Hello and welcome to my new-look blog. Regular readers will notice a new name and a fresh focus for this and future blogposts. Never fear – while I’ll still be musing on issues relating to my role as Chief Executive, you’ll also find me dedicating many more column inches to showcasing the services Colchester Borough Council provides, as well as the work of the remarkable and dedicated staff who deliver those services on behalf of residents and customers. So expect my new blog to convey more of an ‘unplugged’ feel from now on – and look out too for the occasional guest spot where a colleague steps in with a behind-the-scenes look at their typical working day.
Niceties out of the way, I’d like to kick off the new blog not with a ‘day in the life’ story as such, but by talking about something which is set to revolutionise the working day of all Council staff – yours truly included. It’s a strategy we’re calling the Digital Challenge, and it is set to transform the way the Council uses information and communications technology over the coming years.
While mulling over what to write for this blogpost, the thought crossed my mind about just how rapidly the progress in digital technology has transformed our everyday lives. It took the help of Google (born 1998) to be reminded when the ubiquitous smartphone first appeared, because it seems smartphones have been around… well… forever. Believe it or not, the first iPhone hit the shelves a mere nine years ago! The first tablet device, in April 2010! It’s hard to think of a time when these gadgets didn’t exist and most of us hadn’t developed some degree of dependency upon them.
The pace of change has been quite simply astonishing. Which somewhat goes to the heart of why I believe our Digital Challenge is tremendously important and necessary. In large part, it’s about recognising that change is here to stay and that we need to mobilise for that change with the best digital tools available to continue to deliver quality services as efficiently and effectively as we can.
So how are we planning to achieve this? You may remember my Brave New Digital World blogpost last December, in which I talked about the ways we’re pushing ahead with our ICT Strategy using internet-based solutions to improve our customer experience – including encouraging residents to create an online account to pay bills and self-serve in a host of other ways – and how this has already generated savings of more than £300,000. Well, the Digital Challenge represents a further leap forward that will transform the digital tools staff have at their disposal, delivering unprecedented levels of autonomy to share information in The Cloud, an internet-based computer network. No umbrellas required!
I guess if I had to pick one word to describe what the Digital Challenge will deliver, I’d have to say ‘flexibility’…
Imagine having access to digital technology in the workplace that not only matches but in some cases exceeds the power and versatility of the technology you’re using at home. Imagine this technology supplanting old legacy IT systems – those rooted firmly in the office workplace – with new digital platforms that (to borrow an advertising slogan from Martini) enables you to work any time, any place, anywhere in The Cloud via an array of desktop and mobile devices.
I’m talking about a system flexible enough to offer Operational staff the same freedom to share information, collaborate with colleagues and engage with residents and customers as office-based staff. So, for example, whether someone works in Leisure World or is a Zone Warden engaging with residents on the streets, a Planning Enforcement or Environmental Health officer visiting locations and premises throughout the Borough, or a Waste and Recycling operative helping to keep our streets clean, the Digital Challenge will provide them all with the same means and opportunities to work remotely and stay connected through The Cloud. Indoors or outdoors, it won’t matter which device brand or type they use – be it Apple or Android, laptop, phone or tablet – because the beauty of cloud-based technology is that it is ‘device agnostic’, as the digital literati like to say.
Ultimately, in time, the Digital Challenge will equip Council staff with the means to share information and collaborate across the organisation – both with each other and with customers – in ways that are smarter, not harder, and which make the most of the time and resources they have at their disposal.
The advantages do not end there, by any means: they’ll be little if any need to use paper, for one; and then there’s the guarantee of gold-standard security, since all of the data and information we generate will be stored remotely in The Cloud, not locally. The capacity and ease with which the technology is able to keep pace with the latest digital advances will also enable us to side-step the need to upgrade and replace outdated office-based systems every few years at considerable expense and disruption to the organisation – because the system and applications we’ve chosen will always be current, by default, as developers continue to refine and update their functionality remotely, within The Cloud.
These, then, are some of the key objectives and benefits that lay at the heart of our Digital Challenge, which together represent a paradigm shift in the way our staff will deliver the Council’s services well into the future.
That shift has already begun, in fact: trials of Microsoft Office 365, the cloud-based platform we’ve chosen to spearhead the Digital Challenge, continue to roll out ahead of full implementation in two years’ time. Yes, we’re going to need that much time to transition fully to a cloud-based way of working, because we have to be absolutely certain that when the switch-over happens the new system delivers everything we want it to with the maximum of flexibility. And also because our most important asset, our staff, will also need some time to attain the necessary skills to work with a brand-new digital toolkit.
I guess the logic and pace is akin to the measured approach Abraham Lincoln took to arboriculture: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree,” he said, “and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” The Digital Challenge is a huge step forward and we need to get it right first time.
I’m really excited by the changes we’ve planned and how, by working with our heads in The Cloud, we will be able to deliver our services in much smarter ways in the future.