All local authorities are faced with austerity measures, and have to deliver more for less. Bob Brown has reduced costs, risks, estate, etc, by investing in the latest technologies. Blackberry has been turned off in the estate, Google G Suite is being deployed email, and thousands of new smartphones, tablets and laptops have been provided to enable greater flexibility and mobile working. Service stability and high availability, performance, ease of use, productivity and efficiency, cost, relationship and partner performance remain his watchwords.

Job title
Chief information officer – infrastructure, communications and technology

Company name
Manchester City Council

How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
We have deliberately established and run the ICT service to enable our business to meet its objectives, deliver services and enhance the experience our residents expect from the council. Our ICT strategic business partners (SBPs) are embedded with the business, helping them to shape their strategy through the evolution of services. By being cognisant of the opportunities and value of technology innovation, we are supporting and leading them on a journey to maximise the investments made to provide solutions that design new ways of working and interacting with our residents. This in turn is helping us to change the council/resident relationship while helping to contain costs but deliver value for money expected from those who use our services.  

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
All local authorities up and down the country are faced with austerity measures, and as such we need to deliver more for less. In the case of Manchester City Council over the last year, we have looked to reduce our operating profile – eg costs, risks, estate, etc – by making clear investments in latest technologies. This has enabled us to turn off Blackberry in the estate, start to deploy Google G Suite as a replacement for email but also add an entire collaboration platform. We have rolled out thousands of new smartphones and tablets, laptops to enable greater flexibility and mobile working. We have concentrated on giving the tools our frontline staff need to support them to do their job by fundamentally focusing on key outcomes: service stability and high availability, performance, ease of use, productivity and efficiency, cost, relationship and partner performance.

What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
Manchester City Council has a very high ambition, which is clear for all to see. To enable us to support that ambition, ICT must innovate, set the standard, collaborate more and support the economic agenda for Greater Manchester – in particular, the health and social care challenge. In our case it has led to decisions to adopt Google’s collaboration G Suite capabilities to unlock the potential to work in very different ways with internal colleagues and partners, and engage with our residents in new ways.

We are also investing in automation processes and implementing Service Now initially in the service area, we are able to triage calls and incidents faster and with greater accuracy, which in turn is speeding up call resolution and service stability. Our service desk has just won the internal customer focus award for 2016!   

How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
In my view, no CIO or his/her team can operate any more in isolation of culture and behavioural change. What we do and how we do it, what we support and how quickly we fix it when it’s broken, and what we deliver time and time again should all be measured in direct and indirect ways.

At MCC we take our business on a change journey through the work we do by starting with what outcomes we want to address. Often these conversations (akin to the stage before defining business requirements) result in a desire to change business process and how technology can influence the culture. Take our move to G Suite – this is not an IT change programme but a business change programme that is redefining how we work, how we change the narrative with our partners and residents, how we help those we interact with to make better decisions and how we change the culture. For us, everything we strive to do has a foundation of moving our organisation forward. 

How have you worked with your CEO and/or board to communicate whatever ‘digital’ and IT means to your organisation/sector and improve digital literacy at the highest levels of the organisation?
During the past 12 months we have implemented a new ICT strategy for 2016–19. The fundamental building blocks are there for all to see, together with our investment strategy and key programme deliveries. Each decision we have taken has been through all governance layers with our CEX and political leaders. This has enabled us to draw down on investments and remove BlackBerry from the estate, refresh the entire mobile phone estate from 3G to 4G, and implement a user device strategy to enable more of our workforce to go mobile (in line with our estate’s transformation strategy).

We have made a critical decision to move to Google’s G Suite and thereby take steps towards more digital online collaboration, saving time, effort and increasing productivity. We have already rolled out the technology to more than 10% of the workforce and partner community. Everybody across the council will have ‘gone Google’ by 17 March, and in turn we will change how services and support are provided by the council. 

How have you worked with the technology and IT vendor market to achieve your business goals? How have you been able to influence IT suppliers and successfully manage your partnerships/relationships with large IT companies, SMEs and startups?
Our partners play a integral role at the council. They not only provide services to us, but in return I use them to help support innovation. We cannot afford to have an R&D facility or team, but by creating the right atmosphere and having the right communications we have leveraged this to great benefit in 2016, and more is planned in 2017.

Our partners helped write our ICT strategy. We have a Gartner seat that ensures we get great advice and support from their analysts. We ask for and have been given sponsorship to help us launch initiatives – eg our new Know IT All drop-in centre for all colleagues. Additionally we regularly come together and discuss council strategy and problems. We ask for help, and in return they generate revenue streams aligned to our priorities.

My number one ask, however, is for exceptional service and value for money. If you want to do business with us you must support our local agenda, base yourself in the area, pay your business rates in our location, and ensure that you deliver exceptional service – without that nobody earns the right to stay with us.

How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
We began an organisational redesign in 2015. This created an opportunity for us to go to market to recruit talented individuals. We did not set about to find key individuals by applying ratios on gender, race, age, colour or disability, which has often been the benchmark for measuring diversity. That said, we managed to recruit a diverse mix into ICT. We have leveraged our policies to great effect, and critically benefited by looking outside the box and implementing new recruitment strategies. We’ve even run a X Factor-style interview process when looking for graduates – by introducing fun into the interview we were able to recruit personalities with basic skills that enable us to grow our workforce from the most junior. We look at the whole person, not their disability or age, or colour or gender, etc. Anybody and everybody are welcome to join our team. Just be ready to work hard and have some fun!

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
ICT is an enabling function at the council. We provide a centralised service, allowing no shadow ICT to form elsewhere. We have aligned our services and organisational structure so that we are embedded without our business units. My strategic business partners sit shoulder to shoulder with the directorates we support; they interpret business language into technology and vice versa. They are all mini CIOs in their own right. They represent everything that ICT does back with their customer. In turn this has ensured that business plans are understood, investment is clear and delivery dependencies are understood.

What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
Deals include:

  • collaboration technologies – Google’s G Suite
  • mobile technologies – EE/Samsung/Google
  • device technologies – Dell EMC/Lenovo/Samsung/Chrome
  • social care platform – announcement due
  • finance/procurement/HR – SAP
  • service management – Service Now
  • external publishing – Linked In/Facebook/Twitter
  • IT partners – feels like everybody, and needs reducing!

What are your key strategic aims for next year?
There are 10, but follow no particular order after number 1.

  1. Support the onboarding of our new chief exec.
  2. Datacentre strategy – rationalisation and hyperconvergence.
  3. Data sharing strategy and cybersecurity across Greater Manchester.
  4. Development of my team.
  5. Cost reductions.
  6. G Suite roll-out.
  7. Estate rationalisation.
  8. Mobile working.
  9. Health and social care replatform.
  10. Partner performance.

How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
While not directly involved in the work – despite my team providing the ICT for Brexit (we were the city selected to make the announcements) – we all recognise the need to look at and attract different funding streams from outside the European Union. To some extent, we need to ensure that Manchester is at the forefront of the smarter cities agenda, with programmes like City Verve helping us to showcase technology and attract investment for overseas.


When did you start your current role?
October 2015

What is your reporting line?
Direct to the chief exec and leader of the council.

Are you a member of the executive leadership?

Are you a member of the board of directors?

What other emerging roles does your organisation have and what is their relationship to you?
Chief architect (direct report to me), but we have also just appointed a chief digital officer to support the health and social care transformation. This individual will sit within my management matrix.

How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
Weekly/daily as required

How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
Direct – around 8,000; indirect – around 540,000 residents who use our services.


What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
£55m capital programme over the next three years. £40m revenue over the same duration.

What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
60% IT ops, 40% change.


Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:

  1. Analyst houses
  2. CIO peers
  3. Consultants
  4. Industry bodies
  5. Media


Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?

Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?

Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
Yes, this is currently accountable under the designated authority of the city solicitor but working closely with me.


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?
Perm – 164

Are you increasing your headcount or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?


Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • ERP
  • CRM
  • datacentre/infrastructure/server
  • IoT
  • security
  • enterprise applications
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • social
  • devices (mobile)
  • devices (desktop)
  • wearables
  • networking/communications.

Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • ERP
  • CRM
  • datacentre/infrastructure/server
  • IoT
  • security
  • enterprise applications
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • social
  • devices (mobile)
  • devices (desktop)
  • wearables
  • networking/communications.

What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
IOT,  wearables and neural technologies (AI).


Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?

Does your department include technology staff from the EU?

Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?