by Jerry Fishenden

Celebrating the hidden champions of better public services in the CIO 100

May 04, 2016
IT Leadership

What a classic annual event the CIO 100 has become – artfully combining George Gilbert Scott’s dazzling Gothic revival St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel with the celebration of this year’s leading business technology leaders. The formal business of the evening was provided by a series of focused panel discussions, leaving time for the informal, and best, part – conversations between those undertaking the hard graft of transformation.

A common leitmotif running through many of these conversations was the pressing need to improve our public services – at our GPs, schools, airports, libraries, council offices, homes. The majority of frontline services involve personal interactions, from the mundane to the life-changing. The current move to digitise government aims to rethink, redesign and radically overhaul the policies, information, processes and organisations that sit behind these most human of interactions.

Yet the hard task of reform has been overshadowed by the obsession since 1994 of developing a flagship government Website, a contrived curate’s egg of multiple organisations’ information and transactional processes – regardless of how few of our daily experience of public services will ever be reduced to an online form. It’s a seemingly incurable hangover from the 1990s, when government decided to tailgate commercial portals such as AOL and CompuServe, bringing together “information all in one place”. Well, we know what happened to them.

Regardless of how many times over the past 22 years this poster child Website has trumpeted its latest branding, colours and logo, it’s failed to deliver meaningful change. It’s become an unwitting accomplice of those who resist and undermine public sector reform, sucking hundreds of millions of pounds out of our public services in the process.

Thankfully, time is finally being called on this web-centric process of tortoise-pace evolution. A fundamental reset is emerging based on citizen-driven public service design and a move to data-driven services – a world where government websites can even be eradicated in the same way that in the 1990s Websites started to eliminate paper.

This reset is a world away from applying new shades of lipstick to the “one Website to rule them all”, or damaging proposals to spray bucket loads of our most sensitive personal data across the broken silos of our public sector in the hope that somehow it will magically make things better (when in reality it will create yet another fertile breeding swamp for fraud and misery).

It’s important that we celebrate colleagues engaged in this challenge, attempting to re-design the way services and the organisations behind them operate. And what a challenge it often is to put citizens and their services first, butting up against the vested interests of the status quo and in particular out of touch management attitudes and rituals rooted in a pre-digital era.

The CIO 100 is an important opportunity to share and learn from the first-hand experiences of those tackling the truly complex, time-consuming and hard graft of reform. It’s these transformational leaders who are quietly guiding us away from Website evolution towards digital revolution – designing, nurturing and growing the next generation of public sector services. The CIO 100 provides these often hidden champions with a well-deserved moment of respect, recognition and encouragement.