I was struck by this blogpost from @ThinkingPurpose recently: http://thinkpurpose.com/2013/08/01/goodbye-ict-youre-already-dead/. It’s a cri de coeur describing how it feels when the ICT tools you’re provided with at work seem to be designed to stop you being productive. I suspect that this is a sentiment that more than a few other people would echo too…
This got me thinking about whether it might be time to replace the traditional ‘ICT strategy’ with a manifesto. Something which speaks about what the ICT team are for, rather than the traditional statement describing the technologies we want to use. And something which makes clear the relationship between ICT and our users in achieving our common goals.
As in many businesses, the astonishing pace of change in technology gives those of us who work in local government ICT a real opportunity to help our services meet the major challenges presented by unprecedented budget cuts. If we use technology well we can free up our people to spend more time doing work which matters, and start to use our information resources more effectively — helping to plug some of the gap left by the cash resources which we are losing. The potential extends further too, into digital services and using open data to help change the relationships between councils are the communities we serve.
However, this pace of change in technology presents a significant challenge for ICT teams. Traditionally business ICT functions (not just those in the public sector) have been heavily focused on providing reliable, locked down and standardised technology models which are not necessarily well adapted to a business environment where services are changing radically to respond to major financial challenges, and new user devices and ‘apps’ are springing up at an incredible rate. We need to learn to adapt to this.
We also need to build a mature relationship with our colleagues. One where we effectively share the responsibility for using information well and keeping it safe. It’s really important that the ICT team don’t fall into the trap of becoming the internal police, telling our users what they can and cannot do (the “computer says no” approach). As I’ve blogged before (https://bytherye.com/2013/11/09/keeping-our-information-safe-using-it-well/), keeping information safe takes more than technical controls, and this fascinating graph from the Information Commissioner’s Office (http://www.ico.org.uk/enforcement/trends) shows that by far the biggest cause of data breaches is human error — often because of poor use of case records. Technical controls are vital (especially to protect our systems from outside threats), but it’s perfectly possible to achieve an appropriate balance of security and flexibility without increasing the risks for the information which we’re responsible for. In fact I’d argue that greater flexibility can actually increase security — have you ever tried to remotely wipe paper documents which have been misplaced?
Creating an environment where ICT can support real business change is key to getting the most benefit from the opportunities that technology offers. Successfully harnessing this potential depends on an effective partnership between ICT and frontline teams. By working together, sharing responsibility, and providing tools which are risk managed not stuck in a model which is 10 years out of date ICT teams have a real opportunity to be seen as part of the core business, not a ‘back room’ function. That sounds like a good place to be!