Local councils need common standards to develop digital

Local authorities need to have a set of common standards to develop digital innovations, says Surrey County Council’s CDO

Local authorities need to have a set of common standards to develop digital innovations, according to Surrey County Council’s chief digital officer (CDO) Lucie Glenday.

Speaking at the Chief Digital Officer Summit in London on 29 October 2014, Glenday said local councils don’t have a forum to talk to each other in a safe way.

The local public sector is also suffering from a lack of conversations about digital due to the disparate way councils are located over the country, while there is no common forum to share problems and solutions, she explained.

“We talk on an ad-hoc basis at various things we attend, but the busiest of us don’t go to many of these things and therefore we don’t talk about what we do," she said.

“I’m as guilty as anyone else,” she added. “We don’t blog, we don’t talk about the full programme of work going on with customer records and the join up of health and social care that’s happening. And we should, because hopefully they will become exemplars for others.”

Glenday used to be the head of business transformation at the Government Digital Service (GDS), which has been transforming digital public services for central government over the past two years.

When Computer Weekly asked Glenday whether a local GDS would be the answer to councils’ digital problems, she said the topic was a “hot potato” increasing in momentum, but Surrey has stayed out of the debate.

“There’s a lot of willing out there and a lot of acknowledgement that something needs to be done,” she said. “Just enabling a forum and the ability to sign up to some form of standards would get us an awfully long way.”

SE7 council collaboration

Surrey has joined up with another six councils in the south-east – a collaboration named South East 7 (SE7).

“Surrey has taken over the digital role for those councils,” said Glenday, noting products can be white-labelled and shared with other councils if common standards are adhered to.

“It’s not just local authorities – you’ve got districts, boroughs and public health – you’ve got all of the local public service providers, and there’s a conversation that has to happen around common standards and making sure we have them in place,” she added.

Glenday said local public service providers – once decided on a set of common standards – should build on the great work GDS has done around its G-Cloud framework.

“My procurement team have had me badgering them for a year and they’re beginning to get used to the idea of G-Cloud and the Digital Services Framework,” she said. 

“But unless you know what you’re looking for on there, it’s quite complex. I’ve had conversations with director of digital commerce programme Tony Singleton and the GDS team about it.

We never get to the point of building without understanding what a business does

Lucie Glenday, Surrey County Council

"There’s something about giving local public services a gateway to understand what it is they’re looking for and which ones apply the same standards – because then you’ll get some commonality being built up,” she added.

Employees who understand business

Surrey County Council has open standards as a critical part of its strategy. However, according to Glenday, when it comes to employees, the development needs to be done by people who understand business process, not just IT.

“We never get to the point of building without understanding what a business does,” she said. “Central and local government have very talented people in their midst.”

Glenday said she has five graduates on her team who have no digital background, but have embraced lean, agile processes.

“The key skill we recruit for is not digital talent, but empathy,” she added. “If you have someone that isn't empathetic, you’ve fallen at the first hurdle.”

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