Operational efficiency - what it means for us

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Richard Steel mentioned the workshop-style discussion that I facilitated about the implications of the Operational Efficiency Programme (OEP) for Socitm and our members. On 16 June, I participated in a Guardian Society roundtable with further discussion around this, in particular:

  1. Doing more with less
  2. Citizen engagement
  3. Intra-government efficiency
  4. Maximising the value of existing systems.

An account of the discussion can be found at:

www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/jun/03/efficiency-public-services

This followed a busy few weeks winding up my existing commitments and getting started on the new policy role with Socitm. On May 26 I had a day out at Edgbaston, presenting the One Day International Trophy to England captain Andrew Strauss (yes, really – I had won a Nat West competition!), I headed to the University of Birmingham.

Here, I convened and taught my Public Service MBA Managing Information module for the last time in its present form. Mixed emotions, as the module had stood the test of time and of different cultures from the generic MBA offering to UK and Hong Kong students, to programmes for West Midlands Police and Registered Social Landlords (Housing Associations, etc.).

I took up my new role as Head of Policy for Socitm in earnest on 1 June. Having made sense of a plethora of emails and supporting information, my first appointment was with Butler Group’s IT Service Management Strategy Briefing in London. where I got up to speed with the rapidly changing field of IT service management – a core area for our members and one which I had last been involved with when implementing ITIL at St Albans DC.

On June 4, I met Adrian at Intellect’s offices for an initial 1-1. We compiled an extensive programme of activity. Key tasks will include:

  • Preparing a ‘strategy on policy’ for the Socitm Board of Directors.
  • Developing project plans for the initial three priority policy areas identified by Socitm Futures group:
  • A ‘local response’ to the Operational Efficiency Programme
  • Information management/assurance/resilience
  • Pan-government security vision.
  • Meeting key contacts to agree common areas of interest/influence on policy developments.
  • Representing and promoting Socitm’s members’ interests at over ten policy and steering groups.

In the afternoon, Richard Steel joined us in order to handover much of the policy-related work that he had developed over the last year as president.

My first week closed by catching-up with emails before heading off with my local club www.gfcc.org.uk on a weekend cricket tour to Menorca …. if you don’t believe me, just go to www.menorcacricketclub.com .

The Government Computing event at Earl’s Court on 9 June provided an opportunity to hear Sir Michael Bichard (now Chair of the Design Council and Director of the Institute for Government think-tank), Alexis Cleveland (Director General of Corporate Services, Cabinet Office) and Joan Sadler (National Director for Patient and Public Affairs, Department of Health) discuss the novel idea that public services might be designed around the way that front-line staff and users want them.

This is a subject dear to my heart, not just because of my own personal experiences of supporting those closest to me, but also because it revives memories of some research that I undertook some years ago for my own MBA project.

Here I explored an approach to designing services that recognised there is no ‘one size fits all’ model, but that services can be categorised from simple to complex and that service users can span a spectrum from no desire to participate to a high propensity to do so. That then has implications for service design, for the information systems required and for the underlying technology infrastructure.

All three speakers agreed that services ought to be radically redesigned around the user, that users had a right to choose flexible and efficient services, that staff (particularly those nearest the front-line) would often be sympathetic to such redesign initiatives and that leadership had to come from the very top of the organisation.

They argued that the time for tinkering with change had past and that only radical redesign, using design skills, getting ‘back to the floor’ and harnessing the knowledge and experience of staff would achieve the better quality at significantly lower costs that will be demanded in the future.

Later, I met with John Thornton, who led the IDeA’s e-government directorate during my time there, so we have many common memories, interests and plans. We discussed his current activities, including some with CIPFA, the prospects for my own role with Socitm and the possibilities for some collaborative activities in the policy arena.

We will meet again soon, as I will represent Socitm on the CIPFA IT Panel, on which John also sits. Immediately afterwards, I gave a short interview to www.politics.co.uk about the policy areas that were of concern to Socitm.

On June 10, I braved the tube strike to attend an Employee Authentication Service Advisory Board meeting in Westminster. Blank faces at reception aroused my suspicions, as soon I found myself alone in a conference room!

The meeting had been cancelled the day before, but nobody had bothered to notify me. No matter, it was a chance to catch up on some phone calls before heading off to Intellect’s offices in Russell Square to attend a meeting of the Socitm Membership Group. A cabbie refused my fare saying: “No chance of gettin’ up there guv.

The roads are all chokker!” So, a brisk walk was called for. It is at moments like these that I feel how privileged I am to spend so much time in such an incredibly diverse and spectacular city; so often the sights and sounds just pass one by. But, perhaps a reminder, also, for my role in Socitm that it is all too easy to get sucked into the attractions of London. I will need to spend time and energy getting out to, and focusing on, the needs of the different regions and principalities.

I was struck by just how important is the role of the Membership Group in the life of the Society. Just like London, the membership is growing more diverse as it attracts new groups and interests.

As I arrived, the Group, which is chaired by Rose Crozier, was discussing a draft ‘value proposition’ – an attempt to articulate definitively what value the Society seeks to give its members. Discussion centred on young members, as well as the more experienced aspiring or existing CIOs; Bernard Gudgin, Henri Reinbolt and I agreed to meet to explore the Society’s approach to supporting this latter group. Mark Wheatley gave an update on the potential development of a mentoring scheme and the Group agreed a small, informal pilot to explore this approach to professional development.

A conference call with Martin Greenwood and Chris Head enabled us to develop a framework for an Insight Strategy Workshop, which I will facilitate later in the month; to consider possible input from the Socitm Futures Group into an Insight exploration of ‘council/local services of the future’; and to discuss a pair of planned workshops in Wales that will explore the issues and experiences of investing in information and technology management in order to drive down costs.

Later in the week, I started to get to grips with the material generated by the last two Socitm Futures meetings on the three priority policy areas, as well as fielding the growing numbers of emails that were coming my way. The thought struck me that a wagon-wheel (cricket buffs) for emails might be quite an interesting tool to have at one’s disposal...