Dylan Roberts is less interested in delivering discrete services than in focusing his department on the ‘city as a platform’. It’s a holistic cross-agency approach that aims to achieve city outcomes for people.  The model can be replicated and applied to other important city agendas such as transport, environmental services and development. Through frequent innovation and hack events, he has led the Leeds digital community to build user-driven solutions that are making a difference to people’s lives.

Job title
Chief digital and information officer

How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
I am the chief digital and information officer for the city and Leeds City Council, and this uniquely positions me to drive through a range of significant city-wide initiatives. For the last 12 months I have been predominantly leading and shaping a range of innovative digital and information business strategies and services across the seven main Leeds-based health and care (H&C) organisations. My concept of the ‘city as a platform’, developed here in Leeds, helps ensure a holistic cross-agency approach that is focused on achieving city outcomes for people rather than delivering discrete services. The benefit is that this model can be replicated in other places and also applied to other important city agendas – eg transport, environmental services or city development.

Leeds strives to be the best city for health and wellbeing. NHS England recognised our five-year strategy or ‘local digital roadmap’ for delivering digital H&C capabilities as one of only two exemplars due to its innovative place-based and whole-system approach, which looks at how information and technology can be applied and used by patients, citizens and carers in localities as well as across a joined-up health and care system. A great deal of emphasis is put on good governance and strong partnerships across local public services and the private sector to help deliver innovative strategies and solutions. I have very much been at the forefront of developing this city-first, place-based approach which is changing the lives of our citizens for the better.

I have also played a significant part in developing the local digital sector. For example, there are over 3,500 digital organisations in the area specialising in healthcare, digital marketing and e-commerce solutions/services, and we also have over 2,000 data scientists in the city.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
Given my city role, I view the organisation and the business outcomes very much from a city and people perspective, which puts the patient, client or person at the centre of things. I have led on the deployment of prototypes that have proven to improve the lives of nearly 500 people, enabling them to be better informed and be connected to support networks enabling them to look after themselves, therefore preventing the need for them to enter the care system. Those prototypes that are proven will be scaled over the next 24 months as part of the city’s self care and prevention programme.

I have also supported and contributed to the development of the Leeds Care Record, which gives a comprehensive consistent view of patients’ medication, treatment and care support. This year we have rolled it out to practitioners across the city including 100% of GPs, and this has increased the effectiveness of clinical decision-making by over 30%.

Through initiatives like frequent innovation and hack events, I have actively led and encouraged the whole digital community of Leeds to build user-driven innovative solutions that are making a difference to people’s lives on the ground. This whole approach is ‘place-based’ and acknowledges that the needs of different parts of the city are often quite distinct and have varying challenges.

What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology –­­­ over the last 12 months?

Product innovation

I have enabled significant co-production activity, particularly in product development using our council-developed and award-winning urban sustainable innovation labs approach. This involves bringing practitioners, consumers of services and innovators from the tech sector together to define the problem and develop innovative solutions to those problems through a process of co-production. These developments include the ‘bus clock’ – an analogue clock face showing real-time bus arrival times from open data sources – which is working well in community centres and GPs’ surgeries, and has increased the number of elderly residents using buses, so reducing the occurrences of missed medical appointments.

Business model innovation

The general business model is to provide knowledge and insight into public service needs to the digital sector so that we can co-produce sustainable solutions to create better outcomes and independence for people and communities.

The pioneering open data platform Data Mill North is another award-winning capability that started in Leeds (the Leeds Data Mill) and is now the open data platform for the north of England. It holds hundreds of data sets updated by many organisations. Public, private and third parties have developed numerous innovations using this platform, which reduces the reliance on our diminishing public services – eg transport applications, bin collection and energy usage applications, and data analytics. This platform has also reduced the number of FOI requests submitted to the council by 7%.

The ‘city infrastructure as a service’ business model is providing shared ICT infrastructure and collaboration services that all partners across the city can utilise – from small voluntary sector organisations to large enterprises like the Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust.

Technology innovation

I have sponsored and ensured funding for the Leeds-developed Ripple standard, which is helping to create an integrated digital care record platform for the 21st century. Its architecture is open source and it utilises open standards. The flexible nature of the approach and technology allows it to be adopted and adapted to meet the specific needs of a particular health and care system. This platform-based approach can meet the needs of small departments up to regional institutions, and the approach is set to disrupt the health and care software market.

How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
Across the city and the organisation, I have heavily influenced our key principle of ‘city first/organisation second’, and very importantly ensured that we focus on end-user needs and experience when designing our various solutions from a people, process and technology perspective. Through innovation labs and hackathons, I have mandated that the associated solutions are citizen-driven from a design perspective. This has been very important in terms of the development of apps etc that help people manage their particular health conditions.

Within my own department, I personally facilitate an open and free-speaking forum where staff from across the whole service can come together and share their concerns and issues. This has been a huge success, resulting in barriers being broken down and misconceptions being resolved.

I also have responsibility for information governance and so I have instilled the principle that information is everybody’s business across the workforce. We are also heavily utilising consumer technology to help change people’s lives in the city. For example, we are working closely with Samsung to help monitor the movements of people with dementia and loaning tablet devices to the public to help bridge the digital divide.

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?
My CEO Tom Riordan is a significant advocate for digital and information and is proactive in putting the time and effort in to help support and sometimes lead policy initiatives that I bring to him by means of direct engagement with ministers and public and private sector partners. He has helped me set up a Leeds Digital Board, which is made up of leading players from the digital sector in Leeds, and he has ensured I have the right level of political leadership from the deputy leader of the council in chairing the board’s meetings. He is the lead for the Leeds 100% Digital campaign, which has the aspiration of having 100% of people and businesses across Leeds digitally literate and able to access the internet.

There have been a number of scrutiny inquiries focusing on how well we are delivering this agenda – one on resourcing and the prioritisation of digital programmes, and another on digital inclusion. These have brought in witnesses and peer support from industry leaders worldwide.

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?
In my view a significant part of the IT vendor market for local government and local public services more widely is not sufficiently aligned to a 21st-century approach to delivering public service outcomes. It is too often made up of proprietary systems, silo-based thinking and a focus on maximising revenues from the provision of sometimes poor information and technology solutions and services. I am therefore working as chair of the local CIO Council and with professional organisations such as Socitm, the BCS and others like Tech UK to try and disrupt this market. The ambition is to create new marketplaces of open and standards-based systems and services that encourage a different dynamic and provides better value and outcomes for the public.

How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
I have focused heavily on improving the diversity of my workforce, and there are numerous initiatives in play to encourage and support less well-represented groups. For example, my senior leadership team is now made up of more than 50% women, and I believe this is unique in the digital and information sector.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
My digital and information service develops an annual service plan that incorporates initiatives that our service is directly leading as well as those it is enabling for the wider business areas and the city. Each is clearly aligned to the Leeds city plan and council plan, and any business cases for any new developments must have the link and ‘golden thread’ back to our city and council outcomes. Senior leadership team appraisal and development objectives in turn cascaded down to all staff across the service are aligned to these initiatives.

What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
We have a major new partnership formed recently with Samsung as part of a significant European Horizon 2020 bid. This will see the co-production of a range of innovative assisted living solutions and technologies for the elderly. We also have long-standing relationships with Microsoft, Virgin Media Business and Cisco, and increasingly a range of SMEs from the broadening local digital sector.

What are your key strategic aims for next year?

  1. I will lead our Leeds city shared team to deliver the Leeds health and care digital and information programme across the six domains of: 1) self-care and prevention through the provision of information and technology in communities and localities, 2) new integrated multi-organisational service models in localities, expanding the use and capabilities of the Leeds Care Record, 3) increasing the digital maturity of all health and care organisations through deployment of the national universal capabilities, 4) delivering the ‘city as a platform’ service as a capability and migrate partners to it, 5) delivering a combined city office of data analytics to provide better insight for system leaders, 6) through the innovation stream, collaborating with private sector investors and innovators to deliver new capabilities to solve city opportunities and problems.
  2. Gain industry and city-wide sponsorship, and then accelerate and expand the delivery of the city’s 100% digital inclusion programme for external and internal for practitioners (who will then be advocates and evangelists in the community).
  3. Implement a major new housing management system to enable tenant access to information and services and to manage our housing stock and commitments better with a view to saving £3m.
  4. Oversee delivery of our European Horizon H2020 project with Samsung and potentially another H2020 bid.
  5. Deliver a range of initiatives relating to smart cities – eg smart parking, smart transport and outputs from our innovation labs.
  6. Transition our ICT service department to a new digital and information service, and look to also develop and embed a new DevOps model.
  7. Deliver £6m of infrastructure upgrades, including a new shared hyper-converged platform for the council and wider city, and a range of cyber developments.
  8. Deliver GDPR.

How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
We have been reliant on European funds and grants for a significant proportion of our more innovative work through collaboration with other cities across Europe. There is a high risk that these funds will dry up. We will look to lobby government so that they are negotiated or replaced with alternatives.

The impact on the currency markets is already affecting what we are paying for hardware and software and associated support services. We will be looking to make sure we are considering contingencies – greater emphasis on open source and open standards, and greater use of potentially less expensive utility services.

When did you start your current role?
CIO at Leeds City Council for eight years. Digital added to the job title in 2016, and role broadened to cover the city too.

What is your reporting line?
Deputy chief executive

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?
I am the chief digital and information officer. I also cover innovation and smart cities.

How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
CEO every month.

How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?

IT budget

What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
Based on net revenue figures: 2.8%.

What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
Look to grants/bids etc for innovation and special projects. However, without grants/bids, approximately 4%.


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

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

IT security

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?
One professional senior cyber specialist and a senior professional IG specialist (and team). They report to me directly.

Leeds City Council IT department

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 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
  • datacentre/infrastructure/server
  • IoT
  • security
  • enterprise applications
  • 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
  • datacentre/infrastructure/server
  • IoT
  • security
  • enterprise applications
  • 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, big data, analytics.

The EU

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?