Modern Leadership

Andy Hopkirk, Head of Research, Socitm

There’s a kind of fin-de-siècle feel in the air at the moment socially, politically and technologically. So it’s all the more important, then, that our leadership is ‘strong and stable’? Well maybe…but just 42% of the UK electorate went for that line just recently; so, if not that, then what?

In recent years the question of what is right and good leadership for the times has loomed ever larger in Socitm conferences, reports, briefings and in 1-2-1 discussions with members. We all know that solving many of the pressing problems of demography, place and getting the right outcomes for local citizens and businesses has technological components; but we also know that these are not enough.

Whole solutions require a whole business change, not just ICT/digital change. The real leadership challenge is not just to lead the ICT/digital function well but also to be part of a wider leadership effort. One that calls many to action, organises and galvanises on a grander scale. The times demand that we really do have to get past reluctant acceptance of plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!

This is what has led us to undertake the Socitm Insight Modern Leadership project – to examine what constitutes right and good leadership practice today so that members may judge and improve their own positions in that regard and those of others they might want to develop into such roles.

We’ll be releasing the project’s products in parts over the coming months. We hope you’ll find them thought provoking and a stimulus to action. (And it’s definitely not about being ‘strong and stable’…)

Modern Leadership

Socitm’s David Hopkins becomes Milton Keynes mayor

Long-standing Socitm member David Hopkins has become mayor of Milton Keynes, after nearly 40 years in local government. Read more.

Councillor Hopkins attended his first Socitm conference in the late 1990s when working for telecoms company Mercury, getting involved with the organisation through Bob Griffith, former head of IT services at Northamptonshire County Council. He recently stepped down as secretary of Socitm’s East region.

As deputy mayor, Hopkins opened Socitm’s annual conference last year in Milton Keynes. In his welcome speech, Hopkins described Milton Keynes as the most successful of all the UK’s post-war new towns with a current population of 260,000 and a target of 400,000 by 2050, with ambitious plans to use technology in this expansion. “In Milton Keynes, MK Smart is a live deployment of multiple smart city applications, which are being collectively designed to make tangible improvements to public service delivery, business innovation and citizen engagement,” he told the event.

MK Smart hopes to cut water use by 20%, energy use by 3% and traffic congestion by half. The MK Data Hub already publishes a wide range of open data, include traffic using the city’s roundabouts; the locations and passenger numbers on of buses; and usage data for its neighbourhood recycling centres. Socitm has published guides to such work on smart places and location intelligence.

Hopkins was deputy leader between 2011 and 2014 when the Conservative group led the council and more recently served as chair of the overview and scrutiny management committee. The mayor must be apolitical, but Hopkins says that the parties agree on Milton Keynes’ growth plans and the smart technology needed to support it, and he will be promoting the work at events this year.

Milton Keynes has several advantages in adopting technology, he says: “Because we’re growing so fast, we can fit infrastructure that supports our smart city credentials,” such as high capacity broadband. “To retrofit is a very expensive thing to do.” It can also take advantage of communications infrastructure such as ducting fitted by BT during the 1990s.

Last October Milton Keynes hosted autonomous vehicle trials run by University of Oxford spin-out company Oxbotica, and the UK’s Transport Systems Catapult innovation centre is based in the town. The council is hoping to introduce an autonomous vehicle service running from the train station to the main shopping areas by the end of this year.

Hopkins says Socitm is good at bringing together suppliers and customers to the benefit of both. “There’s always a natural suspicion on both sides,” he says. “The suppliers only want to come to conferences to sell us stuff – which they do – and from the suppliers, that they will talk to no end of IT managers who aren’t really interested because they’ve got their set deals in place.”

But Socitm groups allow both sides to discuss issues and co-operate, such as through councils trialling a supplier’s products: “Working with Socitm, you can be the test-bed for new technologies free of charge.” Hopkins adds: “I think the suspicion between both sides has broken down now, and people are genuinely keen on working together and making a difference.”

Socitm’s David Hopkins becomes Milton Keynes mayor

New government needs to join things up


By Martin Ferguson, Director of Policy and Research, Socitm

Even before the general election, this year has seen some parts of the country voting for change. For the first time, the 4th May saw voters in six combined authority areas of England electing ‘metro mayors’ with a brief to join up services.

Socitm believes the next government needs to accelerate digital thinking to improve the joining up of services. The new metro mayors may help achieve this, but many parts of the UK are working to generate place-based digital leadership through bringing together civil servants, councillors, chief executives and other senior managers for education and training.

Place-based work requires the breaking of organisations’ silo walls, and this has to include the integration of health run by NHS organisations and social care run by local government. The best areas have already introduced integrated digital care records. More needs to be done to share these records across the full spectrum of care and more areas need to follow. The process would be accelerated through a single information governance toolkit for government and standardised, model designs and digitally-enabled processes for key areas of health and social care.

Such sharing could be threatened without better cyber security, as the impact of the recent WannaCry ransomware attack on the NHS has demonstrated. This needs to include risk management and threat mitigation training for senior managers in local public services.

Socitm believes these issues can be tackled by building regional capabilities, with teams that can support the development of cyber security skills, health and social care integration, place-based data aggregation and analytics, outcomes-based service redesign and digital transformation and digital inclusion.

Many local authorities have been ahead of the game in developing locally-shared digital services, but need to do more to maintain this role. They need to improve recruitment and retention of staff, by investing in individual skills and organisational capabilities. Doing so should help councils to take advantage of new digital technology opportunities to deliver better services at less cost, but training budgets have been severely cut in recent years and private sector talent is neither wide nor deep enough to compensate. Councils also need to invest in leadership skills, to help their leaders move to focusing on collaboration to achieve better outcomes, and away from a managerial mindset driven solely by finance and targets.

Central government can help this happen by providing adequate seed funding to facilitate a quick and widespread transition to shared platforms where these make sense. Without such platforms, progress will be slow and patchy as existing council budgets cannot cope with both business as usual and transition programmes. Cost benefits, efficiency and better service outcomes will only if new seed money is invested. While the Government Digital Service is developing some potential shared platforms, although the business model for these remains uncertain. There is considerable potential for much more and the foundation for these already exists in local innovations and best practice. Only a determined effort will realise the potential and sort out how current and future platforms can be sustainably standardised and shared.

Achieving this will require the local public sector to draw on everyone with the talent to contribute, regardless of gender, background and age. “Local authorities should reflect the communities that they serve,” says Socitm’s president Geoff Connell. “Not only does this help us understand the people we serve, it also strengthens our ability to re-imagine how we do things.”

The new government will have a lot to do, and local authorities stand ready to help, but they need the right support and investment to enable the transformational changes required to achieve better outcomes in their places.


Blockchain technology: could it transform digitally-enabled councils?


By Dr Andy Hopkirk, Socitm Head of Research

As the professional network for digital leaders in local public services, Socitm is at one with those that think there is great potential in blockchain technology, and perhaps even a step change on the road to a truly all-digital, open e-economy.

Blockchains underpin Bitcoin and other digital currencies, the first applications of the concept. These ‘digital crypto-currencies’ are viable alternatives to fiat paper money systems. They can operate without the need for a central bank or any other kind of single authoritative organisation to manage the money system and engender trust in it.

Continue reading “Blockchain technology: could it transform digitally-enabled councils?”

Blockchain technology: could it transform digitally-enabled councils?

On Collaboration

Reposted with permission from Rob Miller :

I thought that this article from the Economist on collaboration that a colleague pointed out to me last week was an interesting read. It warns that in this age of Slack, chat rooms and instant messaging we are at risk of ‘over-collaborating’.

I can see the sense in this argument, and I definitely recognise how precious focused time has become, and also the challenge that both individuals and delivery teams face in preventing continuous interruptions from affecting their work. It made me think a bit more about what ‘collaboration’ means to me and the role I think it should have in how we get work done. Continue reading “On Collaboration”

On Collaboration