Lisa Commane is determined to use digital to regenerate Coventry as a place, help communities become more independent, transform the customer experience and deliver a digital workforce. The force and practicality of her IT leadership can be demonstrated by her expansion of the customer portal platform so that services such as those for homelessness can be redesigned in-house, with agile project teams working on deliverables that go live within months rather than years. It supports a more responsive customer experience, helps manage demand as budgets shrink, and is quite simply more effective.
Assistant director ICT transformation and customer services
Coventry City Council
How are you influencing the products, customer 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.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
Financial: I have contributed £2.2m 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 have continued to introduce agile working tools so we can consolidate buildings and 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 led three very successful hackdays, and begun to build consensus and a strategy for how digital can be used to transform the way we do business, use data and design services.
Digital redesign for better services: I have continued to drive our channel shift agenda. Further services have gone live, including for homelessness, adult social care and registrars. We are seeing a 70% uptake where we now have online transactional services. This is a significant shift for Coventry to make.
Connectivity: We have approved investment of £2m into superfast broadband in the city to match government and private sector investment. Despite funding cuts this is a testament to Coventry recognising that good connectivity is essential for residents and businesses, who live and work here. This is coupled with Virgin Media agreeing that Coventry will benefit from the ongoing expansion of its TV and 300Mbps-capable ultrafast broadband and TV network, with 30,000 additional homes and businesses set to be covered.
What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
We’ve been expanding the use of our Firmstep customer portal platform. This means we can redesign services such as those for homelessness in-house, with agile project teams working on digital deliverables that go live within months rather than years. It’s helping us provide a more responsive customer experience, manage demand as our budgets shrink and be more effective.
ICT is playing a leading role in work on our devolution agenda, working alongside peers in the West Midlands Combined Authority to share best practice, explore new business models, plan for how we can support our public sector ‘business’ to transform, and save money.
We’ve continued to embed our cloud strategy. Having moved 5,500 mailboxes to Office365 and the cloud, we have transitioned further infrastructure to Microsoft Azure. This all completely supports our business plans for collaboration, smaller estate, agile working and reduction in costs.
How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
Building on our Getting IT Ready brand, I have led further cultural change in IT, encouraging the function to become more accessible, responsive and, importantly, proactive too. This has included providing drop-in sessions for staff to ask IT questions, and IT staff doing more floorwalking in their turquoise t-shirts. This will continue to be a strategy I push over the coming year so that IT continues to connect with the user experience and proactively works to diagnose and solve issues as well as use the opportunity to coach people and uplift digital skills. Digital skills are one of the biggest challenges we face now we are a long way through our journey to deploy new devices and systems that will support agile working.
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?
Our Coventry digital strategy will be considered by cabinet and go to full council for approval in February 2017. We are one of the first councils to develop a digital strategy. It covers our ambition and plans for using digital to regenerate Coventry as a place, to support communities to become more independent, to transform our customer experience and to deliver a digital workforce. It has the full support of our CEO and corporate leadership team.
We are a political organisation, so engaging council members in this work has been critical. An elected member ‘cross-party’ task and finish group has led work to develop the strategy, including getting feedback on training and buddying ideas for staff and members. We have a member digital champion who is helping to embed new thinking in policy-making and ways of working.
We’ve gone live with new committee rooms in the year which are making the most of new AV equipment in our public meetings. This is a very visible change for the public, members and the executive.
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?
This year we have strengthened the relationships that we have with our key suppliers, raising the profile of our business goals through regular meetings so that we can ensure we get what we need out of contracts, but also to facilitate innovation. We need systems that are more responsive – able to be changed more easily to meet customer needs and to fit our transformation aims. There’s more work to do here.
I think there are real opportunities through devolution for us to work alongside the vendor market to achieve better outcomes and savings through procurement.
How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
Diversity means many things. It’s as much about diversity of thought and background as it is about gender, ethnicity, etc. We talk about this at ICT management team and are actively working to improve it.
We have done some great work with our creative recruitment team to start to build our council and ICT brand. This is attracting a more diverse team that better reflects our community. I want my team to have the opportunity to be involved in different projects, and work to stretch, motivate them personally and to bring that diversity of thought to our daily work. So we are doing more of that – trying new things and getting different people involved.
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 in 2015 and will be further refined in 2017, with 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.
What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
We have renewed our Microsoft enterprise agreement. We are going big on O365 and using Sharepoint as a basis for our new intranet.
We have started to work with Arcus to replace our planning and regulatory systems. This more agile system, with the opportunity for deep involvement from our service teams in its design, should enable us to deliver a very effective system and reduce cost.
Other main partners: Northgate, Capita (academy), CareDirector, Liquidlogic and Firmstep.
What are your key strategic aims for next year?
For Coventry: To deliver regeneration to ensure everyone benefits from growth and deliver better outcomes for people in the city.
For the council: To launch the digital strategy and implement it – especially to work to develop broadband in the city, become a 5G pilot and use technology to support our change programmes across services to children and adults.
For ICT and our transformation agenda: To improve our user experience. To further develop a digital transformation capability and grow digital skills. To make sure everyone has the right tools to do their jobs, including as we move into our new building at Friargate next to Coventry railway station.
How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
Coventry has benefited significantly from EU funding – particularly for regeneration schemes – so it’s important we keep the momentum up around the physical transformation of the city. We also need to ensure we have strategies for any labour pools that may be affected, including adult social care.
Within ICT, we are reviewing all of our contracts to establish the impact – if any – of the dollar price on our budgets.
We also need to be exploiting the opportunities of Brexit where they exist. For a public body and leader of place, this is as much about our role in stimulating confidence in the city after the leave decision.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Executive director resources
Are you a member of the executive leadership?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What other emerging roles does your organisation and what is their relationship to you?
I pretty much fulfil these in my current role.
How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
Formally – at least every month.
How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
8,000 including schools and some of our traded services.
What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
£14m, which is less than 1% of the council’s net budget of £260m.
What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
£7m capital, all of which I class as delivering innovation. £7m revenue, of which £5.7m is operational spend.
Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:
- CIO peers
- Industry bodies
- Analyst houses
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 – reports via my head of ICT ops.
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?
- data analytics/business intelligence
- enterprise applications
- devices (mobile)
- devices (desktop)
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?
- data analytics/business intelligence
- enterprise applications
- machine learning/artificial intelligence
- devices (mobile)
- devices (desktop)
What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
Bots, wearables and sensors have huge potential application across public services. We had a workshop recently to explore how we implement our digital strategy and all of these came up.
Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?
Does your department include technology staff from the EU?