Whilst ‘digital’ feels like a contemporary phenomenon, the origins of the digital revolution can be traced back to the late 1950s with the shift from analogue to digital electronics and then the proliferation of computers in the 1970s. The launch of the intranet in 1991 and the first Apple smartphone in 1997 heralded a new era that has revolutionised every aspect of our life’s and enabled organisations to fundamentally change their business models and apply new technologies to transform their processes and user experience.
There is no clear consensus around a digital definition but this quote from Tom Loosemore, former Deputy Director of the Government Digital Service, is often cited:
Applying the culture, practices, processes and technologies of the internet era to respond to people’s raised expectations.
Whilst Staffordshire County Council has therefore been doing ‘digital’ for decades, in view of the profound shifts taking place within society and the growing transformative potential, Cabinet agreed a Digital Strategy in 2016 that has guided our efforts over the last four years with considerable progress.
Digital remains one of four principles in the refreshed strategic plan agreed by Full Council on the 13 February that underpins everything we do:
As we enter phase 2 of digital of our digital journey, we need to consolidate our work to date; develop a stronger programme aligned to our strategic plan; and set out a clear set of long-term digital ambitions to ensure Staffordshire excels and flourishes in the digital age.
We should look to the future with confidence and optimism – we are strategically well placed to respond to the digital opportunities of the next decade. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, 5G, big data, electric vehicles and driverless cars will all become mainstream and have profound implications for the county.
We have a hugely important leadership to shape the strategic responses to these issues and ensure Staffordshire thrives in the next decade and beyond.
National and Regional Context
Digital is a key national and regional priority due to its central role in delivering economic growth, better social outcomes and transforming public services:
Government plan to publish a National Infrastructure Strategy alongside the budget on the 11 March setting out plans to invest £100 billion to transform the UK’s infrastructure which will include digital.
The Government’s Industrial Strategy sets out grand challenges of artificial Intelligence and data; ageing society; clean growth; and future of mobility. The Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent LEP is producing its Local Industrial Strategy with a heavy focus on growing the digital economy.
Has a clear priority of powering an ultra-connected county and prioritising digital connectivity and access to real-time data to ensure homes, communities and businesses benefit from the significant opportunities an ultra-connected region has to offer.
Government’s Local Digital Declaration
We have signed the declaration and access the training provided by the Government Digital Service and bid for funding through collaborative projects. We were successful in securing £99,000 in round 1 to develop an alpha project using artificial intelligence to aid the production of Education and Health Care Plans (EHCPs).
Local Government Association (LGA) Delivery Board
A small group of senior council officers representing Counties, Districts, Mets and Unitaries acting as an advisory group and sounding board on government’s and the LGA’s digital strategy and support offer.
The national network of digital practitioners working closely with the Government Digital Service (GDS) to help shape the Government’s strategy. This group led the development of the Local Government Digital Service Standard. Matt Gratton sits on the national steering Group.
Association of County Council Chief Executive’s (ACCE) Digital Council
Staffordshire and East Sussex County Council are jointly leading a piece of work with the support of the County Council Network to share learning and work on shared priorities. For example, jointly developing a new social care case management system to replace the existing legacy systems.
Smart Staffordshire and Network Staffordshire
During 2017, Network Staffordshire was formed, chaired by Trevor McMillan bringing together senior partners to explore how they can work together to forge an even brighter future for Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent. Recognising the importance of digital they developed a shared aspiration for Staffordshire to be a ‘smart county’. The concept of Smart Staffordshire and the priorities of ‘Smart Living, Smart Working, Smart People’ were endorsed by all partners and the county council’s Cabinet in 2018.
As part of the current work to develop a more aspirational shared vision, the Network has agreed to focus on three priorities – commissioning a new place brand for Staffordshire; developing a master plan for 5G as part of the wider Digital Infrastructure Plan; and the development of a Data Institute. We will continue to provide strong political and officer leadership to this important work.
This work is of course part of a wider strategy of economic growth strategy that includes the digital economy and digital skills. For example, Education and Skills Strategy Group which includes digital skills and the Keele and Staffordshire University Deals with a strong digital focus.
Strengthening the digital economy and eco-system remains an enduring strategic priority for the council.
Digital Strategy and Programme
A renewed sense of ambition is central to the refreshed strategic plan and our future digital strategy. Digital is continually reshaping and disrupting our politics, economy and society. Whilst we can’t predict the future, it is clear that the next decade will bring even more radical change than the last. As Eric Schidmt, Chief Executive of Google said recently, in the 2020s, digital will become ‘like the air we breathe’.
This scale of ‘digital disruption’ inevitably brings both challenges and opportunities. As the largest democratic body in Staffordshire it is right that we think deeply about for example; digital connectivity in our most rural communities; supporting older people in an increasingly on-line world; the impact of social media on mental health; and ensuring residents are supported to retrain for the new economy.
But fundamentally, we need to see digital as a strategic opportunity to embrace, rather than a problem we need to mitigate. Recent research from Oxford University confirms that whilst 10% (5 million) of the UK population don’t use the internet, of the 90% that do, 79% think that ‘technology makes things better’. We also know that the vast majority off this off-line community (79%) is aged 65 or over.
Our digital strategy needs to mirror the ambition in our strategic plan and be central to achieving our vision for Staffordshire – a county where big ambitions, great connections and greener living give everyone the opportunity to prosper, be healthy and happy. Digital provides new opportunities to tackle some of our more intractable issues. For example, connecting older people who are lonely with people and support within their own community.
This is not a technology programme or a cost reduction programme. This is about becoming a digital county and a genuinely digital council and we should be audaciously ambitious to ensure Staffordshire is a digital exemplar and ensure we thrive and flourish in the next decade and beyond. The strategy has six core elements that will frame the next phase of our delivery programme and our ambitions.
We will be an exemplar digital with a smart business model, transformed citizen experience that has been a catalyst for more connected and supportive communities.
Data and insight
We will have a world class Data Institute that plays a pivotal role in a thriving economy and transformed public services enabling everyone to achieve their full potential.
Our Members, workforce and volunteers will be highly skilled digital leaders flourishing in the modern world and supporting modern 21st century local government.
Staffordshire will have a world class digital infrastructure embracing full fibre, 5G and the next generation technology underpinning a thriving economy and communities.
Health and Care
Digital will underpin a transformed health and social care system that focuses on self- care, early intervention and prevention and has improved healthy life expectancy.
Digital will underpin a transformed approach to children and families that focuses on early help and enables and children and families to achieve their full potential.
Over the last few months, we have been co-designing the next phase of our delivery programme working with the Cabinet Member leads for Digital, the Senior and Wider Leadership Teams, project owners, technical specialists and of course senior partners from Network Staffordshire.
Whilst there are some significant projects of change that form part of the overall programme; developing a replacement for care director and implementing the next phase of Office 365 for example. The programme includes a wide range of smaller, incremental digital improvements, for example continuing to improve and iterate our web offer.
Digital is an on-going process of improvement and cultural change rather than a time limited change programme.
The current delivery programme
20 in delivery
Live projects that are live with clear deliverables that we need to deliver in the next 12 months.
26 in design
Projects where work is on-going to finalise the design with the project owners.
28 in concept
Potential projects that have been identified and we are working with project owners to develop the concept into design.
Whilst this is a summary of a more detailed programme spreadsheet, it importantly sets outs who is responsible for delivery, key deliverables, benefits and where we can, cashable and non-cashable benefits. As you can see, only a small number of projects at this stage help deliver cashable benefits. Finance have verified that the current programme directly supports the delivery of £650,000 of savings in the Medium-Term Financial Strategy.
In terms of non-cashable savings which are more likely (improvements in productivity and efficiency), we have worked with the project owner to identify whether non-cashable savings are likely to be low, moderate or high and we continue to work with finance and project owners to strengthen this.
By its very nature, this a dynamic, agile and emergent programme so projects and timescales will evolve as we move from concept, to design and delivery (or discovery, alpha and beta). The Digital Programme Board will oversee this on a on a monthly basis to ensure changes are part of a creative design process rather than non-delivery.
Whilst everything in the programme is a priority, there are clearly a number of strategic priorities that will have a corporate and organisational focus in the next 12 months:
- Developing the business case for investment in Robotic Process Automation (RPA) which could lead to significant cashable savings across the council.
- Developing Digital Infrastructure Plan and supporting the 5G work being led by Staffordshire University.
- Developing a Data Institute for Staffordshire working with Keele University and Staffordshire Police.
- Developing a Digital Skills Plan for Members, the workforce and volunteers.
- Rolling out the next phase of Smart working underpinned by implementing Office 365.
- Improving and automating the adult social care pathway to ensure it supports people to live independently.
- Developing the digital workstream of the Children’s System and SEND transformation programmes.
- Continually improving our digital information, advice and guidance (IAG) offer focused on our website and Staffordshire Connects.
We will embrace the Government Digital Service (GDS) standards which are universally regarded as best practice in digital design and transformation:
- Understand users and their needs
- Solve a whole problem for users
- Provide a joined-up experience across all channels
- Make the service simple to use
- Make sure everyone can use the service
- Have a multi-disciplinary team
- User agile ways of working
- Iterate and improve frequently
- Create a secure service which protects users’ privacy
- Define what success looks like and publish performance data
- Choose the right tools and technology
- Make new source code open
- Use and contribute to open standards, common components and patterns
- Operate a reliable service
As we enter a new decade with bold ambitions for Staffordshire, we need a digital strategy that sets the tone and framework that will guide the next phase of our digital journey. This strategy is hopefully a compelling blend of long-term ambition matched by a clear focus on short-term delivery and provides the right foundation for the next phase of our journey to be an exemplar 21st century digital council.