by Julian Goldsmith

No more public v private sector mindset

Jan 15, 20123 mins
IT Leadership

It’s no secret that public sector IT is under a huge amount of pressure at the moment to create opportunities for cutting costs. Some of the deliverables that some public sector IT departments are expected to achieve amount to nothing more than a complete reinvention of their purpose and strategy.

The scale of the efficiencies that they are expected to meet have brought them out of the dusty basement and placed them at the centre of a push to make public services more accessible and transparent, as well as cheaper.

Speaking with London Borough of Newham Council’s IT boss Geoff Connell, it’s clear how much his remit is bound with the borough’s attempt to reinvent itself as an enterprise zone, hoping for benefits similar to those gained by west London and the M4 corridor.

The efforts going on to turn the borough into a destination for new businesses are detailed in a profile of him on CIO UK, but the interesting point here is how the council’s collaborations with corporates and big IT suppliers, to create the environment for jobs and wealth to grow and stay in the borough might affect the culture within Connell’s IT department.

Connell is heading up a large-scale shared services initiative between possibly five councils, creating a coherent strategy across the region, at least in terms of supporting infrastructure. Large IT suppliers are laying in a super-fast broadband network for both public sector and private sector companies to use in the area.

Another conversation with the newly appointed public sector specialist at Ovum, Joe Dignan, who says that the next big thing in public sector tech is the concept of smarter cities, where what today are separate systems, are integrated so that services have a better understanding of the people they are there to serve and economies of scale can cut cost and waste.

Private sector organisations can also benefit from smoother traffic systems and better communications infrastructure.

Dignan told me the chances of a new smarter city being planned from the ground up, were good in the far east, but were remote in northern Europe. What is more likely is that smarter city zones within existing cities would be created as large-scale redevelopment occurs.

What Connell has built up is the foundation for a smarter city initiative, on which can be built next-generation public and private services that work together in harmony to make the area a more comfortable, cheaper and more sustainable place to live.

Connell is supremely placed to develop some sophisticated services when the borough becomes a traffic hotspot, both on the roads and online, during the 2012 Olympics.

The trend for smarter city projects will ultimately affect the way public sector workers (and this likely to count double for IT staff) collaborate with corporate counterparts in the area to deliver sophisticated public services. Procurement processes are likely to change to reflect that collaboration.

More than anything else though, it is likely to demand a change in mindset on both sides. Where previously public and private sector people have had little to do with each other, in the future, they may have to work closely together for a common aim. CIOs need to be aware of this possibility and focus on how their organisational cultures are going to be able to adapt to this.