The only way is digital – Essex County Council to set up mini-GDS
Plans to build 16-strong centralised team to head digital strategy
The council has established a five-pronged digital services scheme dubbed Smart Essex Credit: Ashley Dace
Essex County Council is looking to establish a centralised digital function to help drive strategy and service delivery across the county.
The council’s digital director, David Wilde, told PublicTechnology that the unit would be akin to smaller-scale version of Whitehall’s Government Digital Service. The design stage of setting up the team has been completed, and the project is currently going through the necessary HR processes, and consulting with various departments about the possibility of certain of their functions being moved into the central digital team.
After that has concluded, recruitment – both internal and external – will begin in earnest, with the ultimate aim of building a team of about 16 people. A handful of delivery managers and service designers are already on board.
“I will shortly be going out to recruit an enterprise architect – I am not looking for just a technical design architect,” Wilde said.
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The goal is to have the team “up and running by around the end of February or early March”, he added.
“We are looking to create a digital function that can help the rest of the organisation,” Wilde said. “What we are not looking to do is create a digital empire, with 400 people running everything for everyone else.”
The council has developed a keen focus on digital this year, including the launch of the Smart Essex programme in February. The scheme aims to create smart-technology and digital-service projects in five different areas: transport; adult social care; the economy; physical infrastructure; and public services. In April Wilde was appointed as digital director.
“We took a conscious decision to invest in digital,” he said. “About a year before that we were talking to some of our partners in the public sector about devolution. Whilst Essex never went forward with devolution, we did have a series of valuable conversations around the shape of public services, and how they have to change.”
Wilde added: “What kept coming to the fore was the impact of technology changes – in particular in [areas like] the retail industry. People no longer want to deal with different bits of an organisation to get things done. The public sector has an opportunity to embrace digital.”
Look out on PublicTechnology in the coming days for a full write-up of Essex’s ambitious plans to become a world leader in digital government.
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