Mobile Local Government 2012 Leeds

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On Thursday 19 July we hosted our first Local Government Goes Mobile 2012 Event in partnership with Public Networks, at the Rose Bowl, Leeds Metropolitan University.  Despite the downturn in public spending, we had 35 delegates registered to attend from 16 different organisations, which made for a good quality set of round table discussions and question and answer sessions.

The main points I learned from the event were:-

1.    Mobile and Flexible works, and what’s more, there are hidden benefits!

Successful implementations are really beginning to gather pace in Local Government now. The examples discussed and demonstrated by speakers from Wigan and Bolton clearly showed delegates in a ‘no-nonsense, matter of fact’ style, how mobile technology has not only reduced costs, and improved service delivery, but it can also give tangible benefits in other areas.

Imagine at the outset of a waste management project someone had said “Hey, you guys in the Council Tax Service, our Waste Management Operatives are going to increase your revenue by using mobile technology!”  Can you imagine the puzzled looks on their faces? But that’s apparently what’s happened at Wigan, simply through the better collection and exchange of information.  No more shirking council tax if you want your household waste collecting at Wigan!

Similarly, their ‘triage’ style ‘eyes and ears’ inspections of business premises is not only making efficiency gains on the costs of regulatory inspections, but the well managed businesses are benefitting from less ‘interference’ from the regulators as resources are targeted to the highest risk areas more effectively.

2.  Guess what…. projects fail!

It’s certainly not new news to me that some projects fail.  I’ve been there.  But…. Hallelujah!!  It’s ok to say that they fail (bit radical maybe!?) but you know why? It’s because we know WHY they fail, and we can all learn from their failures. Well, that’s a bit of a  ‘no brainer’ really perhaps?  But isn’t it refreshing to hear people freely admitting that some of their projects have failed?

What I really found interesting and encouraging is that although some mobile and flexible working projects fail, there is still an appetite to carry on with implementing mobile and flexible working, because it makes good business sense.  The rewards of successful implementations are testimony to that, and the business cases continue to stack up.  If that wasn’t the case, none of us would even consider spending any of our precious time on them would we?

The reasons why so many projects fail leads me onto my next learning point…

3.  The technology works, we need to focus on the people.

Since my initial involvement with introducing technology for service transformation some 7 years ago, the focus was very much on whether the technology would work.  Could it really be as reliable as a pen and paper? Would it wither on its fibre vine due to a whole host of technical issues that would prove simply too difficult to fix?  Presentations I gave or attended focused very much on demonstrations of applications (live demos if we were feeling brave and adventurous!), and questions raised were all about the speed of the data transfer, or “what do you do if the system goes down”? etc.

Yesterday during one of the presentations, we saw a live demonstration of Bolton MBC’s Flood Risk application.  No-one batted an eyelid or questioned whether the system worked effectively at all.  Now I may be being naïve, and I’m sure anyone who attended the event and reads this will correct me if they think otherwise but… it seemed to me that there was a complete acceptance in the room that the system worked. Discussions I had during the day with experienced officers all confirmed that they were convinced the technology worked.  The main hurdles were either the people or risk averse IT departments.

At the start of the day, NDL gave us some input from the results of their latest annual survey.  Not surprisingly, the issue of ‘culture’ was cited as the main barrier and was a close second on reasons for project failure (top being data network).

It’s not surprising then that the Leeds presenters who talked us through how they have successfully introduced their business change model to ensure ownership of the problem, the solution and the outcome were extremely well received.  We were reminded that 9 out of 10 project failures are people related, so this is clearly an area which needs most attention. There were some very ‘no-nonsense’ messages delivered, including “Employees don’t need to like change management, they just need to be engaged”, (when thinking about the amount of change management resource to put into an area) “Match resource to the level of resistance, not to the number of people in that service area”, and the Leeds strapline: “work is something you do, not where you go”.

Anyone who was following our Twitter channel (#lgmw12) during the day may have picked up on a couple of useful links during this presentation, which Nick Hill from Public Networks helpfully tweeted:

West Yorkshire Change Toolkit

MacLeod Review

On the ‘flip side’ of this presentation, it was good to hear a different perspective from Bolton MBC who are taking a smaller scale approach through producing small rapid development ‘taster apps’ to encourage enthusiasm and buy in from staff. With 50 apps developed already and £72,000 saved from the first implementation it seems the relevance of mobile working has been well and truly proven in that authority.

So, my ‘learning point’ from this was more of a confirmation really  (having just completed an MSc assignment on Change Management which included a mobile working implementation case study) – change management continues to remain crucial to the success of implementing new methods of working.  My action from this? I’m convinced that we need to pull together a show-case of successful change management practices specific to the mobile and flexible working agenda.  If we can manage to throw in a few horror stories too which we can all learn from then so be it.  Watch this space!

4.    ‘Sausage Finger Technology’!

Reading back on my tweets about the event, I was pleased to have captured these two great snippets from Simon Roberts at Wigan Council which I’ll keep reminding myself about:

You need to understand what you want to get out of it

Don’t implement anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable using yourself

I also picked up on Simon’s reference to ‘sausage fingers’ – a reference to designing solutions that are simple and easy to use.  I really do think ‘sausage finger technology’ could become a catchphrase!

There’s a lot more I could write about from the day, but I’ve already rambled on for quite a while now, so I’ll close with saying a big thank you to all our sponsors (NDL, Kirona, Capita, Box Technologies and Spirit Data Capture) and to our speakers (NDL, Leeds CC, Bolton MBC and Wigan MBC.  Alan Blundell from Wigan took both Ken and myself back to our Regulatory Services roots and made us both feel a little nostalgic.

A big thank you too to Nick Hill and to my business partner Ken Eastwood who wasn’t feeling well on the day but soldiered on regardless (what a guy!)

Resources from the event including presentations and documents shared by delegates post event, are accessible to Local Government colleagues here.

Laura Fox. Digital Nomads Director


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