It is not often that a CIO working in Local Government circles gets the chance to look beyond the short term objective of avoiding crashing over the parapet of budget constraints. It is even stranger to hear one talk in positive terms about not only having a long term strategy beyond that parapet, but also working on its implementation.
But in meeting up with Bob Brown at the Nutanix conference in London at the back end of last year, one such person emerged. Brown is the CIO of Manchester City Council, and is in the enviable position of being beyond simply maintaining the status quo in terms of service delivery. He is it thinking in terms of extending services with the use of wearable, IoT-based technologies to provide ever greater protection and service to an important client base: the most vulnerable across the Manchester community.
In addition, he is able to contemplate such plans without also contemplating a swift ram-raid on the Council coffers.
“Over the last three years the IT team function has continued to deliver annual savings to our organisation, savings to be used anywhere else, and it will continue to do that. We take huge pride in ensuring our IT services are not putting financial pressure on other vital parts of the organisation.”
But cost reduction is only part of his plan, though he acknowledges that it has been helped by the Council’s relationship with Nutanix in delivering both service transformation and IT’s contribution to the Council’s carbon footprint. This includes lower power consumption, with financial savings as a result, and reductions in a large, real, footprint it now no longer needs – a massive room to be able to house the IT resources. His goal is that the user base never experiences any system issues. Even if they actually happen, the plan is that they don’t escape from the IT team.
Beyond the budgetary and system resources goals, one of his major targets will be in extending and improving services for the community’s sick, disabled and others on beneficial support of one kind or another. In particular he sees new opportunities for working more collaboratively with the health care service providers.
Exploiting assisted living tech
“We are very much trying to provide differentiated healthcare services across Manchester. A huge excitement for me is to consider how assisted living technology is able to help transition people from a clinical environment to living safely in their own home or some form of residential care support. We are working on the technology to be able to provide monitoring and make it possible for us to use early interventions without the need for clients to go back into that clinical environment.”
Brown feels that using such technology will be a big game changer in terms addressing many of the service shortfalls that exist, such as insufficient medical staff. He sees it as a tool to help the available doctors and nurses see the right people at the right time. In addition, he sees the possibility of using the development to help other local authorities in the Greater Manchester area as part of the changes occurring there, especially following the election of the area’s first single Metro Mayor
“That is not to say we are going to sell it as a service. At the end of the day we are public servants, we are trying to do something positive for communities, but if we can provide a service that our residents can see a great benefit from then why shouldn’t we look to share that knowledge”?
Brown also sees low staffing levels and skills shortages as major challenges in the public sector and an area where Manchester Council and its proximity to a bouyant digital economy that attracts `big brand’ businesses can help others.
And yes, there will be AI and ML
To that extent he sees artificial intelligence and machine learning as integral parts of his future strategy, though he keen to stress that they will not be used to replace people. Instead, he wants people to grow into more significant roles in the time they have available. For example, they have implemented a service that allows them to launch a portal for people to access services directly, online, allowing people to self-serve for a whole host of services and information. He expects to introduce more of that going forward.
“We know we’ve got roughly 50% of their interactions with the Council going through an automated channel, but a portion of interactions are still manual. In the future we are looking to create a very different experience for residents.”
He also sees AI playing a significant role in healthcare monitoring, especially in the area of monitoring patients when they are discharged and go home.
The IT capabilities of Manchester Council make it possible to address and fundamentally change the way that services are provided so that they become available 24/7. He stated that 98% of the Council’s service are now available to that standard, which is making a significant difference for the people who use its services.
Many of them are amongst the most vulnerable people in the city, such as children, families using care support, and foster carers.
Brown is keen to keep the pace of development high, and admitted to sometimes feeling that it drops to walking pace because of the confines and restraints that are an inevitable part of the funding challenges faced by the public sector.
“I could probably have an IT team of a thousand people, but the fact that we have two hundred is somewhat constrained by our ability to deliver a massive amount of change in a certain time. In our case we have to make sure we bring everyone with us on a journey. That is a different debate altogether. It’s about strategy, it’s about where you want to be five years from now, it’s about making technology decisions that are fundamentally going to give you the ability to service your customers/residents in a way that is aligned to our overall strategy.”
One factor that has helped is the way the move to Nutanix speeded up the infrastructure transition process. His team started the process in the middle of last year and plans to have it all done by just about now, and as the staff level of 200 suggests, it is a large IT estate. Indeed, his team does not include a large applications development crew. He looks to procure applications from the marketplace, and the re-engineering that does occur is only associated with its technology roadmaps, which in turn are mainly associated with ensuring easy migration of applications into its infrastructure.