working collaboratively with housing providers and other partners in the city to better target communications at particular customers and using nudge in our communications strategy.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
My leadership team includes a head of ICT operations, responsible for service desk, infrastructure, security and rapid deployment of kit. I also have a head of ICT systems and strategy. The ICT strategy was rebooted during the year and the work completed collaboratively with the senior business leaders to ensure ICT is completely aligned with the needs of the business at a strategic level. I lead conversations with our executive and assistant directors on the role ICT can play in all major policy and business decisions. At an operational level, my teams have a network of contacts across the business, both formal and informal mechanisms for ensuring that priorities are defined, redefined and delivered. The major culture change I have led within ICT is a better alignment of our work with the needs and direction of the business and our customers.

Describe your role in the development of digital strategy in your organisation
My role is to lead the digital strategy. We are an £800m-turnover organisation, with 4,500 employees and over 100 services. We are complex and touch the lives of every resident in the city in some way, so leading the digital strategy is key to our success and the City's success. I have shaped the council's ICT strategy and defined the digital strategy for our internal services by means of the customer journey vision and strategy and the council's transformation kickstart programme. Although digital is about digital services and not just websites, our new website and MyAccount have been key deliverables.

I am now leading work to position the digital strategy for the city through the strategic economic plan and through the West Midlands Combined Authority. This is about not just public services reform, but also about the role digital plays in economic growth. With council teams I am running events such as a digital hackday facilitated by Gartner so that all teams are part of the strategy development and feel confident to describe it. I want to extend this work more broadly to our partners in the city too.

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
I lead my ICT team to be part of a multidisciplinary team approach, with the business, ICT and customers working together to achieve better service redesign. We are using a Government Digital Service approach and agile to make sure that technology is developed alongside process and service redesign at pace, focusing on waste, housing benefit, registrars, adult social care and some of our traded services as a first phase. We are involving the voice of internal and external customers increasingly in our work. Technology is an enabler not an end in itself.

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 have developed a Getting IT Ready brand, which is used internally to communicate all ICT changes, news and work. In 2015 I led our first customer survey to get feedback on the ICT service and then blogged about the results. I have led work within my division, including Yammer chats and face-to-face Lisa Listening events, to talk about the role ICT customer and transformation play in enabling the business to work differently. All my teams have made a commitment to spend two days a year shadowing or working alongside our customers so that we can have these conversations and make it useful to how we do things. It's really important for teams to see me out there, whether it's shadowing a social worker or meeting our change agents, who are helping to embed new technology in teams.

How do you use social networks to engage in conversations across the industry about the opportunities and challenges technology is creating?
Increasingly I am using social networks, as are my teams. This includes traditional face-to-face networking with sector peers, active participation in Socitm, Gartner and ICT events including speaking at events, but also LinkedIn and Twitter. I am also a non-executive director on Solace in Business, which provides the opportunity to promote the opportunities of digital with chief executives and senior managers who don't have a technology background.

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?
Lots of examples here – right through to proactive conversations at leadership teams and with the board, digital hackdays and world café-style events to explore how we will work in our new building. In November my ICT and transformation team co-hosted a digital challenge event with our 100 change agents to get feedback and share some of the new technologies and concepts, including MyServiceDesk, cloud technology, the new Toshiba Z20 2-in-1 laptops, rollout methodologies and the digital skills gap. With my own team I have created an extended management team, encouraging working across silos and delivering a single coordinated ICT customer and transformation offer to our internal customers. We have used this to share work we are doing to build team spirit, identify opportunities for improvement and develop our personal resilience.

Describe how you keep up to date with developments in technology and IT management
I am not an ICT professional by background, so for me this is not just about me keeping up to date, it is also about my whole ICT service – the specialists – keeping up to date with developments in a fast-moving world, so they can feed ideas back in, use them and inform me too. I do this in a range of ways, including actively encouraging peer-to-peer networking externally across the city, the sector and more broadly. We have a corporate membership of Socitm, which the extended management team have access to. I have used Gartner's executive programme and we have a CEB membership too.

Provide an example of how you have developed the diversity and improved the culture of your team
Historically we have, like many ICT teams, struggled to get a wealth of diversity within the team, which is so valuable for more effective team working and to reflect our customer base. I have led discussions on the importance of diversity, making sure it is clear that we need to develop a culture where we value difference in recruitment but also in opportunities for progression and involvement in new projects or work. In practice that has meant offering secondments, more active talent spotting and succession planning.

We have used social media, links with our two city universities and apprenticeships to attract new talent. I have led a customer services training programme to help to embed new skills and behaviours in our teams to provide a more consistent, quality council brand and deliver a 4.5 out of 5 customer satisfaction score. In 2016 this will be extended from the customer service teams to the wider ICT team including the service desk.

Describe how you collaborate and influence the organisation and its leadership team
There are three things that are important in my leadership and that I operate by.

  • I lead with passion and energy.
  • I place importance on building good working relationships with my colleagues so that collaboration becomes a way of life.
  • I deliver what I say I will to build trust.

Tell us how you have developed your own management, leadership and personal skills, perhaps through mentoring, training or external activities
I am a non-executive Director of Solace in Business and have played an active role in developing the strategy for the company including our digital presence. Working with local government CEOs is developing my leadership skills and widening my network. I have joined the speaker faculty at the Local Government Strategy Forum with a specific specialism in digital, cultural change and transformation. I am a strong believer in constant personal development. I have been mentored during the year and have mentored an external and an internal mentee. I have received peer support from Gartner and I have shadowed several directors of resources and frontline service teams to deepen my understanding of leadership and to inform transformation work.

What new technologies are you investigating, tracking or experimenting with?
Yes, we are building links with Coventry and Warwick Universities, which are also at the forefront of digital innovation and some of the city's innovations including driverless cars. We are waiting to hear about whether we have been successful in our £3m growth deal bid for developing innovation labs in the city for SMEs and to extend our public Wi-Fi offer. We are knee-deep at the moment in development data warehousing and data analytics tools to provide better information and are experimenting with tabular models and PowerBI.

How do you decide where to apply the best technological approach?
Through business case process, looking at the best technological fit for solutions to support and enable the business. This also includes financial analysis and identification of any savings. Our ICT strategy is to look at cloud solutions first but we will assess solutions and infrastructure on their merits and what will be best fit for the organisation throughout their lifecycle.

Do you give yourself and your team time each month to assess or learn about technology vendors outside of the established providers?
Yes, we do this through the monthly ICT management team and the bi-monthly extended management team.

Describe your sourcing strategy and your strategic suppliers
We conform to local government procurement rules and regulations. However, we do look to build strong strategic relationships with our main suppliers and smaller local technology innovation companies such as Serious Games International. Capita, Northgate, Firmstep, Microsoft and O2 are some of our biggest suppliers. We are also keen to work with those who can help us to transform fast, including, for example, Arcus.

Describe the technology innovations that you have introduced in the last year and what they have enabled
We've moved 5,500 mailboxes to the cloud on O365, so teams can access emails anywhere. We're building on this now, and a Sharepoint rollout will enable collaboration and better information management and direct access so that systems can be accessed more easily from different locations. The customer service centre work has meant a completely new digital centre, with payment kiosks, new appointment booking system, payment system with 4,500 users a month, new meet and greet team with tablets (like in retail banking) replacing static teams behind desks, new ACD telephony system for contact centre, and MyAccount with 14,000 users in eight months. This is the biggest achievement as it has been achieved in 18 months from start to finish and has kickstarted our digital journey.

What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom? What uniquely do they bring?
We have sold our corporate MAN network to Cityfibre. The council still benefits from gigabit speeds, but we now have an investment and expansion partner to develop that network and associated products across the city, encouraging businesses to relocate and grow and in time supply fibre to the home.

Rank in order of importance your sources for innovative technology suppliers
1 CIO peers. 2 Industry body. 3 Media. 4 Consultants. 5 Analyst houses.

Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
No.

Is cyber security led and discussed by senior management?
Yes.

When did you start your current role?
I took responsibility for ICT in August 2014, but I have been with Coventry Council for 10 years and an assistant director for seven.

What is your reporting line?
COO.

Are you a member of the board of directors?
No.

What is the annual IT budget?
£14m.

How much of your IT budget is capital and how much revenue?
£7m revenue, £7m capital.

What is your budget's operational/development split?
£7m capital, all of which I class as delivering innovation. £7m revenue, of which £5.7m is operational spend.

How many users does your department supply services to?
8,000, including schools.

Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
No.

Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Yes.

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
Yes.

How many employees are there in your IT team?
84.

Are you increasing your headcount to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
No.

What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?
We insourced the whole service in April 2011 and saved £20m. It's mainly in-house now, but we supplement internal resource with project resource from suppliers where timescales require to give us more pace or short-term expertise/knowledge transfer. This generally is in the development space, but we are also using partners to help us with some of the digital redesign work and rapid deployment of kit. We have needed to reduce headcount by about 10% in the past 12 months to deliver savings. This has provided opportunities to bring together roles and focus our priorities, and we now use partners to provide agility and pace.