Local government needs to ditch ‘digital’ and focus on transformation

Written by Suzannah Brecknell on 3 November 2016 in News

IT chiefs should be talking about service and customer needs rather than focusing on digital transformation if they want to get other senior executives on board, a local government leader has said.

Talking about customers and users before the tech will be more persuasive to council chief executives - Photo credit: Fotolia

Speaking at a round table discussion on public sector IT hosted by Microsoft at the Future Decoded conference yesterday, Rocco Labellarte, assistant director of IT at Enfield council, said that the premise of public sector work was “all about the customer experience”.

“So from a chief executive perspective, in local government certainly, they are more interested in a customer strategy which as a foundation has digital underneath it,” he said.

He suggested that the focus on customer needs is more effective than making a case based on savings alone, because: “All the cost efficiency in the world doesn’t help if we’ve got people that are screaming at us that they don’t get great service.”

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Labellarte said he was confident that it would not be long until transformation in local government is a reality.

“I see public sector IT as reaching the pinnacle of transformation when it is like the technology we have at home – it’s just there; it works,” he said.

He stressed the importance of being able to quickly use new services thanks to underlying cloud-based infrastructure, so that councils can take on a new product as easily as citizens can download an app at home.

“I see now that we’re very, very close to that – we’re one or two years away from getting to a place where we can do that,” Labellarte said.

Meanwhile, Stephen Docherty, chief information officer of South London and Maudesley NHS Trust, said that the real challenge of transformation is in supporting people, not rolling out technology.

“There are a lot of people who say you shouldn’t even use the word “digital” anymore,” he said. “For me, technology is a given, it’s getting people to use it that’s the challenge”.

To help staff use new technology, Docherty’s IT team have been visiting two or three of the trust’s 90 sites each week, taking what he described as a “proactive approach” to ensure frontline teams are taking advantage of collaboration and mobile working opportunities.

Labellarte suggested that supporting staff was in part about finding the “pull factors” that make people want to use technology, rather than relying on a top-down push for new systems.

If someone at the top is seen to be pushing a service they can be perceived as “the enemy” he said, so IT leaders must create a situation “where people see things and they want them because it’s going to give them a real benefit”.

Labellarte added that his council’s recent project to implement paperless meeting software was the first time in his career that he didn’t have to push an idea – because the personal assistants who would be using the software could see the benefits so clearly.

“We need to move, across the whole of public sector, to a place where we’ve got pull demand on digital as opposed to push,” he said. 

About the author

Suzannah Brecknell is senior reporter for PublicTechnology’s sister publication Civil Service World.

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