Councils need to embed digital more, says Hampshire's digital leader

Local public sector needs to ensure digital is embedded into planning, policy and process, says Hampshire Country Council digital leader

To be a truly digital business, the local public sector needs to ensure digital is embedded into planning, policy and process, alongside IT, said Hampshire Country Council’s digital leader, Jos Creese (pictured).

Speaking at the Whitehall Media Public Sector Enterprise IT event in London today, Creese said he is seeing a degree of “digital delusion” going on in government, where organisations believe they are truly digital when they are not.

“I feel like organisations in the private sector are well down the road, but we have not made a big change in local public sector,” he said. “Fundamentally, it is more than having self-service and automating processes, but truly embedding digital into planning, policy and processes.”

Creese said the massive cost savings, which need to be delivered by local government, are not going to be solved by merely implementing shared services, but only if councils become truly digital.

Creese, the CIO at Hampshire County Council, said it isn’t going to be easy. “Giving every police officer a tablet and iPhone will not change how we deal with crime," he said.

He said local government, compared to central government, is more complex because it has to deal with 600-700 business streams. But Creese said he is seeing more creativity and innovation in the public sector than the private sector, driven by public demand and a lack of money.

“I see high willingness to change, but how do we change people’s jobs and the risk models to reflect greater dependence on technology?” he asked.

He warned that while organisations may have a good IT business strategy, digital will not be truly embedded in the organisation unless it is owned by the board and taken on culturally in the council. He suggested giving board members digital key performance indicators for the next year, or having the director of adult social care to think about what they can achieve from digital rather than asking IT.

“How can they work with their teams to change services in the way the IT department had not even thought about?” he asked. “The organisation should treat digital as a holistic rather than siloed activity."

Creese said his new digital role differs from his role as CIO because, rather than being an effective technology manager, he needs to advise the board on risks and opportunities of technology.

At the end of last month, Surrey County Council’s chief digital officer (CDO) Lucie Glenday said local authorities need to have a set of common standards to develop their digital innovations.

Surrey has joined with another six councils in the south east to form a collaboration named South East 7 (SE7). This will enable councils to collaborate and talk about digital innovation, as well as standards.

“Surrey has taken over the digital role for those councils,” said Glenday, noting that 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 is 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 work the Government Digital Service (GDS) has done around its G-Cloud framework.

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