Interview: The CIO of Nottingham, City Council

Evil tax collecting Sheriffs, bands of merry men protecting the poor, outlaws or heroes, Nottingham is, of course, famous for the legend of Robin Hood. Similarly loaded language has been used to describe the public sector for the past 30 years. In cities such as Nottingham, the role of the public sector has had to change because the communities it serves shift and adapt. It’s evolved from market town to the global home of manufacturing clean bicycles, to the home of cigarettes making to today an important conurbation for retailers (Boots HQ), financial services, science and new media. Nottingham is also a top six tourist destination for the UK, thanks to the thievery of Robin Hood.

Mark Gannon is CIO and director of customer access at Nottingham City Council. The city has marked itself out in recent years for its development of infrastructure, in 2011 it was named Transport City of the Year for its extensive tram and bus network, and its two major universities; all of which plays an important role in enticing major businesses such as Capital One, the credit card service, into the city.

“We’ve two world-class universities and this city is also where the MRI scanner and Nurofen were invented,” Gannon says. “New media is growing steadily, too, so we’ve aspirations around digital businesses that have led to the implementation of an ultraband research and development centre. Nottingham has modern aspirations, but still plenty of old-fashioned values. We must have a business culture that takes risks.”

Gannon cites a recently introduced citywide workplace car-parking levy scheme as an example of this approach. “It was a risky decision and, initially, wasn’t very popular. I’m not here to be Mr Popular; you have to do things that are right for the organisation. The tiers of government aren’t sustainable. There will have to be fewer of them as there’s so much duplication of effort. That’s when the value gets missed.”

At present, Nottingham City Council has 7,000 staff and owns significant parts of the city’s public transport network. “Its role is leading the city through service delivery and investment into regeneration. It’s about how we can lead the city to get more bang for its buck. We aren’t London, but we can be at the heart of the UK thanks to our transport links. We see our role as city advocates, so that people who live here will strive for more.”

Gannon’s had to modernise, too. “We had too many IT manager levels, so we’ve shrunk those so I could bring in new roles which work directly with business partners to align with our needs. It’s helped us become the ‘go-to’ department.

“I want my team to be out with the organisation 60 percent of the time, and I also want them to be advocates.

“How do we make IT real for people and be more proactive? I’ve a dedicated communications officer to tell people what the benefits of IT are,” he explains.

“It’s a necessity to work with other organisations. Our relationships are growing with Leicester and Derby City Councils,” he says, explaining that the two cities face similar demands and opportunities as Nottingham.

“It’s tough. There’s no way all these organisations can survive, so I see a move to a single public sector,” Gannon says. Nottingham plans to cut its expenditure by 70 percent over the next three years.

“We’ve done some sharp stuff around getting the volume from vendors and really looked at the clauses in contracts. For the last couple of years, every area of the organisation has had to cut targets, but it’s important to collaborate. So now the approach is to look at what the overall savings will be and what big-ticket saves will really change the organisation. There will be no growth in IT, but there will be investment in retooling and reducing complexity,” he explains.

1 2 Page 1
Page 1 of 2
Security vs. innovation: IT's trickiest balancing act