By Mark Chillingworth, Contributing Writer, SAPinsider
If you have a problem, map it out and look for the blocks,” says Mark Davies, Head of ICT at Nottinghamshire County Council in the United Kingdom (UK). Nottinghamshire is world-famous as the home of outlaw Robin Hood who, it is said, robbed the rich in Sherwood Forest in the county and gave to the poor. In the dark ages, it took an outlaw to see corruption at the highest levels and challenge it for the sake of the local community. Today the threat to the community of Nottinghamshire is COVID-19. Local government plays a vital community role at all times, but especially in times like the pandemic. To meet its citizens’ needs, which are being reshaped by technology, local governments are reassessing their technology operations.
County councils provide services in education, social care, building and town planning, libraries, and waste collection, among many other services. In Nottinghamshire, over 700,000 citizens rely on these services, making local government comparable to a large organization in terms of staffing which, in the case of Nottinghamshire, includes 6,000 employees.
In response to the changing nature of society in the digital age, Nottinghamshire County Council embarked on an organizational redesign to improve the services and efficiency of its council. As with any organization in a vertical market, Nottinghamshire needed to reduce silos and ensure it operated in a more cohesive way, and in doing so, utilize the latest technologies and working methods to achieve its remit.
“My role is to try to use information and communications technology (ICT) to help the organization change,” Davies says. “Digital for an organization like this is a mindset and a methodology. It requires looking at things differently, and for me, it is about whether you have a joined-up approach.”
As the organization changes, so too must the operational makeup of technology, which led to Davies joining Nottinghamshire County Council in January 2020. “Nottinghamshire had done some restructuring at the top tier of the organization, and my role is to bring ICT together under one leader with a new target operating model (TOM),” he says. “My first port of call was to understand how the team worked, document that, and see if the way they worked still made sense for the needs of the organization.”
Mark Davies, Head of ICT, Nottinghamshire County Council
According to Davies, “a good team with a good culture will get anything done” when it comes to delivering what the organization needs. Davies introduced a new TOM and a new structure consisting of three elements:
- Core: Responsible for technology delivery;
- Customer: Responsible for the service desk; and
- Control: Responsible for ensuring that governance is in place.
As part of this structure, Nottinghamshire County Council has introduced DevOps and Agile methods with staff members being trained in areas such as product ownership. “We are therefore permeating the agile methodology into more projects,” Davies says.
The restructuring of the technology team led to full-time employees dropping from 170 to 149, but Davies says it is more important for business technology leaders to know the capacity of their team and to not be overly focused on the number of people in the business unit. “These people are really very good; they enjoy being public servants and that is their motivation,” he says with pride and appreciation for the Nottinghamshire County Council team’s capabilities. Davies adds that many in the technology team have the skills large corporations — which the city of Nottingham is home to a number of — are keen to hire.
Local authorities collect taxation (but not in the threatening way of the Sheriff of Nottingham of Robin Hood legend); manage a host of physical assets; pay for and deliver key services in care, education, and utilities; as well as provide employment and local funding. As a result, the finance system of a local authority is an essential piece of the local government infrastructure. In 2011 Nottinghamshire County Council selected SAP as the core platform for finance management across the council. In 2017 the authority selected third-party provider Rimini Street to provide maintenance and support to the SAP platform. Davies says the deal with Rimini Street delivered savings in the service level agreement (SLA) provision to the authority.
Nottinghamshire County Council also decided not to move SAP onto the Microsoft Azure cloud hosting service as part of a data center upgrade that took place recently in partnership with CGI. With changes expected to take place in the coming years in the way the county of Nottinghamshire is governed, the senior leadership team had to make a decision about whether to continue to sweat the existing SAP technology or carry out an upgrade and hope it worked for any changes in the structure of the council.
“As a county council, you buy something that you know will work,” says Davies of the security local government bodies gain from tried and tested technologies.
The UK is not alone in modernizing the way local governments operate, and the impact of the global pandemic will place increased pressure on local authorities across the world to achieve operational savings so they can deliver more to their citizens. As a result, local government CIOs and major technology providers will be challenged to ensure the applications and services selected and implemented are adaptable to meet the new and sometimes demanding needs of local government. Davies has worked for a number of local government bodies during his career and says many government organizations don’t use all the functionality a platform like SAP offers, possibly leading to the full value of a tool not being realized.
Coping with and Beyond COVID-19
Technology teams in all organizations were challenged and proved their worth during the global pandemic. Davies, who had only just joined Nottinghamshire, says the technology team experienced some network challenges during the first week of the national lockdown in the UK. “We hadn’t rolled out Microsoft Teams fully and even a week before I said let’s just roll it out, but we did not. Then the pandemic came, and in five days Teams was rolled out, and nobody needed any training.” Davies’ story is a common one from the pandemic as workforces rapidly adapted to new technologies at their homes in order to deliver their workloads.
A year on, Nottinghamshire County Council and Davies are planning for how the organization will work together beyond the pandemic — and again, technology will play a major role. Davies says remote working has been a success, and like many of his business technology leadership peers, he expects an element of remote working to remain in place at Nottinghamshire. “The challenge is how do you get the same experience as we had before,” he says. The council chamber is potentially going to be wired for cameras so that it too can accommodate remote collaboration when the chamber is in session. “I think there will be a desire for mixed-mode meetings,” Davies says. As well as guaranteeing that the infrastructure is in place to ensure council workers and councillors can work on-site or remotely, Davies and his team are looking to the future and increasing the access to data to drive decision making.
“I have always believed that data holds the answer; any solution without data is just an opinion.”