How to inspire and make way for innovation
When I came on board, Camden, like most government organizations in the U.K., was facing very significant budget reductions, well in excess of £150 million out of our bottom line. My primary order was to transform service delivery to our residents and businesses and reduce costs, but it wasn't my only challenge. At the same time, I was also dealing with an aging population with rising expectations of what government services can and should deliver because of their increasingly mobile, on-demand consumer experience.
I knew that I wanted to address these challenges ambitiously and strategically, not just salami-slice Camden's services to deliver the savings. It was time to think radically about what we wanted to be as an organization. We realized that we were never going to reduce costs while meeting rising expectations unless we were able to focus on the priorities that mattered in a thematic and cross cutting way. And digital innovation and technology was the only way we were going to get there. I focused on the four key things to enable big savings and change what we do in local government.
When it comes to complex problems like crime, unemployment or people living in poverty, often the best way to help people is have the best possible understanding of their needs so we can target resources effectively and help vulnerable people sooner rather than react when things go wrong. But when I came into the job the full picture of what our residents needed was scattered throughout the organization, making us inefficient and unresponsive. A key priority has been to drive silo-busting technologies into Camden in order to have a holistic view of our customers so that we can operate as one integrated organization in solving complex problems. This has proven invaluable. We now know which residents are our most vulnerable. We can see where we need to invest our resources better. And we know when less scrupulous residents try to claim benefits that others are entitled to.
As a government agency we were struggling to deliver low cost online services. Our legacy systems were inflexible and difficult to change. When we needed to change our business processes, we couldn’t because we were locked into one-size-fits-all workflow from legacy applications. When we wanted to delight our customers, we were stuck with clunky user interfaces. When we needed to link one system to another, it rapidly became very expensive and difficult.
So we decided to be radical and pioneer an open architecture in government based on SOA, service-oriented architecture. By separating out the user experience, workflow and data we are transforming the online experience. This has enabled us to move from a very fragmented user interface that, at its worst, required residents to log in to 16 separate systems to find out information or go through a complicated series of steps to complete an action as simple as paying a parking permit. In developing standardized web services on top of the JBoss Enterprise Service Bus, we were able to create reusable services across multiple processes. So things like checking residency status or booking appointments are now seamless and easy to use because our residents enjoy a user experience designed by them. And on the back end, we can automate processes and control the workflow end to end because we have open APIs that eliminate the need for paperwork or extra steps.
I’m currently leading an effort to promote something called an open systems alliance in government, to promote sharing and open source applications so that other counsels with similar processes can benefit from the APIs and code that Camden has already developed. I hope to socialize and magnify the opportunity that an open source paradigm brings to government to collaborate. In effect, I believe it can turn local government into a big cloud that can co-develop, co-design, and collaborate on innovation.
When you walk into the office of the London Borough of Camden today, the scene is very different than it was 18 months ago. We used to be an organization that had over 22Km of paper in filing cabinets. Our staff members were anchored to desks. We frowned upon the use of personal devices. Today the majority of our 5,000 employees are typically found working anywhere other than their desks — from home, in shared work spaces throughout the office, on a laptop or their mobile device. We've traded paper for instant messaging and social media, in-person meetings for headsets and video conferencing. We’ve swapped cellular offices for an open plan. We conduct meetings on sofas and open spaces. Indeed, visitors to Camden often think we’re a technology company as opposed to a government agency.
Much of what we did on operational performance and analysis relied on hunch, spreadsheets and a classic factory type reporting. We weren’t an organization that was using easy to use visualization tools to mine our data, spot trends or deliver new insights. We decided that had to change. So we’re now probably delivering the biggest implementation of dashboard technology in local government right now in the U.K. We’re putting 70 real-time, interactive dashboards across every major service area from finance, HR, to public protection, to housing, to social care, to unemployment, to planning. Our goal is to be a data-driven organization. Data and information coming from those dashboards is shaping our decision making on policy, being used to target resources, and driving a wholly different way of thinking and working in the organization.
We couldn't have come so far in such a relatively short time without getting the entire organization on board for change. We enlisted local champions across the organization to tackle this challenge head on. For instance, when we wanted to reduce our reliance on paper, these innovative individuals helped their colleagues implement new ways of working. This approach enabled us to remove 22 kilometers of paper from our business.
We’re encouraging staff to be digital leaders. So we’ve set-up marketplaces where employees can promote new technologies or conduct show-and-tell sessions for their colleagues with the goal of influencing behavioral changes that map to our overall digital goals. This has proven far more effective than simply sending down orders from the top of the IT chain of command.
We’re also changing how our senior leaders work. So when we meet to brainstorm ideas we use collaborative technology to do it. We never use paper for meetings.
My experience has been that to transform government you need to join up your data, harness analytics, build scalable platforms and move to a mobile and digitally enabled workforce. And if you make digital part of what your organization does every day, you have a great chance of succeeding!
John Jackson is CIO at Camden Council and Digital Strategy Lead. Over a three year period John has radically redesigned IT into cross cutting centers of excellence and reduced bottom line IT spend by £5m. He has also overseen Camden’s development of government as a platform, delivered using open source products, which have enabled the delivery of multi-million pound savings. Outside of Camden he has contributed to the development of a National Procurement Strategy for IT and is passionate about open systems and open source as the blue print to public sector transformation and citizen focused service delivery.