We catch up with the head of ICT at Fife Council on the challenges he faces and his predictions for 2016.
What does your role involve?
It seems that it would be easier to answer with what the role doesn’t involve.
My job description will say that my role involves strategic ICT planning, the direction and management of Fife Council’s ICT services as well as oversight and direction of our major digital and technology programmes. In reality, this can mean engaging with strategic suppliers to consider new ways of delivering services and solutions, managing performance of in-house and external teams, engaging at a senior level to consider how we should architect and change our business and its systems, dealing with significant operational challenges and issues, managing and leading people (IT and others) through change, building digital skills and approaches throughout the organisation, creating partnership arrangement with other agencies to join up services… and I could go on…
What do you consider to be the most imminent challenge in your line of work?
The most imminent challenge in my line of work is ensuring that we can deliver the level of digital transformation at the pace required for us to meet upcoming significant financial challenges. This not only means the delivery of technology and service capabilities, but also means developing the digital foundation required – people, skills, architecture and governance – alongside solutions. Moving at pace while dealing with the multiple ball and chains we call “legacy systems” is THE huge challenge.
What has been the most rewarding piece of work you’ve undertaken?
That is a difficult one to answer. We deliver across such a broad agenda that we there are many positive contributions we have made to Fife in recent years. There are two areas I find most rewarding in terms of their impact.
The first is delivering new mobile working solutions into areas of the council which traditionally have not utilised IT solutions to a great extent. These deliver immediate impact to the people using them: enabling them to spend more time with customers, driving higher productivity, improving customer services and responsiveness, increasing staff motivation. All stuff we want to be doing more of at this point.
The second is implementing the right and sustainable technology solutions in schools. We all want the next generation to do well and that technology will be a major part of their lives. Delivering new and more reliable systems to schools is a priority for us and supports teachers in their role to develop the digital skills of tomorrow. I have seen first-hand examples of where the right technology and the right teacher can make a mountain of difference to a child’s skills, confidence and, ultimately, future prospects.
How can Scotland bridge the digital skills gap?
At a very obvious level, we have to develop and nurture a new generation of talent, encouraging and motivation children to develop digital skills at an early age – not just office IT skills, but the skills which could really make us a leader in the development of innovative digital solutions.
My son is at an age where he is looking at university and college options. It’s encouraging to see these offering a wide range in their curriculum which span many facets of what we might describe as “digital” skills. This includes offering specialised courses in animation, digital and games design, ethical hacking, human computer interaction and UX – to name a few. It’s maybe less heartening to see graduates having to leave Scotland to pursue their digital careers.
This comes at a time when we are seeing some real difficulties in recruiting to IT and technology-related posts across all sectors and, at the same time, entry-level routes into the profession are still very limited.
I strongly believe the public sector has a role to play in not only supporting SMEs in Scotland to deliver new and innovative solutions, but also to provide more by way of apprenticeships and other routes into digital and technology roles.
Which new technology excites you the most?
The use of “smart sensors” and the Internet of Things is still a relatively untapped potential, particularly in the public sector. This is one area where there has to be plenty of scope for the right innovations and solutions to deliver greater automation, better decision support and a capability to develop the right predictive or preventative approaches to the delivery of public services.
It needs to be backed up, of course, with the delivery of the right broadband and mobile/4G infrastructure if we are really to exploit this… but that’s coming, I’m reliably informed.
What’s your favourite app and why?
My personal favourite at the moment has to be OneNote. It has become my virtual notebook, and allows me to essentially store diagrams, voice notes, scrawls, pictures, web links, text and documents easily in a way which doesn’t impose at all on the way I work.
A real advantage is that I can access the information on whatever device I have to hand at the time. During any given day, I will use a PC, a tablet (iPad for work, Android for home) and an Android smartphone – depending on what I need to do at the time or what’s convenient. An app which can traverse those devices when I want it to is a must.
What, for you, will 2016 be the year of from a technology/digital standpoint?
Clairvoyance (n) literally “clear vision”
1. The supposed power to see objects or events that cannot be perceived by the human senses.
2. Acute intuitive insight or perceptiveness.
I could say the usual, i.e. “Cloud”, Big Data, Mobile, or Analytics… but I think it is in the convergence of these that we might see the start of what could be described as predictive or “clairvoyant” apps/solutions.
Combining mobile devices, ubiquitous networks, sensor-based technologies and Big Data alongside clever analytics and heuristics software opens up a whole new spectrum of possibilities. Software which readily establishes patterns of activity and behaviour from data will deliver apps and solutions which more often than not, will predict what we might need, want or should do next.
The “you may also like this…” functionality we see on web sites is just the embryonic beginnings of a whole new suite of solutions which ultimately will truly pervade our daily lives in a way which technology only superficially does at the moment.
For 100 days, PublicTechnology sister publication Holyrood Connect is running through its Tech 100 for 2015, profiling the key figures driving the digital agenda in Scotland