Weeknote w/c 13 May: money, money, money

My main area of focus this week was the finance review that we’ve been planning. I was pleased that our preparation helped us use the time we’d set aside really productively.

Finance review

I’ve mentioned in previous notes that we’d identified the need to do a deep dive into our finances. Changes in our team and the finance team have meant that there are a number of aspects of our budget management which aren’t as clear and well understood as they need to be. Getting this right will be critical to living within our means and getting best value from the money that we’re responsible for.

I think that the most important part of this was setting aside a decent amount of time for the work, clearing our diaries for two full days so that we could concentrate and minimise distractions. It was also really helpful to have Cate facilitating the work. I think our colleague from finance was a little surprised to find us unpicking budgets using Post-It notes, Sharpies and large sheets of brown paper, but it was a really useful way to bring out the key priorities that need to be worked on and helped us avoid getting lost in the rows and columns of spreadsheets.

The work helped us identify a number of things that we will do so that we can be confident in our financial position. These include:

  • A number of immediate actions such as tidying up cost codes and approver information, realigning some of our budgets so that money is in the correct place and making sure that we are clear about recharges to avoid faff at the end of the year.
  • Work to address key areas of financial pressure that we have identified, including the savings we are committed to delivering this year. This links to our investment planning and it’s important that we align those so that we know we’re investing in the right things.
  • Things we can do to make sure that our financial monitoring through the year is giving us an accurate picture of the forecast outturn at year end – in particular managing recharges effectively and tracking the delivery of the projects that will help us reduce cost pressures (eg our web platform changes which we expect to deliver savings).
  • There are also some areas where we will be doing more detailed follow up work to identify ways that we can make sure that our service is financially sustainable in the longer term. This includes planning for future skills needs and looking at how we can drive forward our end-user computing strategy to reduce the costs of expensive legacy technologies.

Cate and I will talk through this in more detail at the HackIT strategy stand up on Thurs 30 May.

Our challenge now will be to make sure that we don’t lose focus on the follow up actions that we identified. I’m confident that most of them can be completed quickly, and there are also a few which we’re planning to build into the agenda for our DMT away day on 12 June so that we get those done while it’s still early in the financial year.

Working in partnership

One of the most important aspects of our work is developing effective partnerships with colleagues in other services, working together to meet our users’ needs and expectations. You might have heard me saying that we shouldn’t use terms like ‘the business’ when we’re referring to colleagues in other services and I decided to dust down a half written draft blog post to explain in a bit more detail why I think that this and other aspects of how we interact with our colleagues are important. You can find that here: https://bytherye.com/2019/05/21/lets-talk-about-tech-getting-it-and-digital-out-of-the-basement/.

Other highlights from last week were:

  • A great conversation with another Director who really got the potential for the work we’re doing to refresh end-user devices as an opportunity to rethink the way that their teams work.
  • Working with Cate to look through the findings from the survey that we carried out recently to get people’s feedback about the ideas we’re developing for future provision of mobile phones. We got nearly 600 responses, which was great! The feedback has helped to clarify the things we’ll need to consider as part of a final recommendation to Hackney Management Team, and we’re hoping to firm that up over the next few weeks. (I also discovered that WhatsApp Business let’s users send and receive WhatsApp messages using a work number, even on their personal phones – very neat! https://www.whatsapp.com/business/)
  • We saw some great examples of the benefits of working in the open. Sharing in this way is hugely positive – partly because we can help the wider local government sector to deliver better services for citizens across the country by sharing our work, and also because the feedback we receive can help us improve services for Hackney’s residents. The examples this week included:
    • a brilliant response to Soraya’s blog post on using GOV.UK Notify (https://blogs.hackney.gov.uk/hackit/gov-uk-notify-in-action), which got a lot of interest from colleagues at other councils
    • an interesting discussion with colleagues from the Scottish government’s cyber team, who visited us as a follow up to a presentation that Keith gave about our ‘web first’ approach to access and security
    • and a very positive set of responses to Amy and Tom’s sharing of the guidance that’s been developed to help users with using G Suite to collaborate internally and with external partners
  • I also had some very useful discussions with Matthew looking at how we might support the Member customer services board that is being set up, and with Lucy looking at the recommendations for moving forward with the Directory of Services work that we’ve been doing.

Something I’m learning

There are some times when I find myself in meetings because I feel that I ‘ought’ to be there but where the value of the time isn’t obvious to me. I need to think harder about how I make sure that I find the value where it’s there or prune my allocation of time to make sure that I’m getting the most out of each day.