Smarter Government – Microsoft at SOCITM 2011 – Day 1 Reflections

This year celebrating its 25th anniversary, SOCITM comes to the NEC for a gathering of the UK’s brightest in the world of IT in the public sector. CIOs and CTOs were joined by partners, suppliers, media and analysts. The two day event kicked off today with Glyn Evans, President of SOCITM, opening the day by putting IT into context, talking of the economy and current strikes, and how we should be looking at IT for innovation and progress.

We have blogged today’s key sessions, with a summary below of the discussions and topics making the biggest impact.

Maggie Philbin, of Tomorrow’s World fame, took to the stage as the day’s chair, opening by touching on a range of issues, from the consumerisation of IT and ‘bring your own device’, to utility computing, software as a service and infrastructure as a service, showing tweets from her followers online as inspiration. Whilst she acknowledged Tomorrow’s World was often the kiss of death for the technology it featured, she touched on a number of services and gadgets we take for granted today. And this was her call to arms, to the floor. For organisations to think not just about the technology, but the impact on services. For CTOs to become CIOs.

Maggie introduced Martin Reeves, CEO of Coventry City Council, who led the first plenary session of the day. This is the man who introduced CovJam to the public, an initiative that allowed 900 participants to take part in a crowdsourcing experiment to come up with plans for the future of the city.  Martin’s approach was tough on IT chiefs, as reflected in Michael Crossarticle published this morning on Connect, collaborate and communicate for IT leadership, was Martin’s message. He made the point that the transformation of organisations and places is what’s important and that IT is a major tool for productivity gains, to allow the organisation to do its core business.

Sue Spafford from wisdom2u then took to the stage talking about knowledge sharing in challenging times: collaboration for public services reform. In uncertain times, we should innovate, she stated. Sue talked about social media’s impact on knowledge sharing and how Gen-Y and Gen-i share naturally through social media. Sue referenced the Pentagon Balloon hunt, BT’s Dare 2 Share and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Global Conversation. She talked through innovation programmes, such as Kingfisher’s Innovation Den and crowdsourcing initiatives such as Iceland’s new constitution, and painted a picture of communication and collaboration becoming ‘the new knowledge’ in the public sector.

Chris Ulliott, chief security architect at CESG, presented the first of the afternoon sessions. Chris’ presentation was about the reality of cloud computing. He looked into cloud as a technological innovation and how it’s not entirely new, referencing mature technologies such as Hotmail, Compuserve and Flickr as early cloud services. Chris deconstructed the potential of cloud, its maturity, and why organisations actually demand cloud. Some may want low cost without security or authentication, others may require more sophisticated set-up. It is the organisation’s decision to strike a balance and decide what is important. Chris’ big assertion was that cloud security isn’t new and isn’t an issue, but we need to look at what cloud is used for to get the most out of it.

Post-lunch, the agenda turned to what government can learn from the third sector, with Martin Croft from the Salvation Army, and Mark Walker from SCIP taking to the stage.

Mark kicked off, talking about how technology can build stronger connections and deliver improved services. He focused on technology for volunteering, intelligent commissioning and supporting partnerships. His use of infographics from David McCandless’ book Information is Beautiful got a chuckle from the audience when it showed a likeness between dwindling fish numbers in the Atlantic  and dwindling e-government budgets in the current austerity drive. The highlight of his talk was his reference to the Barcamp movement for public sector and third sector innovation, in particular CityCamp in Cambridge earlier in 2011. A date in the diary for many of the delegation in 2012 it seemed.

Martin Croft took then to the stage to talk about how the Salvation Army created a private social network. As the CIO his job it to make technology enable the Salvation Army’s mission to serve suffering humanity. The internal social network connected thousands of staff and hundreds of sites. His role as technical evangelist (another chuckle at the well-rehearsed pun) is all about putting all available resources in improving the charity’s ability to get the job done, with a clear message to the audience in the room.

The following plenary session was led by Geoff Connell, head of ICT Services at London Boroughs of Newham and Havering. Geoff presented his assertion to other CIOs and CTOs: “collaborate or die”. He began with the point that efficiency is what is important, not just cuts, and ICT is essential to delivering changes, both for front and back office services. HR, payroll, legal and IT services are now successfully being shared across councils, to help with efficiency and learning. Amongst others, the Microsoft Shared Learning Group across Wakefield, Kent, Isle of Man, Leeds and further afield was mentioned as best practice collaborative working. And we were flattered to hear Geoff’s kind comments about us working with Newham and Havering when a comment was asked from the floor about partners such as Microsoft reacting to shared services changing the nature of projects and initiatives in IT. Geoff closed by asserting that there are opportunities ahead. Party politics should not be a barrier to collaboration, as there is a shared interest in collaboration and efficiency.

During the day there were break-out sessions, with topics including cloud, shared services and information governance. These were lively discussions which inspired more interactive plenaries to follow.

Mike Bracken was the last to take the stage. Formerly of the Guardian, Mike joined the Government Digital Service (GDS) only weeks ago. He explained the role of the GDS in terms of helping people, making services more usable, and create services that will lead to saving money in the long term. His focus though is on making things work better. Mike pointed out that there are over 400 web domains. This number used to total over 2,000, so the number is coming down fast. The rationale is again to make the user journey the most important factor. And this is all about joining up services.

Mike talked about an approach he called the ‘digital by default baseline’ and on Dec 8th he is planning a big launch from the Government Digital Service in that vein. The lasting point Mike made was that often technology implementations need to reflect user trends many years in the future, so it should be no surprise that online services can appear dated. The focus should be on learning and creating an environment for technology leaders to flourish.

The mood of day one was one of focusing on innovation, collaboration and future technologies. It was also of efficiency, rather than cost saving. Day two will feature speakers from Birmingham City Council, Staffordshire County Council, Milton Keynes Council, LGID and the Cabinet Office.

We will be live tweeting and blogging here, covering the best bits.

Posted by Drew







Comments (1)

  1. Mark Walker says:

    PS I had a great chat with Maggie Philbin who told me all about her inspirational work with TeenTech and I highly recommend a visit to their website to see what wonderful things their doing to encourage young people to think about a career in science and technology

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