Essex County Council's IT chief David Wilde on joint CIOs and shared services in the cloud...
David Wilde is a public sector CIO who believes there needs to be fewer heads of IT in government.
As much as his stance appears to fly in the face of his own interests, Wilde believes thinning out the ranks of CIOs in government will be a crucial step in reforming how public services are delivered.
Wilde, who recently stepped down as Westminster City Council CIO to become CIO at Essex County Council, wants to see a smaller number of CIOs taking responsibility for a larger number of public sector organisations.
Ex-Westminster City Council CIO David Wilde wants to see more co-ordination of IT in the public sectorPhoto: Westminster City Council
"I think it is something that could be very powerful and beneficial to public service delivery," he told silicon.com.
A single CIO in charge of multiple local authorities could help those authorities align the way they handle information and ensure their IT systems are interoperable, according to Wilde - a crucial step when public bodies want to co-ordinate their delivery of front-line services or set up shared service centres to take charge of internal processes such as HR.
"Information governance and information sharing is one of the big challenges the public sector has," said Wilde.
"A lot of that challenge is driven by the fact that we build systems and technologies at an organisational level rather than at a geographical level.
"If we had CIOs looking at issues such as the benefits of information sharing, balanced against the responsibility to protect that information at the geographical level, I think we would better address those barriers."
Given the crossover in the type of front-line services delivered by different public sector and charitable bodies, Wilde sees benefits in a single CIO serving a range of different authorities - such as councils, health trusts and voluntary organisations.
Having a sole CIO co-ordinating IT strategy across regions could also help authorities share the cost of IT services and infrastructure, and help build on the delivery partnerships already in place between local authorities. For example, local authorities in Hampshire, and a number of other regions in the UK, have entered into public services network agreements under which regional authorities rely on common network services and infrastructure.
Wilde believes the greatest scope for merging public sector CIO roles is in London, where he argues there should be a fourfold reduction in public sector IT leaders.
"London does not need 40 to 60 CIOs - it needs about 10," he said.
Indeed, Wilde's former role of CIO at Westminster City Council could be one of the first to go - the council is not hiring a CIO in...
...the short term and is still deciding on what the future of the role will be after it completes plans to merge with the neighbouring boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith & Fulham.
Sharing in the cloud
True to Wilde's belief in the need for public sector bodies to share IT strategy, under his stewardship, Westminster began the process of sharing tech infrastructure and services with Kensington and Hammersmith.
The technology transformation underpins wider structural change within the Westminster, Hammersmith and Kensington councils, with the authorities planning to merge a number of front-line service departments in order to save £35m a year by 2014/15.
Westminster council is tendering for a four-year framework agreement that will allow the councils to share IT systems supporting corporate and front-line services.
Westminster City Council and two of its neighbouring boroughs have embarked on an ambitious programme to merge parts of the councilsPhoto: Shutterstock
On the front line, the three councils are planning to share access to IT systems supporting adult and children's social care, which would be hosted on a private cloud and managed by a third party.
"The real savings are with these run of business systems. For example, [Westminster] has three different social care systems - if you go down from three to one then you can make significant efficiencies. Consolidating around single business solutions saves quite a bit of money," Wilde said.
Corporate systems - including business intelligence, finance, HR, procurement, property and reporting - would also be hosted on a private cloud platform, which could be used by the three councils.
Wilde said the councils expect to be in a position to access these shared-cloud front-line services and corporate systems by mid-2016.
"By then, we expect to have reduced the running costs by 20 to 22 per cent, which translates to something around £6.5m a year across the three councils or about £2m a piece," he said.
All London boroughs will be able to...
...purchase access to the corporate systems on the private cloud platform, as part of a wider project to encourage London boroughs to use common processes and share cloud-based services.
On the infrastructure side, Westminster led the tender process for a pan-London framework agreement under which London authorities can purchase network services - such as VoIP telephony and internet access - based on the same Virgin Media Business network. The deal is aimed at allowing authorities to save on the cost of purchasing these services individually.
Government's joined-up future
Wilde believes councils elsewhere in England could benefit from following Westminster's example and pool their resources with their neighbours.
"At a regional level or sub-regional level, I don't see any reason at all why this couldn't be replicated, and there are quite a few others out there doing this," he said, citing the recent merger of six district councils into two in Cheshire.
It has become easier for councils to link up their front-line services in recent years thanks to technologies such as VPN and secure messaging, which allow organisations to securely move information and control who has access to it, according to Wilde.
"The technology allows us to interoperate a lot better than we did before, [thanks to] the ability to share information securely.
"It's allowing us to move to a virtualised line of business systems. We are able to virtualise what we couldn't virtualise as recently as two to three years ago, and I think that's helping us shift."
The move towards public sector bodies sharing IT systems in the cloud is picking up momentum in London, where Wilde said numerous authorities have expressed an interest in buying corporate services from the shared private cloud platform Westminster is looking to establish.
"We have a lot of local authorities watching what [Westminster is] doing and they're very interested in the framework agreement we are putting in place," Wilde said.
"We could potentially see, then, quite a quick take-up during 2013/14."