Borough council’s head of ICT Nadira Hussain talks about getting the best out of existing digital systems, upskilling staff and recruiting to new roles with insourced services. Gill Hitchcock reports
Nadira Hussain is calling time on ad hoc, sporadic technology investment, but opening the doors to greater consolidation of existing systems. As the head of ICT at Enfield Council, she is establishing an ICT and digital strategy which is about standardisation and giving staff an understanding of how they can fully exploit what is already available.
Previously the IT lead at the London borough of Tower Hamlets, she joined Enfield in April 2017 and says: “When I came in, we had just completed insourcing from Serco. We had an arrangement with them for the IT service for 14-15 years before that.
“Very quickly, what I had to do was get a group of probably unloved folk who had come together, and put some wrappers around in terms of setting a vision and direction for the service, and ensuring that our service was responsive, stable, robust. We had a lot to do to establish good process flow, process management flows and governance. It is very much about rebuilding the service.”
About 90% of Enfield’s IT systems have been migrated to cloud. Now, Hussain wants to achieve further cost benefits by moving the remaining 10%, hosted in its civic centre datacentres, to the cloud, or transferring them to other applications. “Those are discussions we are having now,” she says.
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Over the coming weeks and months, the council will be advertising for new core IT staff.
“Whereas previously we had an outsourced provider, the focus is on building and strengthening our own expertise,” she says. “Within the enterprise architecture space, for example, we are going to strengthen our capability with a technical architect and a solutions architect. That is going to help with building some robust platforms.”
She is prioritising learning and personal development for ICT staff, and opening up opportunities for secondments. Alongside this, she is promoting Enfield’s return to work programme. For women who have had caring responsibilities for children or older relatives, it can help them gain new skills and re-enter the workplace.
“This year I have five women, two in a job share, and they are doing exceptionally well. It’s just so refreshing to see that they can come in and feel incentivised to upskill themselves and make a difference.”
Not only in IT, but in areas such as project management and legal services too, the returners scheme is having a positive effect, according to Hussain. Other local authorities are wanting to learn about Enfield’s experience and do something similar.
Getting more women into IT has long been a goal for Hussain. As president of Socitm in 2015-16, she focused on attracting more women into the society, supported personal development opportunities through the Empowering Women in the Digital World leadership programme and improving the visibility of women across the technology sector.
She is pleased that there have been significant changes to the make up of Socitm since then. For example, at its conferences, there is a greater presence and involvement of women. And Sam Smith, who attended the leadership programme two years ago, is now vice-president of the society.
Look more widely, however, and little has changed. “When you extrapolate women in digital and IT services, it is stagnating around that 16-17% mark. There has not been the improvement that we would have hoped for. So we still have a lot of hard work to do.”
Meanwhile at Enfield, another major area of work for Hussain is improving mobile working. In social care, for instance, for years field staff have been equipped with tablets and SIM cards so they can capture and record information without returning to base. But it is time for a refresh, and Hussain says the improvement programme is two-fold.
“First, we are replacing all of the current devices across the organisation, based on the profile and the need of the individual.
“Second, is seamless mobility. This means the infrastructure which will allow seamless connectivity. We are working with external providers to help provision that seamless mobility, and focusing on the LAN and WAN requirements. And we are also tapping into eduroam, so business connectivity using existing capability, and talking to our London Grid for Learning colleagues.”
Ahead of Hussain’s arrival, Enfield had been through a major change programme to centralise its core finance, procurement, operations and ICT support services. It aimed to deliver savings of £36m. By 2016, £32m had been achieved, largely through reducing headcount by about 600.
Whereas previously we had an outsourced provider, the focus is on building and strengthening our own expertise
“When I joined, all this was done because we have a very ambitious, commercially minded chief executive,” she says. “What I almost had to do was start planning and future-proofing what next.”
She had been fortunate to inherit existing capital investment for ICT. Although she does not disclose its value, she says that the ICT and digital staff need to demonstrate the value of that investment.
If there is an exceptional case for new money, then it will be predicated on a business case setting out what the ICT service is trying to achieve, and what the return on investment will be.
“It has become far more difficult to achieve money,” she says. “We have got to be far more creative.”