Government Fast Streamer
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing
Joel is on the government Fast Steam service and so is currently spending six-month placements at various government departments. He spent his last six months at the Centre, focusing primarily on the role of ‘digital’. For his last hurrah, Joel spoke to five different local places to understand more about their digital transformation journeys with the aim of being able to share their experiences to help others in a similar situation. There will be a blog published every day this week so keep reading to find out more.
My visit to Enfield Council was an eye-opener in many respects. In 2015/16, they embarked on an initiative to revamp their backend architecture and rewrite all internal systems – a mammoth task which involved a huge team producing a large number of transactions over a short time period. To illustrate, Steve Durbin, Enfield’s ICT capital programme and security consultant, saw the council as: “150 businesses under one roof, happening to share a chief executive.” They had a successful launch of their new website, and relaunched it more recently to attract even more sign-ups to their ‘Single Sign-On’ online accounts.
Steve laid out some of the challenges they had faced along the way. The first important insight was they “burnt the corners of the Agile Manifesto a few times” – something completely understandable in a public organisation that still has to produce risk registers to ensure taxpayer money is not thrown away on avoidable mistakes (indeed I have yet to come across any team in government that uses pure Agile methodology). The main challenge he found Agile posed was that it can de-prioritise ‘non-functional requirements’. Things you would think are quite important can get moved to the back of the queue and you have to fight to get them back to the fore.
A second crucial insight Steve shared was that the mix of backgrounds among local government employees is not always representative of the society they serve, and so some wrong assumptions are inevitably made both on internal and external users. Enfield faced significant challenges at the implementation stage too: getting the right information to the right place and people was difficult at the best of times, and they had to have data sharing agreements in place – which meant people had to accept the handling of such data. An additional problem was the person-dependent nature of information sharing agreements. When someone goes, sometimes so does the agreement or the knowledge of the agreement. This is perhaps where a whole-organisational culture of information sharing would come in – something we as a Centre specialise in facilitating.
While Enfield’s preparations for the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) were evidently underway, they had concerns which were emblematic of areas where local places need further guidance. The first area was consent, and how granular this needed to be. Would the user like to be faced with a long list of checkboxes for possible purposes for use of their data? On another front, while they have plans to use analytics to better deal with complex social problems such as domestic abuse, they wondered whether the GDPR’s stipulations on automatic processing of personal information would put a spike in such projects. Indeed, they wondered whether even housing benefit decision letters, which can number in the thousands, would each need to be reviewed before being sent out to their intended recipients. Likewise, there were questions around the nature of the Data Protection Officer – specifically around the issue of their degree of independence from the organisation whose information governance they are overseeing.
To try and bring these concerns to the fore, at the Centre we are currently in discussions with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) so they are aware of the need for guidance. The Centre is best placed as a neutral partner between local and national levels to ensure there is good communication between both in the run-up to the new regulatory regime coming into force in May.
To read more from Joel’s week of digital transformation blogs, visit our main blogs page.