Socitm should lose 'elitist' tag and broaden membership, says incoming president

Socitm's next president, Richard Steel, wants to see a society that is more open, transparent, and which engages more effectively with its membership.

Socitm's next president, Richard Steel, wants to see a society that is more open, transparent, and which engages more effectively with its membership.

The CIO of the London Borough of Newham will take over from current president Rose Crozier this month, and says he is keen to drive the period of change Socitm (Society of Information Management) is undergoing.

Steel says Socitm needs to change with the IT profession. He says new challenges such as the lack of public trust in government and the rise of social networking have arisen and more robust responses from an organisation representing IT in local government is needed.

Socitm now wants to attract both IT professionals across the public sector bodies and all IT council staff, on top of the traditional membership of local authority IT managers. A new membership model will be announced at the annual general meeting on April 24.

Steel wants communication to these members improved. He said, "The aim is to make us more transparent. We've been criticised for being a bit elitist. A lot of great work is done in Socitm, but I'm not sure that we communicate that to members very well and engage them.

"One of the things we should do is use our membership base more effectively. We want to see what people's specialist areas are, and we want to see if people are prepared to speak on behalf of the society, for example."

He wants to develop a different relationship with central government. Socitm has already set up the Local Government CIO Council after deciding that local government was "under-represented" on the main government CIO council, and Steel says he wants to see the society being more assertive.

"I'm not convinced we've been lobbying government as effectively as we could. We need to provide a constructive challenge on behalf of our members when necessary, and not just trot out the accepted wisdom or dogma. We're seen as a government mouthpiece, not a government influence," he said.

He added that he wants the society to be consulted earlier by central government on issues that will affect local authorities. He said, "We need to be saying to government, have you thought about some of the practical issues that we have in delivering projects?"

The biggest issue IT faces in the coming years is public trust in the ability of government to share and store data electronically - and Socitm must take a strategic role in coming up with a solution, Steel said.

"We have really thrown away any trust we might have had. At the moment, too much data is shared on an ad-hoc, uncontrolled basis. Government has not done a good job in getting the systems right. Where we have to share information, it should only be through systems that have been designed for the purpose."

And the quickly evolving nature of IT means more big changes in the offing. It is no longer just about running an organisation internally, or perfecting infrastructure. It is about how this infrastructure is used to provide good services, said Steel, and it's about engaging the whole community using technology.

"The organisations we serve have had to change tremendously over the past couple of years", he said. "We now have to change with them."

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