Digitech19: Challenges and rewards










Socitm is proud to be supporting Digitech19. Steve Mallinson, from Public Sector Connect, explains more about this remarkable event in a guest blog.

Picture this: 700 delegates, 80 plus exhibitors and over 60 high level, expert speakers from across public and private sectors coming together at one time, in one great Manchester location. Add the logistics of sound, lighting, carpets, refreshments and furnishings and with any luck and a fair wind, 19th November will find many readers of this blog at digitech19, the year’s largest gathering of public sector technology and technology procurement specialists.

Staged in partnership with Crown Commercial Service (CCS) and supported by Socitm, Government Digital Service, NHS Digital and a host of other bodies, digitech19 presents many challenges for an event organiser, not least of which is the complexity, diversity of offerings and the pace of change within the technology sector. From the largest players in the market to the smallest SMEs, suppliers from all of CCS technology frameworks have the opportunity to toss their hat into the ring as exhibitors and sponsors, allowing delegates the chance to engage directly with them and to expand and refresh their networks, taking back fresh information to their own organisation on new and innovative solutions to the myriad challenges they face.

From our perspective here at Public Sector Connect, digitech19 is a great opportunity to renew contact with many of the speakers, supporters, delegates, sponsors and exhibitors that we welcomed to digitech18 last year over in sunny Leeds. Having said that, this year’s venue, Manchester Central, means that we are able to open digitech19’s doors to a wider public and private sector audience so if you’re from public sector and haven’t yet booked your free place, why not do so now? Just register at https://www.digitech19.co.uk/ and we look forward to seeing you on 19th November!

Digitech19: Challenges and rewards

Empowering women: changing the world

Since its conception in 1982, the Internet of Things (IoT) has grown to become one of the world’s most talked about technical innovations. Undoubtedly, in the not too distant future, the IoT will revolutionise the way services are delivered in the public sector.

Whether it’s adult social care, AI bots for local authority information delivery or making outreach services more accessible for rough sleepers, the only limitations to the possible use of the IoT in public service are set by human imagination.

However, while it may well be the future of our sector, the IoT is not a recent concept. Nor do the roots of its development rest in shallow ground.

In fact, the vision behind its development can be traced back to the late 1920s and it’s been developing and evolving ever since. The foundations of the technology required to bring the IoT to life also took shape long before Proctor and Gamble’s Kevin Ashton coined the phrase that’s now synonymous with the future of public sector service delivery.

Among those who first mobilised their ingenuity and vision to help set the wheels of IoT in motion were some remarkable and surprising people. Not least an unlikely female trailblazer helped sculpt the powerhouse of possibilities IoT it has become.

Once dubbed ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’, 1940s screen siren, Hedy Lamarr, always regretted being more known for her face than for her intellect. Having starred in 30 films, alongside a host of Hollywood legends including Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable, Lamarr could hardly be described as one to shy away from the limelight or the public adoration it afforded her. Despite this, she was acutely aware that her revered beauty was only skin deep and that it was her passion for inventing that afforded her life more substance and meaning.

“Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid,” Lamarr once said. Whether or not one agrees with this sentiment, most people would concur that it takes a very special ‘girl’ to become a prolific and globally famous film actress while, at the same time, spearheading the development of wireless communications.

In 1942, together with co-inventor, the composer, George Antheil, Lamarr was awarded a patent for a ‘Secret Communications System’ the pair had developed in an attempt to help combat the Nazis in World War II. By manipulating radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception, the invention formed an unbreakable code to prevent classified messages from being intercepted by enemy personnel.

Lamarr had no formal engineering training but had recently escaped an unhappy marriage, in her native Austria, to one of Europe’s largest armaments manufacturers. During the oppressive union, Fritz Mandl, Lamarr’s possessive and overbearing husband and arms supplier to Hitler, had openly mused about weapons control systems with Lamarr. At the time, research was indicating that radio waves were better than wire for controlling weapons such as torpedoes and Lamarr had the necessary brain power to pick-up on the salient points.

For one thing, Mandl divulged, it was hard to make a wire long enough to ensure that the communications channel between a commander and a torpedo would not break, leaving the torpedo to chart its own course. Even at a length of ten miles, a wire would not be sufficiently long. Radio waves, he told her, solved this problem by eradicating the need for a physical communication connection between commander and torpedo. However, radio waves had a serious flaw in that enemies could access the same radio wave and jam it.

The significance of the invention wasn’t recognised for several decades and it wasn’t until the Cuban Missile Crisis, in October 1962, that Antheil and Lamarr’s ‘jamming proof’ technology was added to the radios of US naval ships. Subsequently, it has rolled-out into numerous military applications but the “spread spectrum” technology that Lamarr helped to invent is most significant for forming the technical backbone that makes cellular phones, fax machines and other wireless operations, including IoT, possible.

Her other inventions, including a bouillon cube which – when added to water – was supposed to create a sparkling soda drink but, instead, (as Lamarr herself admitted) tasted like Alka Seltzer, were less impactful and her passion for engineering seemed to wane as her film career faded. Her last film was 1958’s The Female Animal, with Jane Powell and she gradually slipped wilfully into obscurity. Six times married, Lamarr was arrested (but not convicted) twice for shoplifting, once in 1966 and once in 1991. In 1981, with her eyesight failing, she retreated fully from public life and settled in Miami Beach, Florida, where on January 19th  2000, she died aged 86.

Lamarr’s innovation and insight are inspirational but where did that impetuous come from? Was it because her roots in adversity gave her an edge that preceded her time? Whatever enabled her to think so very far outside the box, Lamarr refused to conform to the narrow and constrained view of women’s potential to shape the world at that time. Depressingly, contemporary society still comes with a set of predefined archetypes women are supposed to adhere to. Despite a dramatic transformation in the digital landscape, women remain woefully unrepresented in technology, with only a tiny percentage working in IT.

Socitm is proud to be challenging this stereotype and, as such, it’s Leadership Academy runs Empowering Women in a Digital World (EWDW). Established in2015/16 by Nadira Hussain, this ground-breaking programme is designed to enable women to exercise their leadership skills confidently, fearlessly and without boundaries irrespective of adversity and gendered criticism.

Hussain said:  ‘We are so hugely proud of the Leadership Academy and the continued achievements and success that our participants are experiencing. It has been a pleasure to see the growth and development of women colleagues within the profession and the sector and for them to personally recommend attendance of this programme. Take the opportunity; it can be life-changing!’

The next EWDW programme begins in Newcastle on 16th & 17th July. To enrol visit https://www.lead.socitm.net/ewdw or email: hello@socitm.net.

Empowering women: changing the world

Planes, trains and automobiles: The long road to User Satisfaction



Socitm’s Matthew Fraser recently went on a road-trip to Wales with Interim Head of Membership and Partners, Aimie Francis. Here he explains how Improve literally improves service delivery. And how Aimie’s driving led to a white-knuckle ride!

It was a long journey for the twelve participants who joined us at our recent Welsh Improve Workshop in Llandrindod Wells, with many travelling from the corners of the Principality to join us for our 10am start.  None however, had travelled as far as myself.

While many had left home at 7am, my journey began at 11am the previous day as I travelled by plane, train and finally by foot from Inverness to the middle of Powys.  I say travel, but this included an hour delay to my flight, another two hours waiting for the single train that travels from Birmingham to Llandrindod and finally a one hour lay connection in Shrewsbury.  All told, it was 8pm when I finally reached the station in the centre of town, but not seeing any taxi rank (or indeed many people) I foolishly chose to walk to my hotel – incidentally Google Maps estimate of 46 minutes was incredibly accurate.  So after a total ten hours, I had finally reached my destination (and you dear reader have finally reached the moment when I start to discuss User Satisfaction).

Long as our respective journeys were, they are but a fraction compared to the effort involved in making and keeping our end-users satisfied.

As our workshop discussion began, one thing quickly became clear.  Welsh councils are very good when it comes to User Satisfaction!  Could it be that the Welsh simply give better service?  Or is it because as a nation they are more easily pleased than the Scots or English?  Unfortunately, our data cannot explain this.   But it did show that only one organisation had an average score below 4.9 (on a scale of 1 to 7).  While we could sense their shame in the room, even this score is very close to typical levels elsewhere in the UK.

But what affects these “Satisfaction Scores”?  As the group discussion continued, we realised that while we are all diverse with each participating organisation being unique similar themes and challenges recur.  These include:

  • New devices make a difference: Everyone likes shiny new things.
  • New systems and ways of working can have teething problems.
  • Users exposure to consumer devices affect their view of corporate IT.
  • Curiously, the more you request feedback, the happier users become – provided you are seen to act on it.

A key benefit of conducting User Satisfaction along with your peers is the ability to discuss these challenges with one another and learn how different approaches are working or can be refined.

During the morning session we also discussed how we can get more feedback from our users.

Once again, hats off to the Welsh organisations with five receiving responses from over 30% of their users compared to the national median of 24%.  One participant attained a colossal response rate of 38%.  The key to such high rates appears to be:

  • Publicise the survey well in advance, explaining why it is important
  • Be a nuisance: Keep on asking for responses via reminder emails and newsletters
  • Conduct regular surveys.
  • Ask your whole user base, not just those who have recently contacted you.
  • Demonstrate that you are using the data and comments provided.

Now throughout my travels, I couldn’t help but notice how often I was asked for feedback.  Hotels, cafes and trains all requested that I complete a short survey either via a note on the receipt, a sign on the wall or a follow up email.  Of course, like the hypocrite that I clearly am I haven’t completed any of these.  This illustrates how difficult it is to get feedback from the average service user.  Therefore, I would like to thank the over 8,000 users who completed our survey within Wales.

After a break for lunch participants were asked to to “Mind the Gap”.  Not the gap between train and platform, but the “Expectation Gap”.  Improve’s User Satisfaction survey requests users to rate twenty aspects of service delivery by their 1) importance and 2) satisfaction.  These can then be compared to see if participating organisations are successfully delivering the elements of the service that users really care about.

For example, my flight may be happy to serve “premium brand” coffee.  But I’d be happy to drink anything provided my flight arrived on time. (You may guess from this example that my return flight was also delayed.  Perhaps next time my “expectation gap” will be lower due to anticipating poor service in the first instance.)

It was interesting to note that while most organisations faced similar issues, the extent to which expectation was being met varied considerably.  Our group discussions therefore gave some the opportunity to show off by explaining recent changes, while others gained valuable insight.

This cohort of organisations was the first to analyse the IT competency of their users, utilizing our new “User Skills” set of questions.  The results from this section showed that in general most users are very skilled in IT.  However, some participants were able to identify key areas where additional training or awareness could be beneficial.  Oddly, we also found an interesting proportion of users who expressed a “Don’t know – don’t care” attitude to IT skills.  This could show that a different type of training may be required.

For my journey back to Birmingham I abandoned the train, accepting the offer of a lift back with my colleague – Improve Manager Aimie Francis.  This certainly removed the stress from my return leg, or at least part of it (a future blog on Aimie’s driving may follow).  This made we wonder, could we take away some of the stress you may have when conducting User Satisfaction surveys?

Socitm Improve can:

  • Provide you with a set of established peer-assured questions
  • Send out invitations and reminders
  • Present your results in a dynamic Tableau dashboard, all ready to be interrogated

Most importantly, you’ll get the chance to discuss your results at our next workshop (hopefully at a location that is nearer to me), where you can learn from your peers how they are driving up satisfaction.

The workshop can also provide a happy reminder that no organisation is perfect.  In fact, even the best performing organisation (with an overall satisfaction score of 6.06) still had a one individual who said the service was awful!  Maybe they were just grumpy after a ten-hour journey.

Planes, trains and automobiles: The long road to User Satisfaction

Leadership Advocate of the Month: June.


If local authorities are to fully exploit digital opportunities to improve outcomes for local people, places and businesses, then we must invest in developing digital skills across our workforce.

Developing digital skills at all levels and in digital leadership capability particularly is vitally important in local authorities, now more than ever.  This is not just in the IT department. To achieve digitally enabled transformation across the organisation we need to deliver in partnership with our various business units, so we need to develop their digital leadership capabilities too.

That’s why I have invested in sending a number of my IT team and key business leaders to develop a distributed digital capability across the organisation.  Feedback from first groups of Norfolk managers who have attended is excellent. Here are some quotes:

“The Socitm course is important time out from our very busy schedules to self-reflect with support on how we lead.”

“It helps people explore, understand and challenge some of our learnt behaviours and plants the seed to tackle change them so we can improve as leaders.”

“Personally, I feel it has helped me get my mojo back!”

“It’s an excellent experience that is well worth doing which has also given us some new networking opportunities and contacts.”

When people comeback from a Leadership Academy course, there’s an almost tangible change in the way they carry themselves and approach problem solving. Invariably more confident, both personally and in their enthusiasm for thinking critically and outside the box, they feel empowered and recharged.

My proudest work-related achievement is securing external funding to improve the network connectivity across Norfolk County. This includes £8m for full fibre to 372 sites and, also, two county LoRaWAN deployments including over 250 gateways.

To make this possible, I had to have a team of innovative leaders supporting me. For truly effective leaders, the number one skill needed is the ability to collaborate, forming high-performing partnerships with business leaders, tech leaders from other linked organisations (in my case other local authorities and NHS organisations) and key suppliers.

The Socitm Leadership Academy has played a vital role in building, strengthening and testing these skills in my team and I heartily recommend making the time investment of enrolling on a course to anyone. The ROI is quick, effective and has proved invaluable to Norfolk County Council.

Geoff Connell

Head of Information Management and Technology at Norfolk County Council and former Socitm President.

Leadership Advocate of the Month: June.

Positive engagement: Smart Leeds


Our next Leadership Academy Top Talent programme begins on 3-4 July in Leeds.

Those taking part will be involved in an exciting and ground-breaking research programme for Leeds City Council.

The council is keen to explore a rewards scheme that promotes behaviour change and positive citizen engagement amongst those who live, work and visit Leeds.

In recognition of the outstanding achievements of our Top Talent graduates, the council has asked us to undertake a three-month research phase in order to gain greater understanding as to whether the scheme could result in a strong business case that leads to the development of a multi-platform innovative solution.

Similar schemes are being trialled in a handful cities around the world including Belfast and Tel Aviv. These initiatives offer rewards such as free leisure passes for using public transport and free coffee-shop drinks for undertaking charity work.

Health and wellbeing, travel and transport, housing standards and growth and climate emergency are all key priorities in Leeds’ smart cities programme, Smart Leeds, and this is the first project of its kind in the UK, outside of Northern Ireland.

This is a fantastic opportunity for our Top Talent Cohort to be part of something that could change how local authorities motivate and engage residents and visitors. The project could set a benchmark both nationally and globally and the Top Talent group will be presenting their findings at Share Leeds on 15 October.

To book your place visit: https://www.share-leeds.socitm.net/

Positive engagement: Smart Leeds

Leading in canal cities


Preceding our President’s Conference in England’s very own Venice, i.e Birmingham (56kkms of canals), this year’s annual conference of Socitm’s Major Cities of Europe (MCE) partner took place in Venice (42kms of canals). Hosted and organised together with the Municipality of Venice, the Cà Foscari University and VENIS S.p.A. at the Cà Foscari Economic Campus, the overarching theme of the conference was “Channelling Change – Digital cities in a changing world – Explore more, Discover more, Create more”.

Close to 350 delegates came from 20 countries to share their experiences, including our own Socitm representatives.

Sandra Taylor and Nadira Hussain shared the many achievements from Socitm’s unfolding Leadership, Diversity and Skills Programme and some of the extraordinary testimonies from our Leadership Academy. Nadira also had the opportunity to chair a panel discussion titled ‘Digital Transformation: The Leadership Paradox’; sharing experiences as to how we can improve the adoption more widely of good digital government practice. The point of reference being we can all think of cities who are said to be “leading” in these areas, but few who can be said to be following that lead – in which case, is there true leadership?

Martin Ferguson gave an enthusiastic and thought-provoking contribution, drawing upon UK experience, to a session entitled: The Moral Maze – the role of cities in avoiding a digital dystopia.

The conference was a unique opportunity to:

  • interact and exchange directly with other European municipalities in a non-commercial environment
  • discuss about the real challenges that municipalities currently deal about digitization
  • test ideas with ‘digital leaders’ from cities across Europe
  • understand how to involve citizens in designing and achieving better outcomes
  • see how to use data and information more effectively
  • hear the truth, not the spin
  • be informed, challenged, and involved.

The topics for the different sessions of the conference included:

  • Cities as service hubs: Citizen at the centre – Local governments become integrated service providers and partner to provide citizens services with other local public and private players.
  • New and Emerging Technologies: How to ensure that innovative technologies add value to the lives of the citizens? How to leverage Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence and other emerging technologies?
  • The Moral Maze: How local governments ensure that the use of technology is ethical and that citizens’ participative initiatives through social media are managed in an ethical and protected way?
  • Troubled Projects – Good Procurement: How procurement decisions are taken and how solutions or technologies are selected to be the right foundations? How to manage troubled projects? How to take the right decisions and to persuade the organisation?
  • Changing roles, change management and digital transformation: to face the dangerous chasm between the existing managerial and professional skills and the new required skills and abilities.
  • World Café: On the second day the programme included the World Café. Several topics arising from the conference programme were debated at many different discussion tables. The discussions will be collated into a final report.

These conference sessions and future workshops provide valuable material for our own Socitm Inform research programme – evidence of this is in resources generated from the most recent workshop on leveraging data:


For anyone who may be interested, membership of MCE is open to all municipalities and provides a unique opportunity to gain fresh perspectives on the contemporary issues facing digital leaders in their many diverse places.


Next year’s conference, which is free to attend for all MCE members, will be in Larissa, Greece 27-29 May 2020

By Sandra Taylor, Nadira Hussain and Martin Ferguson.

Leading in canal cities

New digital maturity assessment tool


With just five days to go until President’s Conference, we wanted to share an exciting development to Improve, our public sector specific benchmarking service.

At the conference, Socitm will be launching a brand-new Digital Maturity Assessment (DMA) toolbox as part of its Improve programme. Featuring a brand-new, fully revised question set, the online framework is based on nine key functions and pre-determined criteria that will enable organisations to assess their digital maturity and associated gaps.

Improve is comprised of five modules: User Satisfaction, Digital, Estate, Cost and Performance. Each of these has been designed to help our members advance their IT and digital services through the use of highly relevant data.

Improve’s Digital model, including the new DMA, provides unrivalled insight into the extent to which an organisation’s ICT is digitally mature. It examines where best practice measures have been adopted and what degree of commitment has been invested in digital services. The new DMA enriches this process by adding five layers of maturity to the way data is collected.

Digital is about more than changing working practices and the redesign of services. The DMA also includes measurement of Digital Leadership and consideration of Cultural Change. The new DMA was developed by considering the existing Socitm Improve Digital Module, comparing and reviewing it against GDS/Local Digital Best Practice Models and other best practice models.

This results in several metrics comparing the level of commitment and the maturity of digital services. Additionally, the new DMA examples the provision and take up of agile working. To take part in the service, each participating organisation must be prepared to answer approximately ninety Yes/No questions related to the policy decisions that have been made. This gives the most comprehensive overview of digital maturity to date and the information gathered is tailored specifically to meet the requirements of the public sector.

The DMA will be launched as part of a workshop hosted by incoming Socitm President, Sandra Taylor at 13:30 on day one of the President’s Conference (18 June). The workshop focuses on how we can create a digitally responsive culture in local government and the benefits and innovation this achieves.

This is just one of the highlights of what promises to be an exceptionally enlightening and invigorating conference.

We have great pleasure in attaching your brochure for the event. Including a detailed breakdown of all of the sessions taking place over both days, this will help you not to miss a thing.

We can’t wait to see you there!

New digital maturity assessment tool