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CIO Podcast: London’s digital leadership

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Throughout this week London’s technology communities will come together to discuss, announce and consider the role of technology in the nation’s capital at London Tech Week. Driving a great deal of change and wider adoption of data are the first Chief Digital Officer (CDO) for London, Theo Blackwell and CIO for the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and chair of the London CIO Council Stephen Docherty. The duo tell the Horizon CIO Podcast how CIOs in the public sector as well as their peers in startup and service providers are reshaping the city.

“It has three main functions, in 2015 the tech community got together, so people from progressive digital leaders from technology and public services to put forward the idea that London suffered from a collaboration deficit,” Blackwell says of why Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has a business technology leader on his team at City Hall by the side of the Thames.

“We had all these moving parts, 32 boroughs, NHS trusts, schools, higher and further education and yet together we were less than the sum of our moving parts. Although London does great things and is a hotbed for innovation. The innovation that happens has somehow clouded the sense that we could move to the next level,” Blackwell says.  In the 2016 London Mayoral elections the technology community clamoured for candidates to appoint a city CDO as already existed in New York.

“My role is focused on public service transformation and making us more open to the innovation in the technology community and our major institutions, so it has three main functions: one is to promote leadership in the city, secondly to create an institution that enhances collaboration within all our moving parts and thirdly to really push forward the boundaries of public service innovation and to help us explain our needs and citizen needs in a way that the tech sector can fully grasp,” the CDO says.

The role is more than just making public sector technology better, as CDO Blackwell is also ensuring that technology plays a role in the economic growth of London.

“I remember sitting in Kings Cross and sitting in those meetings deciding what was going to happen here and we have seen a wonderful transformation and it is a major tech hub in its own right,” Blackwell, a former cabinet member in the London Borough of Camden says.

“Fundamentally my role is to ensure that organic growth is fully supported in connectivity, we are open for talent, how the public sector is responsive to that opportunity that is happening around it.

“We are two-thirds of the way through a big listening tour and we are bringing that together as a list of missions for London to solve the collaboration deficit.

“The NHS is a key part of us being a smart city. Unlike other cities in the world, our closeness to the NHS, the learnings that go on within it, the data that it has, it is fundamental to a vision of London as a smart city,” Blackwell says of his working relationship with Docherty and his organisations.

NHS CIO Docherty adds: “What is really heartening, since I became the chair of the London CIO Council, the collaboration is there, across CIOs, from a health perspective, London is split into five sustainability partnerships, that is bringing people in your patch like the south east or the south west and working with your commissioning groups, GP practices and for social care the local authorities.”

The collaboration, Docherty explains is making sure that funds available for public sector transformation don’t end up in duplication projects across neighbouring NHS trusts or local authorities.

“We are all trying to achieve the same outcomes, we potentially have five lots of activity trying to achieve the same outcome, which is not efficient so we have formed the London Digital Board and the idea behind that is to oversee that activity and make sure that you have senior representation across the patch,” Docherty says of how the city is working towards increased coordination.

Devolved power

“This is really really interesting time for digital transformation of public services, we have had devolution of local authorities,” Blackwell says. The capital and its mayor have power over further education, health, police and transport, more than in any other devolved institution.

“So we have a moment where we have technological convergence, more power to local and democratic authorities and a thirst for reform. And I think crucially you have got citizen expectation rising, as people get more comfortable with technology in their daily lives, in their homes and at work, which means there is a moment for reform which has not existed in this combined way for some time,” Blackwell says of the opportunity.

Docherty (left) and Blackwell are also taking some innovation inspiration from other leading cities in the UK and highlight the high level of collaboration that exists in Manchester between local government and the NHS, something Rachel Dunscombe, who spoke on the Horizon CIO Podcast described last year as part of her focus on using local providers to deliver technology change and improve the local economy. The London duo also cite Scotland and Leeds, where in latter another former speaker on the Horizon CIO Podcast Richard Corbridge is working closely with Dylan Roberts of Leeds City Council.

“The first step that we will take is to take a step back,” Blackwell says.  “Too much of the debate around tech is focused on AI, robots, drones and smart mobility, there is great innovation and we are testing these in London. But what lies behind innovation is data. And so what we need to do first is look at the fundamentals, so we need a better way of working collaboratively, so we are setting up the London Office for Technology and Innovation that will bring leading public service organisations together.

“We want to reboot London’s approach to sharing data, improving data access agreements with local councils and the NHS and we want a new deal for public data. That involves the mayor speaking about the civic importance of public data and there is a real space for us to talk about that it is not just for private organisations to play with.”

“From an information and technological point, we are at an inflection point, this is an important moment, the public awareness has been heightened with GDPR, and obviously recent events around data, so the public are very aware, but everyone is on devices and they are generating lots of data, so we have to have the sensible conversations with our population about data and be fully transparent about what we want to achieve. It would be a shame if we didn’t foster innovation by making use of the data and we are at an important point now and we listen to the people and make them a partner,” Docherty says.

Docherty believes the new Local Care Records Exemplars (LICRE) announced by NHS England and its CIO Will Smart is an example of the new data debate surrounding the public sector.

“There are areas where the care records are joined up for the patch, we are going to create a shared care record for London so people can traverse different parts of the city and it will all be joined up,” Docherty says. Blackwell agrees and says it is a great example of how London and its CIO community is “rebooting” data.

“The integrated care record might not mean much to the average punter, but will be really revolutionary to how we can deliver care.” “You go into proactive and predictive care around population management, so you can understand what is going on with a more joined up approach and you can use that data to drive the innovation on top of that. I think that is where we get stuff to happen,” Docherty adds.

By working together Docherty and Blackwell believe that London’s CIOs can also improve the technology available to them and the citizens of the capital. Docherty agrees and adds that the London Digital Board is already seeing NHS and local authority CIOs come together to develop services together.

“We want to mobilise public assets, to improve the fibre network, we can do bids to improve the fibre networks and that eradicates not spots,” Blackwell says. Adding that this is an opportunity to improve training, diversity and the development of digital services.

“If you were to look at London’s technology estate as a birds eye view, and the service you provide to the citizens, how computable is that, how do we tackle vulnerabilities, we don’t have a full enough picture of what our tech estate is and our capabilities for the future?” Blackwell said.

New institutional thinking

“You have to have a little moment where you are building institutions of like minded CIOs and CDOs and can come together, share information and create forums where they can bid for projects together and do things in groups rather than alone,” Blackwell says.

“The momentum is there now, people are joining. The bid for local health care records, a few years ago that would have been unheard of as you would have multiple agencies and trusts joining up and the fact is that we put our name to it, the Mayor has put his name to it, the document is One London and we are all coming together to make this happen,” Docherty says.  

“It will make our services more efficient and responsive without a doubt and there will be a transformation on the workforce. There are a lot of professionals who spend a lot of their time in meetings who will now be able to be more hands on,” Blackwell says of how London’s CIOs are helping reduce the burden of the state. “The challenge for leadership is how to direct that in ways that increase the productivity.”

“Coming back to population health management, if we can join up then you can start to look at that data and be more proactive around predicting and intervening on improving the health of citizens, but also you are able to enable those people to self manage, so that is outside of the hospital and that is where the burden is,” Docherty says of how digital methods can reduce pressure on the NHS, which is critical in the current government funding turmoil.

“We don’t need new infrastructure,” Docherty says of how the vision is to make more of existing technologies.  Docherty and his peers have already shown the way forward, working with the Crown Commercial Services organisation to create a single aggregated procurement process for links into the NHS spine.

Both technology leaders are also aware that their programme must not just add new interfaces to old methods. The CIO and CDO discuss on the Horizon CIO Podcast of the need for system design and service based thinking.

“We have to be mindful that we don’t just digitise our processes and care pathways, but take people on the journey so they can begin to reimagine the care pathways,” Docherty says.

“Fundamentally if you are changing the service to the user, that is changing the way the organisation works. A public authority won’t look like it did in the early 2000s and that means change and that requires leadership.”

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