John Curran was recently interviewed by techUK about his vision for the future of local public services and where digital can make a difference to people and society. The interview, published on the techUK website www.techUK.org, is below:
TechUK: Welcome, John. Firstly, tell me more about you, your career, and how you got to this position today?
JC: I’ve worked in Public Service delivery for 25 years, originally in IT roles but predominantly in Organisational Change and Transformation.
I’ve worked for public, private and third sector organisations in the development and delivery of change programmes, ranging from ERP implementation through to large-scale insource/outsource commercial contracting.
My outlook on change was shaped by spending a number of years implementing ERP solutions into public sector organisations. The challenges of ensuring successful delivery of a programme often obscured the original intention for business benefit. This nearly always stemmed from a lack of engagement with the wider business in the early stages of shaping the programme. Perhaps unsurprisingly the same issues appeared to be at the root of many delivery challenges outside of the technology arena and were echoed in commercial, organisational development, outsource and strategy development change programmes across all types of organisations.
After a number of years in the outsource world, myself and two colleagues set up a consultancy (4OC) focusing on supporting organisations to successfully design and manage change in the delivery of public services. Now there are 40 of us and we have worked hand in hand with many Local Government organisations over the years to consistently deliver successful change programmes.
What is the real prize for local government when it comes to digital?
JC: The prize for local government is being able to design and deliver the highest quality services for their communities. This will be enabled by the ability to collect, analyse and use the best quality data to support activities.
Whilst there are many well-articulated visions for the future built on sophisticated, high-quality automations delivered in, for example, web3.0 (such as seen in Seoul, South Korea vision), my immediate interest is in an incremental goal – ensuring high quality data is available to managers and staff in a form that will allow them to understand and report on the services that they are providing to their citizens and stakeholders.
There is much discussion about ‘enterprise level dashboards sitting on diverse data sets from heterogeneous systems allowing centralised command and control of services’. However, this really shields the more fundamental and important challenges that exist in generating, maintaining and using operational data effectively.
To overcome these challenges we have to address the causes, which include:
- access to data in a flexible form,
- inflexible data protection policies,
- poor quality application design and implementation or
- poorly articulated or understood operating instructions for staff
To do so will give managers, support functions and staff access to meaningful management information and performance and quality dashboards that, in turn, will ensure better understanding of the dynamics of the services they provide. Without this data, continuous improvement programmes are unfeasible which can generate a desire for more transformational change or planned solution replacement, both of which can be time consuming, costly and disruptive.
What is your vision for the future of local public services?
JC: Although solution providers have a significant role to play in achieving improved systems usage, the challenge also lies internally within authorities in the development of the capabilities that will support high quality delivery of solutions for operational delivery.
The basics around operational strategy development, operating model design, system specification and performance management frameworks are based on good quality programme sponsorship, programme management and change management.
The market provides access to this type of resource, but in the end authorities need to develop their own capabilities.
Of course all of this requires funding and the headspace of senior managers to focus on planning and design of this type of transformational change.
My vision for local public services is, of course, the provision of digitally enabled services to citizens, generating data that allows services to refine and continuously improve.
This ambition extends to the skills, competencies and roles that lie within authorities to make this happen and ensure the vision becomes reality.