A year of work in progress – day 78

Day 78 – 1 May 2014

Today I was at the inaugural Dynamo14 conference, along with 350 other ICT professionals and people interested in the North East.   I got to make a pitch at a public sector breakout session under the title of collaboration. In case you are interested this is what I said:

Good morning, my name is Phil Jackman and I am the current Head of ICT Services at Durham County Council. I say current because where I work, like many others, is undergoing enormous change but I’ll come back to that. My CV says that I’ve been in Information communications technology since 1997 but I’ll let you into a secret, I have no ICT qualifications whatsoever. Please don’t tell anyone. In a minute I’m going to tell you how I got to be doing what I am and more importantly the huge role that ICT plays in what the Council does.

Before I start I thought I’d tell you about a time in my last job where I was working with some children at North Tyneside’s Langdale centre. We were on a day long workshop to introduce the children to the world of work, by developing a product, marketing it etc. Now life is not a competition but our team won. It involved a bicycle. I think they were about 9 or 10 but one of the girls asked me what I did. I told her that I got to play with all the computers in North Tyneside Council. She thought for a moment and said ‘That’s cool’. I thought about it and yes, she was right, that is cool.

I had then and I have now a very cool job.

So what happened back in the last millennium to bring me into the world of ICT? I was working in logistics at the time in the office products trade. My warehouse was at the top of Chillingham road, it is a tile warehouse now. You may know it. My job was to build the business, not so much by selling the products but rather by selling the service, high quality, high availability and excellent distribution. The company’s logistics system was old and needed to be refreshed. It had been decided that it would cost too much to rewrite the internal system and so we were to go out to market for an existing application.

The project needed a token user and that’s where I came in. I was given the role of making sure the needs of the people who were going to have to suffer the new system were taken into account. I guess my ICT career had started earlier than this however otherwise why was I chosen. I think that I had shown an aptitude for using technology. I was the first person outside of the ICT department to have an email address (it was a CompuServe account) and I was the first person to use a mobile phone rather than a car phone.

As the project grew there were a few casualties, differences of opinion, things going in the wrong direction and eventually I ended up being the ICT Director of Europe’s largest distributor of office products. Now that was cool as well.

That period taught me a lot. I often joke with my team that ICT has nothing to do with technology. I’m half joking however in that what I learned was that people make the difference between a successful project or not. No matter how good the technology is it is the people’s ability to adopt it that counts. No matter how good you are at developing technology you will always need people to make it work.

Anyway, there are only so many Stabilo Highlighters that you can have. I was driving 60,000 miles a year and felt I needed to change my job. How many times have you heard people in the public sector say ‘I want to make a difference’? But I genuinely did want to do something in and for the North East and so ended up working in a local authority, first at North Tyneside and now at Durham County Council.

Now I like technology. I’m not one of those first adopters who queue outside the shops at midnight for the latest gadget but I’m not far behind. I have a few toys which I use all of the time. What really interests me about technology though is what it can do for people, how it can help people to be better educated, better connected, more employable and more socially active for example.

Technology plays a vital role in the council. There is nothing we do that does not involve some form of ICT. We even have a system for burying people yet it is not the technology that matters but rather the services deliver. So the systems for which I am responsible make sure that about 50,000 people on benefits get paid and that 70,000 school children are supported through their learning. We are a billion pound plus organisation and our systems collect and pay hundreds of millions of pounds. Last year we invested in a new mailing machine which halves the cost of postage. Since then we have put though over 2,000,000 letters.

Our technology allows us to do the small things and the big things. They allow us to maximise the productive time of our customers so they can do what they set out to do, teach, sweep, care, account, communicate – whatever. We have many roles within the team including, people who manage technology (maintain it, replace it, repair it), those who manage applications (support and development), individual who directly support the customer (field engineers, schools services), people who develop business opportunities and those who support these activities.

When our customers think about technology they usually think about the kit on their desk, the bits that they see but we support over 700 applications and operate out of 400 buildings to deliver services to over 800 customers and nearly 10,000 corporate desktops. We’re running with hundreds of separate projects from ERP migrations to mobile technologies. We have designers, developers, data base administrators, printers, network technicians, analysts, application specialists, fitters, turners, PAT testers, radiation testers, store keepers, virtualisation specialists, server technicians, server environment experts, security, business support and telephony experts. There are others.

We have such a wide range of systems and devices to manage and we need flexible people with a good grounding in technology and who understand its importance to the role of the customer.

But my role, all of our roles is much bigger than that.

Durham County Council does not stand alone, it is inextricably linked to its hinterland, the neighbouring authorities and the region. What is good for any of the surrounding local authorities will ultimately be good for Durham.

If we are to compete with the likes of London or Manchester or Beijing or Singapore then we must pool our thinking, agglomerate our resources and celebrate every success that we have. We operate in a global market and need to transform innovative ideas into tangible products that people can develop and customers will buy.

Our future growth requires strong businesses yet all parts of our society have a role to play. The private, the public and the community and voluntary sectors need to come together in a coordinated approach.

But the public sector also helps deliver the platform upon which the ICT economy can flourish through infrastructure, learning, social inclusion and environmental policies.   This is the real issue that I am grappling with. How can we use the investment we have made in ICT to leverage benefit for the people of Durham and the region?

That’s why we are leading on a programme to bring superfast broadband to part of the region. Working with our colleagues in Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland and the five Tees Valley authorities, Digital Durham will bring effective broadband to the 250,000 properties that are on the wrong side of the technical divide.

This programme is an excellent example of how collaboration across the public sector can reap real rewards by concentrating expertise, reducing overhead and increasing opportunity. And there are more example out there. Significant work is done between the authorities but also across the public sector including with health, fire and police including the sharing of assets (physical and technical), joint hosting, procurement and application usage.

Collaboration is an area where we will see a lot of change over the coming years. There used to be a lot of talk about shared services but this often fell apart as one party would be the supplier and the other the recipient. True collaboration requires each side to win, a win win as Richard Covey would say in his seven habits of highly effective people. Collaboration requires a different approach where all parties work together to deliver common objectives by breaking down organisational barriers

When I was speaking to Charlie Hoult, one of the organisers of this conference he said that he wanted people to say ‘Wow, I didn’t know that happened in the North East.’ These are exciting times and Durham County Council ICT Services is just a fraction of the picture. Across the North East there are some 700 people working in ICT in the local authorities and between 2000 and 2500 working in the non-commercial sector, fire, police, learning and health etc. I don’t know the exact number, it’s probably more if you include central government but you get the picture. This represents at least 10% of the total ICT industry and so we are not only a significant contributor but a significant player as well.

I’m delighted to be working in the public sector because of all of the things that are going on. The opportunities across the region to reshape services and create new means of delivery through innovation and collaboration are huge and exciting and I would like to play my part.

Learning points for today: The ICT vibe in the North East is fantastic; the region is in the top five tech centres; A granny is worth 20 percentage learning points; the lovely cool local air is perfect for free cooling data centres and; really good stuff happens near here.

Today’s enjoyment rating 10/10 – what else could it be?

One thought on “A year of work in progress – day 78

  1. Your speech is excellent, I would have been impressed and inspired had I been there.
    The whole event sounds as if it was excellent, it would have been lovely to have gone, maybe someone will hold one of these things at a time when more of us could attend. Although I’m guessing this type of event was for Managers and people like yourself not pled techs like myself.
    I’m glad the event made the North East and IT sound good.

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