Peterborough spends on IT to save money elsewhere

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright October 20, 2014
Summary:
English city council plans savings with radical plan to replace sclerotic, legacy apps by flexible digital alternatives based on Salesforce's cloud platform

Peterborough Cathedral
Local government is seen as very conservative in its approach to IT, with most authorities content to follow established practice rather than strike out on their own. But Peterborough City Council's finances leave it with no choice but to be bold, believes Richard Godfrey, ICT strategy, infrastructure and programme manager for the East of England cathedral city.

There's a culture in local government of, 'Who else is doing it?'

We're facing a £24 million [$38.5m] budget deficit next year. We don't now have a choice to not be a leader in what we do.

Godfrey is the author of a far-reaching, five-year ICT strategy which was signed off by the Council's leaders last month. It proposes a shift from the current IT estate of stovepiped, specialist applications to a more agile, cloud-first ICT infrastructure centered on Salesforce and Box.

Enabling frontline savings

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Richard Godfrey

Rather than saving money within the IT budget, the focus is on enabling savings in the Council's big-spending frontline activities such as social care and services to residents. Godfrey explains:

To save 10 percent of the adult social care budget is much bigger than saving 10 percent of my budget. Let's use the IT budget wisely and drive bigger savings in the main departments.

We've been this back-office, downstairs-in-the-basement function. With the challenges we face at the moment, we've got to be giving tools to the people at the front end.

The aim is to achieve savings by cutting down paperwork that keeps staff tied to desks instead of out in the field getting things done. The Council's website will also get a makeover to enable members of the public to do more digitally — but without restricting access to those without digital skills.

Godfrey has begun a process of evaluating each of the Council's current applications to see what can be improved by moving to the new platform.

We have a whole host of specialist applications. We're going to look at every single one: what it does and what are the limitations of those systems.

When sitting down with users to discover requirements, Godfrey said they tend to start by describing what the current system does. It's only when pressed that they start to think of functionality that's missing — such as a calendar function in a casework management application. "Then it's like a light goes on," and they start to list other functions. Soon there's a long list and it becomes obvious how limited the current systems are, he said.

I told them, you've just given me a list of a dozen things that our current application doesn't have, that you're telling me are absolutely essential for you to do your jobs. So how have you been managing for the past two years?

Digital forces change

The plan is to deliver all new applications using Salesforce. While some users will be on the Service Cloud application, most will be on custom applications built on the Force.com platform-as-a-service. "If it doesn't do what we need we'll look at Heroku," said Godfrey. Box has already been rolled out to provide document management. Salesforce Chatter will act as the collaboration channel.

Informatica will provide integration of the Salesforce infrastructure into Peterborough's legacy applications and data, while Qlikview will be the main reporting tool.

The Council is also building a new website that will incorporate a FAQ knowledge base from Transversal. Electronic forms will allow Peterborough's residents to complete various interactions digitally.

The document outlining the ICT strategy warns that implementation will force many changes on how Peterborough City Council (PCC) works:

PCC recognises that whilst there are opportunities on offer from adopting this Strategy, its implementation will not always be an easy or comfortable process. Digital technology forces change across all levels of an organisation. For example, PCC will be able to build out new business processes on the platform in a matter of days and weeks rather than the current months and years. Traditionally, PCC Governance process are set to make decisions over an extended period of time, often with a requirement to involve the many of the most senior Members and Officers in the organisation. This will need to be adapted to allow for the speed of change in citizen requirements that is unlocked by the technology.

Godfrey recognises the scale of change and the need to bring people along with the strategy as it rolls out:

There's a lot of communication has to happen about why we're doing it, when we're doing it and how we're doing it.

Verdict

Many in the private sector will recognize the challenge to the established order that Peterborough's digital strategy document sets out. Adjusting governance and decision-making processes to react in days rather than months is difficult for any organization.

This is a radical plan for change that seeks to bring best practice from leading digital organizations into a traditionally change-averse sector. We'll continue to watch with interest.

Disclosure: Salesforce.com is a diginomica premier partner, a recent consulting client of the writer, and paid travel expenses to attend Dreamforce.

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