Solihull council launches digital strategy

Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council has launched a digital strategy which outlines how it will engage with citizens across multiple channels

Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council in the Midlands has launched a digital strategy which outlines how the business will engage with citizens across multiple channels.

As part of the strategy, its four main priorities are: improved health and wellbeing, managed growth, building stronger communities and delivering value. It hopes to enable all customers and businesses to be included in the digital economy and digital society. 

The council's head of customer services Emma Mayhew said the point of the digital strategy is to help the organisation co-ordinate what is going on with digital and customer-facing technology, as well as trying to get the different departments of the council to become more joined up.

“The challenge is around different priorities – back and front of office,” she said, noting different council departments move at different speeds with different priorities when it comes to digital. 

“When it comes to wanting to move forward with online booking and online payment solutions, we want to make sure something is co-ordinated corporately.”

If the council becomes more joined up, different departments will be more aware of what others are doing and could potentially join up their services and share technology systems.

“Departments can have quite a focus on what they’re doing, but with the digital strategy we could hop on the back of another service and make it better,” said Mayhew.

The digital buzzword

Meanwhile, CIO Steve Halliday said while digital has been around since the worldwide web was created, something different has happened in the past few years around the language and the way customers use devices.

“We wanted to make it not an ICT thing, but a business thing,” he said. “My personal view is digital maturity will be measured when people stop talking about it, it’s just business and all business has an increasingly digital and IT component to it.

“Digital is just normal but we needed a strategy on how to achieve that normality in the five years to come,” he added.

Halliday and Mayhew noted one of the interesting things about digital – as opposed to IT – is it makes the council think about the public more.

“And with social media in particular it accelerates the thinking process," said Halliday. "Our decision to publish the digital strategy in a blog means people can comment on it and help to shape it.”

Chief digital officers

While some councils have hired chief digital officers (CDOs) to specifically organise new digital agendas in their organisations – like Surrey County Council hiring ex-head of transformation at GDS Lucie Glenday – Solihull doesn’t plan to do the same.

Halliday said the council isn’t large enough to warrant a CDO: “For us, we’re thinking if we’ve put it as a responsibility for one person, it takes it away from everybody else and takes it away from being normal.” 

Mayhew agreed, saying it was a deliberate decision not to put digital in the hands of one person. 

“We have a lot of activities across the whole council and a means of co-ordinating and supporting it, rather than passing it to one person’s responsibility,” she said, noting the organisation also has digital champions across the council which support their own areas.

The difference between IT and digital

As CIO, Halliday brought the IT and technology insight to the strategy report. He noted the council also has an IT strategy which sets out things not included in the digital. But there are grey areas in between the two.

“If a member of staff uses an online form to fill in their expenses, is that digital or not?” he asked, saying he doesn’t really care if it’s called digital or not, as long as the transaction is done well.

“If you want to understand the difference between IT and digital, switch off the IT and see what of digital is left – you probably don’t have anything digital,” said Halliday. “But switch off digital and you still have IT, but it probably hasn’t got any customer purpose – it’s the harmony between the two which is the goal.”

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