Richard Steel: Transforming public sector IT

Newham Council CIO Richard Steel is aiming to do for public sector IT what the 2012 Olympics are doing for the east end.


As you head east from the City of London the change in surroundings is stark. The glass towers of commercialism are soon replaced by bleak, high-rise blocks and the endless sprawl of greater London.

One east end borough, Newham, is an area with a history of deprivation and has, in recent years, seen some of the highest crime rates in the country. But improvements are beginning to show and, as the home of the 2012 Olympics, its future looks far more rosy.

It is not just about the IT department, but information governance, records management and ensuring the integrity of the systems.

Richard Steel took that journey from the powerhouse banks of the city to the streets of Newham in 1989 and it’s a decision he has never regretted, talking about his career as a local government CIO at Newham Borough Council with real passion.

This year he will take on a new challenge as president of the Society of Information Technology Management (Socitm), with a raft of changes to push through in his one year in post.

By the end of March, Steel will be incumbent, and he really is taking the hot seat.

“We have been going through a lot of restructuring. My main ambition is to see Socitm re-established for all who work in IT in the public sector,” he says of its positioning. “We need to embrace what is happening in the wider public sector. Services are joining up.”

To do this Steel plans to reorganise the professionalism agenda and membership services at Socitm. He has bold ideas of how to achieve this, ideas that show his experience as a CIO in local government.

In effect he is looking at moving Socitm ahead using a shared services model. Talks are already underway with similar organisations, including the BCS, on how they can work together and how some of the administrative burden of running Socitm could be outsourced to the computer society to reduce costs.

The changes at Socitm reflect two issues. IT in government is changing and Steel is honest enough to admit the organisation has lost its way. That honesty is something that anybody who has a conversation with Steel soon comes to recognise. There is little management speak or use of vendor-led acronyms, just the facts laid bare. Steel describes the increasing join between local and central government as difficult for “two very different animals”, and this presents an opportunity to Socitm.

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