by Mark Chillingworth

Interview: Staffordshire County Council CIO connects services

Jun 26, 20147 mins
Cloud ComputingGovernmentIT Strategy

It is a testament to any CIO that their focus on business change and connecting up information and services sees their remit expand. So it is with Sander Kristel, CIO of Staffordshire County Council.

The Dutch-born CIO – who will be speaking at the September CIO Summit – has never shied away from the thorny issue that the public sector, at a local level, is responsible for a wide range of necessary services and the average citizen has no idea which level of local authority is responsible for what service.

His focus, and that too of Staffordshire County Council, is that it’s not for citizens to understand levels of responsibility; and that the public sector must take and share responsibility by guiding residents to the service they need. To do this requires a joined-up strategy and information sharing. Since this title profiled Kristel in early 2012, the CIO has remained focused on simplification and information access, while balancing the ever-present need for the public sector to reduce costs.

‘Single customer view’ is a term widely used in retail, travel and financial services, but Kristel believes the strategy is perfectly suited for streamlining local services. He describes how residents may call the police over a missing or stolen wheelie bin, rather than telling the resident they’ve called the wrong public service, using the information management developed by Staffordshire which makes use of a new CRM implementation, the police can instantly connect the citizen with someone who can help them get a new bin.

“The public don’t understand who does what and why should they?” Kristel points out there are caveats to the level of information sharing across the counties single customer view of its citizens to ensure privacy is protected. “But general information should be shared.”

Staffordshire now has a CRM platform that is shared across the majority of local authorities and services in the county. “A common platform across the county is the next step. Sharing of systems and information is crucial to efficient provision of services, reducing the confusion with the public on who delivers what services and the safeguarding of vulnerable (young) people. The implementation of these systems is supporting the total transformation of the organisation to becoming a commissioning organisation, which has already seen 5,500 staff move from the council into other organisations,” Kristel says.

Since we last spoke, Staffordshire has retained its savings target of £100 million. “It’s very challenging and we have been successful in Staffordshire to remain innovative, but at some point the elastic band snaps,” he says of the pressure to deliver a wide range of services on a ever decreasing budget. “Up to now we have been able to keep services open, but there is only so much stretch available.”

Kristel mentions innovations, and his organisation has been one of the pioneering authorities in the use of mobile apps and integrated web services. Examples include Me, Myself and I, which uses gamification principles to enable citizens to discover what services are available that will help them lead an independent life. There are also web services for care (Purple Pages), and Patchwork. “You answer questions about yourself and then you get the URLs of what services suit you and you require. People just don’t get where they can get help from as the public sector provides such a wide variety of services. As a CIO, we must consider how do we get to people if we don’t provide the right information.

“Patchwork is a FutureGov social investment that was in reaction to the Baby P tragedy,” the CIO says of the secure app that promotes communication and collaboration between those with families. With the Baby P inquest revealing a lack of information sharing and social carers not having the very latest information available to them.

“It is a really powerful contact list and information resource that enables users to invite fellow professionals into the Patchwork network and we have over 60 different organisations in Staffordshire that have signed the data sharing agreement.

The focus in social apps has also extended to launching a casserole club to promote the idea of sharing your meals with those less fortunate in society. Staffordshire have used broker principals in the app such as seen in eBay.

Technology strategy

“Technology has a role to broker and engage with communities. I think as CIOs, we have to take some responsibility for social care as the amount of data that we share is still not high enough. In the end it is not the fault of the organisation; however, if we can share information, we can make the environment of care a better place. We cannot hide behind, or be hampered by politics, legislation or technology,” he says with real passion.

“Open standards means we don’t have to build shared systems, which means we can break down barriers. With community engagement, I really think technology can really play a role.”

Towards information sharing, Staffordshire has progressively created strong working relationships with nearby local government agencies, and Staffordshire supplies the Public Service Network into its schools, health organisations, fire service and the state schools in nearby Wolverhampton.

But local government needs to keep innovating and reducing its costs, which has led Kristel and Staffordshire to form joint ventures with the private sector. Entrust is one such project with Capita, with the business and public sector outsourcing specialist now responsible for catering, cleaning, teacher training and parts of the IT in Staffordshire schools through Entrust, a £1.7 billion contract between both organisations.

“We own 49% of the company and it has been delivering good results,” the CIO reveals. Kristel explains large levels of social services are also being looked after by Entrust.

“I was the commercial lead and troubleshooter on the development of Entrust, which launched on April 1. This business provides end-to-end services and is now available to all education establishments in the UK – services include school improvement, special educational needs advisory, catering and facilities management. With different organisations needing access to our data, then the cloud makes a lot of sense.”

Cloud computing

Two years ago, Kristel couldn’t make the cloud add up in the public sector, but the changes and cuts of late have changed the necessity. “The majority of our estate is now run on our private cloud solution. A small percentage, including the CRM systems, which is shared between most councils in Staffordshire, is run on secure off-premises cloud,” he says.

Staffordshire County Councilis reviewing all of its processes at present to discover further efficiencies. Not only is it looking to improve the operations of its own business, but in recent years the authority has worked closely with the business world to make decisions rapidly, and in doing so make Staffordshire a good county to do business in. This has resulted in the county winning business location opportunities with Amazon and Jaguar Land Rover. Working with South Staffordshire borough council and Wolverhampton, the three authorities built a new junction on the M54 motorway, which benefits business and therefore secures jobs.

“I lead on the council’s localities programme which looks at the impact of decisions on local communities, community engagement, building capacity in communities and the voluntary sector and where services are most effectively commissioned,” he says.

Staffordshire has recently adopted the Cisco Private Cloud environment in a project Kristel talks of with great pride, because as CIO he had little to do with the project and he’s proud of the achievements of his team to deliver the project. “Usually a data centre renewal project requires a lot of hand holding.

“We are now also talking to our partners about offering this environment as a virtual data centre. We already host the disaster recovery for Wolverhampton,” he says. The CIO is now exploiting how best to use software as a service and cloud based business processes as he sees business benefits from these to the organisation. “They prevent a lot of politics, but of course there are discussions and concerns about security.”

Kristel hasn’t used as many of the G-Cloud offerings as he’d like, but supports its principals.

“In local authorities we are hampered by the length of time that it takes to buy stuff, so my first question is ‘can we buy from the G-Cloud.’ Each iteration of the G-Cloud is better.”

Kristel has lost none of his enthusiasm for the challenges of the public sector and the opportunities information and technology offer.