Socitm Annual Conference 2017 round-up

Socitm 1027 roundup_blog

What happens when you mix Socitm with a big football stadium? You get a bloody good conference of course!

This week, the cream of the public sector’s ICT and digital experts, CIOs and CTOs, partners, suppliers and analysts swarmed to Leicester City FC’s King Power Stadium, to listen, learn, question, educate, network, socialise and generally make merry.

An awful lot happened over the two days but here is a decent stab at summarising some of the key elements.

Local cyber security: Democracy in peril?

William Barker, the DCLG’s Head of National Cyber Security Programme Local, took to the stage on day two to highlight some worrying local cyber security issues.

Barker said that the department has been working with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to examine the nature of the cyber risk posed to elections and referenda, and how it can be mitigated.

He warned that referendums and elections are a tempting target and that it’s only a matter of time before there is an attempt to interfere with the process (at this point, a representative of Moscow County Council, a Cllr Putin, got up and left the room).

Barker urged councils to put their electoral services team through a day of cyber security training to give them a basic understanding of the possible threats and the basic steps to resist them, adding that local government devolution represents a chance to create new opportunities to improve cyber resilience.

Barker suggested that some of the devolved regional authorities are taking cyber security seriously and making progress in their planning, but also warned that devolution will create new targets for cyber attacks. As a response, he said organisations should make use of Active Cyber Defence, the programme launched by the NCSC to tackle a high proportion of attacks.

Another issue Barker discussed was resilience: the DCLG is looking at how it can work with communities such as local resilience forums and warning advice and reporting points (WARPs) to provide a more nationally joined up network.

Local government’s digital transformation challenges

While we’re on the DCLG, the department’s newly appointed chief digital officer, Paul Maltby, delivered a keynote address focusing on the main challenges local government faces in achieving digital transformation.

Maltby identified user centred design, commodity components, using data and the best approach to connect to local communities as the four challenges which need to be tackled for digital transformation to succeed.

Making better use of data

Pye Nyunt, Corporate Insight Hub Manager at the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham and an Agilisys transformation consultant, discussed his experience of data insight in local government.

In October 2016, the council set up an Insight Hub with the aim of making better use of the council’s data to understand customer needs, forecast future demand and design behavioural interventions.

There is a general acknowledgement across local government that there is value to be gained from better use of data. In just 12 months, the Insight Hub is driving behavioural change and reducing pressure on council services.

Nyunt informed delegates that Barking and Dagenham is currently working on a predictive data model aimed at helping people before they reach crisis point – which could also help to ensure the council does not have to spend as much money in supporting some at risk people.

He also described a test for an organisation to find out if it has a data-driven culture. If people are using data they will begin a sentence with “I know”, whereas if not they will say “I think”. He said there are likely to be a lot more of the latter than the former.

Rise of the machines: a future the public sector can’t ignore

Socitm 2017 concluded with a very interesting panel discussion on the increasing application of artificial intelligence (AI) in local government services. Public readiness and trust were some of the key issues debated. You can read more about the session here.

Socitm 2018: Fit for the future

We have a really exciting year ahead of us with lots of things to look forward to. As Martin Ferguson, our policy and research director, mentioned in his presentation at the conference, we are reshaping our research programme, training offerings and corporate membership packages to provide even more benefits for our members.

We look forward to a 2018 filled with more discussion and innovation, and thank all those that joined us in Leicester. Don’t forget, you can still register to attend our conferences in Scotland and Leeds on 9 November.

Socitm Annual Conference 2017 round-up

Socitm Conference 2017: Artificial intelligence


Socitm’s Annual Conference brought together the sector’s best, brightest, and most insightful and interesting thinkers – and I was there, too.

One of the many revealing talks featured a panel of luminaries discussing the increasing application of artificial intelligence (AI) in local government services, so I listened in at Leicester City’s King Power stadium on Tuesday.

Maryvonne Hassall, Aylesbury Council’s IT strategy manager, kicked things off by talking about ‘getting rid of the old legacy systems…It’s all about the customer; it’s best to fit residents’ needs to the Kano model: basic expectations, investment, satisfiers, delights and satisfaction’.

She detailed the Vale’s problems with taxi licensing, and how AI has presented a solution. Mary said: ‘Taxi drivers can be demanding, so we have created a streamlined process. On the frontend, a taxi driver can book an MOT test and make payments online.’

The Vale is also using AI in customer service areas – its system monitors questions as they come in, analyses them, and then offers possible answers. A real human customer service agent can then select the best solution suggested by the machine – which learns from the experience to make even better suggestions next time.

Next up was Lancaster City Council’s ICT manager, Chris Riley, who spoke about an onscreen humanoid you can actually interact with. Known as emotive AI, the system uses predictive analytics, shows emotion and predicts what you’re going to say, and then responds.

As well as understanding where a conversation is going, the machine gives out the same info each time – something AI systems haven’t been great at in the past: consistency.

But how near are we to the realisation of this digital assistant? Very near, according to Chris, who presented an image of the thing. ‘The eyes need work – at the moment they look like the eyes of a maniac,’ said Chris.

Considering the costs of this futuristic marvel, Chris added: ‘There are around 400 local authorities, and they’ve each spent on average of £100,000 on their websites. What’s this given us? 400 sites that look remarkably similar.

‘We are not in competition with each other. If we worked together and put just £25,000 in each, that’d be £10,000,000 we could spend on building a good AI system. It’s one interface – we don’t have to develop 400 different machine learning systems. If we do it 400 times it will take a long time to do, but if we all pool the money it will be done much quicker.

‘It has been said to me that I am naïve if I think I can change local government – but local government is naive if it thinks it can’t achieve these things.’

Hilary Simpson, founder of Sleuth the Consultancy Goop, was up next. She noted that the key issue for AI implementation is ethics, and that CIOs should recognise that they have a critical responsibility to expose and help address the potential risks.

‘AI takes us down the dangerous track of profiling individuals based on societal group profiles,’ said Hilary ‘for example, sentencing of black people in Wisconsin automatically leads to longer sentences than for whites’.

She said that fairness and equity must be addressed by public services – and that things are not the same in the private sector.

She noted the importance of taking on board different perspectives and information vs. simple binary automated decisions; for example, in assessing a child potentially at risk.

No technology is neutral, added Hilary, though ‘systems can help. Ultimately, judgement needs the personal touch. The bottom line is the problem of assessing vulnerable people and minority groups.’

But I was back in time to hear Jos Creese, digital analyst, who noted that AI is beginning to take over many aspects of people’s lives. He said: ‘AI does present a number of risks. Mattel have just pulled a babysitting device because of concerns about machines taking over parenting roles. Are we ready for AI to look after things like social care?’

He warned that ‘a lot of jobs will go…it’s about public trust and understanding. If the public sector wants to start using AI as a customer service interface, the public has got to trust us to do it – and I would suggest at the moment they don’t.

‘There are some human aspects to resolve before the technical ones. We are liable to get some things wrong. I guarantee there will be a public outcry at some point when something goes wrong.’

So, a very riveting and illuminating 50 minutes.

Socitm Conference 2017: Artificial intelligence

Buy it now: Sweet, sweet tax bill

Tax Money

Online auction enterprise eBay had a jolly time of it last year – the firm paid £1.6 million in UK corporation tax on total revenues of £1 billion in the country.

Well done, eBay! The company’s UK accounts show only £200m in revenue – which is all cool because it came from its parent firm, based in Switzerland, so everything’s legit, you see.

Now, eBay has, naturally, refused to discuss why the money it makes in the UK isn’t processed through its business in the UK – but it has said its tax activities are 100% legal, which I’m sure they are.

A spokesperson laughed: ‘In all countries and at all times, eBay is fully compliant with national, EU and international tax rules including those of the OECD, including the remittance of VAT to the appropriate authorities.’

The online car boot sale joins a number of high profile tech firms, such as Google, Facebook, Apple and so on, who enjoy excellent tax arrangements in Europe and beyond.

And on it goes.

Buy it now: Sweet, sweet tax bill

Shared services in mind? There’s a tool for that


When I wake up in the morning, my first thought generally is: oh no, not this again. But many of you will wake up pondering: is it time to think seriously about shared services?

Well, an excellent tool has arrived to help you probe this very possibility – and it’s free!

Launched by Socitm and Eduserv, a not-for-profit partner for public and third sector organisations, the Readiness Assessment for a Shared service Programme (RASP) is now live – and it can help you better prepare for your potential IT shared service programmes.

The free-to-use strategic planning tool can help you to understand your organisation’s readiness to collaborate with others in a shared service programme – and can also be used as a ‘health-check’ or to assess the inclusion of a new partner in an existing shared service.

Developed in partnership with Socitm, RASP has been created with the input and insight of around 50 senior level decision makers from local authorities who have been involved in delivering shared service programmes.

The tool assesses your readiness for shared services by going through a set of in-depth diagnostic questions in five areas:

  • Shared vision – the extent to which there is wider buy-in for the planned project, political backing, a detailed understanding of what will be shared and agreement on which areas of best practice will be absorbed in the partnership
  • Ethos and cultures – looking at structure, identity, skills and who will lead in specific areas of the shared services
  • Treatment of resources – understanding and agreeing which assets, costs and benefits will be shared
  • Risk management – reviewing existing IT estate, skills and contracts and mapping out capacity for change
  • Governance – covering success measures, leadership and decision models, legal basis for work

After you’ve completed the assessment, you’re given a score in each element and a map highlighting your organisation’s strength and weakness – helping you to comprehend any gaps which need further preparatory work in your shared service planning.

Natasha Veenendaal, Programme Manager for the Eduserv Executive Briefing Programe, said: ‘Shared services are already common across the public sector and in the future it is unlikely that local authorities can function unless they work more collaboratively with neighbouring service providers.

In our work with local authorities, the Executive Briefing Programme has uncovered many potential pitfalls to be overcome throughout the lifecycle of a shared service programme. This readiness assessment tool uses that insight to provide a diagnostic aid which demonstrates and quantifies risks and potential issues that require further scrutiny or care during a shared service programme.’

Martin Ferguson, Socitm’s Director of Policy and Research, added: ‘Shared services is an important topic for Socitm. As more local authorities engage in partnerships, there are many pitfalls to be overcome and opportunities to be had. It’s important for citizens that these partnerships succeed and time and money is well spent.

‘The assessment tool has been developed to help councils understand these pitfalls and opportunities better and mitigate the risks.’

Don’t delay: click here to access RASP and start your shared service journey now.

Shared services in mind? There’s a tool for that

Unpreparedness reigns as GDPR nears


You may have guessed this already, but lots of firms aren’t exactly prepared for the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

With the legislation set to come into force in May next year, a survey has revealed that nearly half (47%) of the UK’s office employees haven’t a clue whether or not their firm is doing anything to prepare.

And this could be a real problem: failure to comply could lead to some pretty severe penalties – up to €20,000,000 or 4% of a company’s global turnover, whichever is costlier.

Conducted by Fellowes (an office products supplier, not a group of dandy men), the survey discovered that 7% of employees don’t think their firm is even conscious of the GDPR, let alone doing anything about it – which is going to make writing that cheque to the Information Commissioner’s Office even more of a shock.

And the horrors the questionnaire revealed only get worse: 32% admitted unintentionally looking at private emails on their workmates’ computer screens; 20% said they never shredded documents that could really have done with shredding; and 44% fessed up to seeing printed confidential documents.

All sounds a bit of a mess, doesn’t it?

Fellowes’ sales and marketing director, Darryl Brunt, said: ‘Despite the impending GDPR deadline, our research shows that many companies don’t appear to have systems and policies in place to protect sensitive information. If this data is then stored illegally – or falls into the wrong hands – the damage caused to the organisation could be irreparable.

‘It’s essential for businesses to have robust systems in place to protect personal and confidential documents – including the secure shredding of obsolete sensitive paperwork. British businesses that don’t comply with the new GDPR from May next year could face huge fines of up to £18 million or more.’

How prepared are you for the GDPR? Are you so confident that you feel you could easily win a GDPR-readiness award – or are you already looking for a new job after your employer is inevitably fined into bankruptcy? Please let us know.


Unpreparedness reigns as GDPR nears

Friday round-up: A week in tech


An AI babysitting device has been withdrawn by its manufacturers, after concerns were raised.

Mattel, they of Barbie and Ken fame, announced the creation of ‘Aristotle’ earlier in the year – apparently, it would have told bedtime stories and sung lullabies to babies/young children, and maybe even lonely adults, too.

Additionally, a camera would have kept an eye on the children while the grown-ups drank cider downstairs, perhaps.

However, some have complained that AI shouldn’t take the place of actual human parenting, which has led Mattel’s chief technology officer, Sven Gerjets, to abandon the scheme.

Taking the place of parenting? Don’t kids just get plonked in front of a TV, or an iPad, or a laptop, or a games console for the first 10 years of their life, anyway?

Full tale here.


Poor old Puerto Rico: devastated by an unprecedently powerful hurricane when Donald Trump happens to be the person responsible for sorting that kind of mess out.

Since the disaster some weeks ago, most of the island remains without power – and the gruesome Trump has made it pretty clear that he doesn’t care very much.

But salvation may be on the way. Electric vendor Elon Musk has pledged to power the entire state with his solar technology.

Offering to help on Twitter, naturally, Musk’s largesse was enthusiastically accepted by Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rossello, who tweeted ‘Let’s talk’.

Desperate for aid and support, the governor earlier tweeted Trump with ‘Let’s talk’, to which the president replied ‘Let’s not’.


Ofcom has finally decided to do something serious about ISPs constantly lying about broadband speeds.

The new proposals will give miffed customers the right to dump their contracts without a charge if their connections speed dips below that promised – which is going to be a hell of a lot of people.

The regulatory body seems to have just noticed that ISPs often advertise things like ‘60mbs connection’ when poor old punters are actually struggling with 0.5mbs, so it’s launched a public consultation.

In the interests of balance, some have sort of defended ISPs and their distortions by claiming that connection speeds are actually dictated by various factors, not just fibs.

The editor of Think Broadband, which I imagine is some sort of publication about broadband,  Andrew Ferguson, said that ‘it’s clear from years of experience that broadband providers are not deliberately and systematically ripping off the customer’.

He added: ‘The biggest problem for an ISP is balancing the desires of the marketing department against what consumers are actually experiencing every day. These rules, once implemented, should help to force providers to be more honest with their customers.’

Friday round-up: A week in tech

Government invests in tool to fight child pornography


The government has announced a £600,000 investment in a new system to combat online child pornography.

Project Arachnid can identity and remove indecent images from websites ‘at an unprecedented rate’ according to the Home Office.

Developed by a division of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, the system can be deployed across websites, forums, chatrooms and so on to instantly detect illegal images. If it finds anything, it automatically forwards a removal order to the website’s owners.

The Home Office says that social media firms will be able to deploy Project Arachnid to sweep their platforms for illicit material.

The system uses lists of digital fingerprints to search for known images of child pornography, and will eventually expand to include fingerprints from authorities in Canada and the US.

Government invests in tool to fight child pornography