The two-day SOCITM conference resumed this morning at the NEC with a schedule of plenary sessions, roundtables and demonstrations in the exhibition hall packed full of council CIOs, CTOs and CFOs.

The first speaker on day was Andy Burns from Staffordshire County Council, with a presentation titled: “we can’t afford the future unless we change what we do.” Andy was a different sort of speaker to the majority on day one of SOCITM, as he is not a CTO but rather a director of finance and resources, so his perspective and focus is on how technology as a resource can be maximised to, in turn, maximise other resources.

For a county that is ‘polycentric’ with no real centre, Staffordshire’s priorities are different to many others. Andy put forward the point that efficiency comes through innovation, not through “salami-slicing” or box-ticking. So Staffordshire council has changed its operating model so as to create opportunities to innovate. ICT is at the heart of Staffordshire’s organisational changes. Final personal thoughts and observations from Andy were about how councils should make ICT a business issue not a secondary function, and to make efforts to streamline, simplify and standardise.

Glyn Evans took to the stage as the second speaker of the day, in his role as president of SOCITM. His focus was on the future impact of technology and how to bring about change. Glyn suggested that technology is always overhyped in the short term and its impact is underestimated in the long term, and that the impact of technology on society has been profound, but asked if the impact of technology on our own organisations been equally as profound?

Jamie Kirk presenting the mobile opportunity

Glyn suggested that because public sector organisations are generally rigid and autocratic, this makes it difficult to innovate and be flexible. So a transforming council should be entrepreneurial, innovative, flexible, constantly in flux, able to manage risk and digitally enabled from end to end. This is all about change, which linked neatly with the first talk from Andy Burns.

The morning break-out sessions included a roundtable focusing on the channel shift movement, co-hosted by Jason Burton of Microsoft and attended by Brent, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Bracknell Forest councils amongst others. The discussion focused on joining up services, digital exclusion and the role of partners and suppliers in creating a level playing field, and the need for channel shift to have perspective, as often there are in-demand services which should not be shifted predominantly online.

The final plenary session of the morning was led by deputy leader of Milton Keynes Council, Councillor David Hopkins, whose cabinet portfolio covers economic development and enterprise, including ICT and broadband. David began his talk by stating that this is the dawning of the new era of the Smart City. Hopkins’ self-confessed advert for Milton Keynes was followed by his view of the new IT manager is a catchy eight P’s: Political Priorities, People, Property, Procurement, Practices, Productivity and Partnerships. 

The vision and ambition for Milton Keynes are all about thinking and planning for a better future. This means a smart economy, smart living, smart governance and smart ethos. David said that he thinks the smart city is the next big political movement and it will require re-engineered local authorities.

The afternoon’s proceedings kicked off with Jamie Kirk, online knowledge officer at LGA and winner of the Graham Williamson Challenge this year. Jamie travelled to the US this year to discover how smartphones and apps are being used in the US for public service delivery. His assertion is the future is mobile and the future will come very soon.

A lively presentation pointed out a number of mobile trends, such as the fact that there are more mobiles in the world now than there are toothbrushes. Jamie travelled the US and collected evidence of public service mobile innovation across the country, such as QR codes on refuse lorries and pot hole detectors linked to local highways agencies. Even wallets that become harder to open the more money you spend.

Jamie gave examples of US-based mobile innovations, such as YouTown, an all in one app for local government, and mobile apps for New York’s legislative process. The reason, Jamie believes, that mobile holds such great potential is that it bridges the digital divide. For many people, smartphones are their only way of accessing the internet, and therefore digital services.

In the final talk of Socitm 2011, Dr Mark Thompson, ICT Futures Advisor to the Cabinet Office, gave a passionate speech about how government IT will never be the same again. He underlined his belief in cloud technology by saying he “believes very deeply in open source and open standards” and likened the sea-change government IT as a standards war – “a Betamax government compared to a VHS government”.

Thank you for following Microsoft's daily coverage of SOCITM 2011. Once we have digested all of the content further reflections may follow in future posts to this blog.

Posted by Drew & Howard