Wednesday, 30 April 2008

My day started at a "Digital Inclusion Roundtable" event at the IPPR (Institute of Public Policy Research) offices at Covent Garden. There were around 30 representatives from across Government, technology companies, the BBC and other media, and speakers from Government and UK Online. Alun Michael, MP, was also present and spoke knowledgeably, and with passion, on the subject. I've attended several of these events in the past, and there are some consistent themes – the market not delivering for less affluent areas where high returns are not guaranteed, for example. I thought that some developments have shifted (or should have shifted) the debate, 'though.

Talk of "Online" is unhelpful. Effective technology should be an integral part of our social infrastructure. I don't think that people who benefit from assistive technology are conscious of being "online". There are frequent references to "connecting the remaining" third of society who are not yet online – but the numbers are irrelevant. It's social equity that's key. If people choose not to interact directly through the ICT infrastructure, they should nevertheless benefit from it because the intermediaries they deal with use the same infrastructure; which is a factor in the "21st century industrial revolution" that's occurring – digital convergence – so all media share the same infrastructure.

Gaining the public's trust is another important issue that was not addressed by the speakers.

I was interested in a declared outcome of research showing that wage premiums of 3-10% are gained by people who can use computers and interact with the Internet. My own observation is there are still some people who wear their ignorance of IT as badges of honour and are employed in jobs that require such skills, but who don't have them!

The Socitm board is anxious to ensure that it acquires the balance of skills required to enable it run the company effectively, and extended an invitation to David Bryant, of Hytec Information Security Limited, to become a Non-Executive Director. David has consistently offered wise counsel to Socitm through his involvement with the society and demonstrates the sort of commercial acumen that we need. I am very pleased to report that he has accepted the invitation, and will be at the board meeting on 22nd May, when further board appointments will be considered.

The Socitm board is keen to open-up opportunities for the general membership of the Society to become more involved in its business by, for example, registering their interests, and whether they would be prepared to represent the society in speaking engagements, or by providing reports from events attended for newsletters and so forth. We will develop proposals in due course, but I would be very keen to receive members' views in the meantime.

We are continuing to urgently review how effectively the Society offers services to its members and to ensure that the services we offer are still useful to our members and are delivered in the most cost effective manner. In this connection, I have written to Activity Stream leads saying that I hope to meet with them all in the period 12th to 23rd May.

In the evening I attended the UK eWell-Being Awards, 2008, at Shakespeare's Globe. It's the first time I've been there, and a fascinating place that I shall certainly visit again. Newham is a past winner of an award, but I was dismayed to find that there were no Government finalists in any of the categories, except UK Online Centres, which was a finalist in the "Reaching the Digitally Excluded". The standard of entries was high, and I learned a lot of developments and initiatives that I look forward to following-up.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Today I was supposed to be at the 2nd day of the Microsoft Architects' Conference, but I left Beaumont straight after breakfast to meet-up with Adrian, and then on to a meeting near Oxford with the Socitm Consulting Management Team. This was one of those "planned activities" that I referred to following the workshop last Friday.

Following a long and tortuous process of negotiation, a new contract for Socitm Consulting services, involving the intermediation of a SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle) was put in place around two year ago. The arrangements, 'though, have not worked either for Socitm or for the Consulting business. In the past, the largest part of Socitm's funding has come from profits generated by Consulting Services. Latterly, however, although Socitm Consulting has performed well compared with its competitors, the whole market has seen a downturn that has hit revenues. Worse still, the way that the new contract works, Socitm Limited sees only a very small percentage of the reduced profit and, by the time cash flow and overheads are taken into account, the contribution can be negative. At the same time, the Consulting Service feels that it was pressured to agree contractual terms with which it was unhappy, and which restrict its ability to effectively run its own business.

We therefore had a frank and productive meeting which agreed to renegotiate the relationship with a view to agreeing contract variations by 1st June. We will also arranged a further meeting to check on progress, in London, on 12th May.

After that I headed home to try and get to grips with my correspondence backlog (with only limited success, so far) and was involved in a flurry of 'phone calls concerning others of those "planned activities", which I'll report on in the next few days.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Following a very full and enjoyable family weekend, today I was at the annual Microsoft Architect Insight Conference held, this year at Beaumont in old Windsor. I spent many a happy hour, here, early in my IT career, when it was the ICL (International Computers Limited) Training Centre. The accommodation, 'though, has improved considerably since those days. I had a longstanding commitment to speak in the Enterprise track on a CIO's view of architecture. This may have come about because I'm a member of the Microsoft Architects' Council and complained that last year's conference was too technical, and didn't have enough of the high-level view.

This was an interesting day interspersed by 'phone calls and messages, despite the fact that my mobile 'phone reception was almost non-existent. I had lots of calls and messages concerning Newham Infrastructure project issues, and the announcement of my Socitm presidency – so I wasn't able to attend all the sessions I'd have liked to.

The evening, 'though was thoroughly enjoyable. Over dinner there was a quiz with the following rounds:
  • Acronyms – several of them were not IT.
  • Photos of buildings from around the world – What building, and which city?
  • 25 10-second film clips played; identify the film and the year.
  • Jelly bean taste recognition – 6 samples – 48 flavours to choose from.
  • Naming the title and artist from 10m second music clips. After the clips were played, we were told the competition was actually to complete an anagram from the first letters of the answers.
  • Finding headlines in stacks of papers (supplied) and getting them to the compere, wherever he may be.
I got back to my room, to work, at 11pm, but managed little more than updating my diary!

Friday, 25 April 2008

Nick Roberts (Surrey County Council) joined Rose, Adrian and I for a workshop on Sponsorship/ Partnership and Business Planning at the Friends' Meeting House. We discussed potential sponsorship packages assembled from the various events and publications Socitm runs, such as the web site - regional meetings, Conference & President's dinners, newsletter, bar & entertainment and broadcasts – and will consult the market on what it would like to see.

We also drafted the agenda for our first full board meeting, on Thursday 22nd May. The intervening period affords time for the completion of a number of other planned activities that will feed into the meeting, which I will explain as they occur. The draft agenda is quite full:
  • Budget
  • Code of Conduct
  • Vision, Values, Strategy
  • Set-up of National Advisory Council
  • Additional directors
  • Directors' Portfolios
  • Policy on policy development and consultation
  • SSL (Socitm Services Limited)

In the afternoon I attended a HP Public Sector Team Strategy (company internal) workshop to give my views of what customers wish of suppliers like HP. In the morning, they had heard views from representatives of Kable and Gartner.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

The day started with travel delays both by car (nearly an hour to get through the Blackwall Tunnel) and train (severe delays, and Kings Cross Tube Station closed due to severe overcrowding) so it was a good job I allowed plenty of time to get to the British Library for today's Socitm meetings!

Prior to the AGM, Adrian and I gave a briefing on the work undertaken in reorganising the Society to date, which included a couple of slides about my intended agenda, as President, for the year. The presentation slides will be available to all Socitm members through the web-site.
Following an early lunch, the AGM was convened, but there were then delays while we marshalled enough full members and individuals holding proxies to ensure a quorum. Our articles of association require a quorum of thirty voting members to attend AGMs in person in order to pass resolutions. Only full members are able to vote, and most organisations only have one full member (the Head of Profession) with other members being "associates" and ineligible to vote. We will definitely want to change this at a future Extraordinary General Meeting, probably to be held at the annual conference in October, as part of a new membership model to suit the planned expansion of the Society to cover all those who work in IT in the public and third sectors.

Thankfully, we achieved a quorum, and all resolutions were passed, unanimously I think, which included my elevation to President, returned Steve Hopson and Steve Palmer as Vice Presidents, and appointed Jos Creese as the third Vice President. Rose then presented me with the President's Chain of Office, and she received a Past President's badge from me, which I understand includes conferral of life-long membership of the Society.

Rose thanked colleagues, including officers, affiliate members (who have provided their services free in support of the reorganisation) and the President's Team. I thanked Rose for doing a great job and, particularly, for having recognised the need for, and instigated, urgent reorganisation to address a host of problems that were threatening our future viability.

The AGM was followed by an EGM to change the Society's constitution. We now have a board of up to 12 Directors but, initially the board comprises just one Executive Director – Adrian Hancock, the Acting Managing Director – and five non-Executive Directors – the President's Team. Our board will decide upon the appointment of further Directors to ensure that it includes all the requisite skills to run Socitm effectively.

In the afternoon those board members who were present met with affiliates and our Auditor to discuss advice on measures immediately required to ensure that we achieve a balanced budget in the current company year, and to ensure that we're very well-positioned to complete the programme of change, modernise and revitalise the Society with its expanded remit. We agreed immediately to act upon 12 urgent measures, which I will report to the membership upon in the coming weeks.

My first impression of being President is that it's exhausting! At the end of these proceedings I felt thoroughly tired, but glad to have made a good start on the job in-hand. I also feel honoured to now be President of such a well-respected organisation that has achieved so much in its history, and optimistic about our future and the many achievements on behalf of the Membership to come.

Oh… and my identity was not, after all compromised! Apparently Morgan Stanley, with whom I have a credit card, has changed its name to the Goldfish Bank. They probably wrote to me about this; in fact, I think I remember receiving a letter with a goldfish on the envelope – but I get an awful lot of junk mail that I shred without reading. OK – I am a bit embarrassed after yesterday's proclamation. I still don't know how or why photo-gifts were purchased from an account with Truprint opened in my name, 'though, but my credit rating appears intact…