Thursday, 27 November 2008

NZ Conference Report

With CITRA’s merger with Socitm now largely complete, David Claydon, the President of the CCitDG (and Director of Strategic Information for the Salvation Army, UK & Ireland) has accepted an invitation to join the board of Socitm as a Non-Executive Director.

The ALGIM Conference Welcome Plenary was held in a marquee adjacent to the part of the hotel in which the exhibition was held. Mike Manson, ALGIM’s CEO, was the Master of Ceremonies, first introducing Rick Cooper, the Mayor of Taupo, for his opening address. We international guests were introduced, and then each sponsor got up to present themselves. They were invited onto the stage in alphabetical order, and a buzzer sounded at the end of two minutes if they were still speaking. The presentations were split into two sessions, before and after the evening dinner. This worked well; the presentations were good natured, and I found them to be quite informative, although many claimed they were “only here for the beer”! During the proceedings, Mike played several amusing videos, including one of “George Bush” and “Condolesa Rice”, and the Miami Dade Police recruitment video, having called Commander June Randall (one of the international guests, and rather more petite than her title seems to suggest) up onto the stage, who took it all in good part.

On Monday, Mike Wanden, the ALGIM President, opened the formal proceedings, and there were presentations from Rod Titcombe, Chairman of New Zealand’s “Local Government Online” – a commercial organisation set-up and owned by NZ Local Authorities that develops and sells Local Government solutions – and Basil Morrison, Chairman of the Local Government Forum Board. Jim Higgins, the CEO of Local Government Online, spoke on behalf of New Zealand’s new Digital Development Council, and its plans to support the development of the country’s broadband infrastructure. During the conference, I heard many references to how far behind NZ is in broadband development, with unflattering comparisons with places like Zambia and Fiji, and I have to say that I struggled with the poor performance of the hotel “broadband” throughout our stay. Maurice Williamson, the MP whose portfolio included New Zealand ICT, until the change of Government two weeks ago, had been due to speak. From some of the comments, I’m not sure what sort of reception he would have received!

Annette Presley, who I hadn’t heard of, but is well-known in New Zealand as one of its most dynamic entrepreneur’s (and lives next to Bill Gates, apparently) was the motivational and inspirational speaker. Her rags-to-riches tale, despite adversity, with its main messages being confront your fears, learn from failure and do what you enjoy most. She did also say that her first employer (and mentor) sent her home three times to change her clothes and I couldn’t help thinking that, in spite of all that wealth, she still had rather odd dress-sense! However, I’m not exactly famed for my sartorial taste, she’s super-rich, and I’m not, and not only was her story truly inspiring, but also she now does a lot of work to help young people to realise their dreams.

James Hettrick, a US evangelist for connected communities, a former Local Government CIO who was responsible for pioneering work on broadband rollout in the city of Loma Linda, California, and founder of ISMS, was another keynote speaker. In his session – “An Economic & Feasibility Case for New Zealand Broadband Infrastructure” – among other things, he spoke about reusable plastic fibre suitable for use in pre-prepared domestic trunking, and rugged kerb-side trunking installed in slots easily cut with grinders to reduce deployment costs. He also demonstrated a “patch panel” suitable for installation in street chambers, which reduces costs by avoiding the need to terminate all the fibre pairs.

Other interesting presenters over the three days of the conference included Jan Zawadzki, CEO of Zawadzki Limited – a New Zealand based Google Business Partner – who told us that the Web is now just over 5,000 days old and, in the past few weeks, the number of web pages indexed by Google passed a trillion. I saw Anna Karin Jonbrink, a Parliamentary Advisor to the EU in Sweden, present on “Green ICT - Energy and Environment Manager” in Sweden, but here she spoke in English, so I took the opportunity to attend her session again, and now realise that her research shows that the greatest environmental impact from PCs is in use, not manufacture and disposal, which is the accepted wisdom in the UK, so I plan to put her in-touch with Catalina McGregor, who leads on Green ICT matters for the UK. I also saw Fairfax County’s Deputy County Executive, Dave Mulchany’s, excellent presentation on the use of Social Media in Local Government when I was in Atlantic City, but he presented to ALGIM via video-link from his in Washington DC office, so I attended again to see how it went. Mike Manson told me ALGIM has been doing video-link presentations for 5 years, and it showed, as the presentation was of a very high quality.

On Tuesday morning, I presented on developments in Socitm, and the Changing Role of the IT Professional, and included an overview of Newham and the opportunities it’s pursuing. One of the audience recently emigrated to NZ, having worked in Newham, so we later chatted during a boat tour of Lake Taupo that was among delegates ‘leisure options for late Tuesday afternoon. Rod Drury, a New Zealand Technologist & Entrepreneur presented on “The Role of Local Government in Broadband” on Wednesday morning. He spotted me in the audience – “oh look, there’s Richard Steel!” Newham was among the first UK customers for his product “@ftermail”, which he subsequently sold to the US company, “Quest”. Rod made the case for publicly financed broadband infrastructure development, which, of course, I agreed strongly with, since we’re doing it in Newham, but it was especially interesting hearing the case made by a capitalist! To paraphrase some of his presentation, “costs are too high for the private sector, which is interested in profit maximisation, rather than maximising public access”, and “local government should deal with the last mile”.

Tuesday night’s formal dinner, and ALGIM Innovation Award presentations, was followed by dancing to a great NZ 80’s band that got even me dancing. The conference, which included an annual light-hearted session – this year, “The Green Debate – are you ready for the Hemp Keyboard?” - finished with lunch on Wednesday, following prize-giving and a keynote from Rob Waddell, an Olympic Champion and NZ Champion Rower. Then it was time to say goodbye to many warm and generous new friends.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Cousins Reunited

My cousin, Jonathan Steel, lives in Karaka, near Auckland, having emigrated with his family about 15 years ago. He and I hadn't seen or spoken to one another for over 20 years, but I 'phoned him a couple of weeks ago to tell him that Chris and I were about to visit New Zealand. He and Joanna, his wife, took time off work, and were at the Airport for the arrival of our flight at 11.00 on Thursday (20th November). I booked a campervan for the duration of our visit, as we planned to tour the country, following the ALGIM Conference. (Although, we'd have hotel accommodation at the Conference, it proved simpler to hire the camper for transport throughout our visit, rather than mess about with other arrangements.) Jon and Jo took us to the Hire Depot, and patiently waited while we completed the paperwork and had everything explained to us. Then Jon rode with me, and Chris rode with Jo, back to their house where we were invited to stay for the next two nights. Their Guest Room, however, was already in use by a friend of Jessica, their daughter, visiting from Thailand, so we were sleeping in the 'van. No shortage of space for parking, 'though, on their 6 acre plot! Then, the four of us visited Jon's local Pub – the ideal way to relax after a long journey, in my view - before returning to the house in time for Jo to help Jessica put her horse through its paces. Jo has been involved in competitive riding since before they migrated from the UK, and Jessica now rides dressage. Jo cooked us a lovely meal then, after a bit more catching-up with family news, Chris and I had an early night.

We spent Friday with Jon's family and, asked what we'd like to do, we chose a drive north through the lovely countryside to relax at a hot springs spa, stopping en-route for a fish and chips lunch (wrapped the proper way - in newspaper!) In the evening, I played ten-pin bowling with Jon and Chris at Jon's local Bowling Alley. Having bragged about how good I used to be, I was roundly beaten by them both. We rounded-off the day with a curry, and were joined by friends of Jon and Jo.

After breakfast, on Saturday, we said our farewells and headed off for the Wairakei Resort, Taupo, where the ALGIM Conference was being held. We drove via Rotorua and stopped-off at the "Rainbow Springs" Nature Park and walked around its various attractions - all in or around the springs – various species of fish, birds, trees and other flora and fauna, including, of course, kiwi.

Having arrived at the Resort, and booked-into our rather nice accommodation, Chris and I joined ALGIM Committee Members and other international guests at the House Bar, from where we were taken to dinner at the Beach Brasserie at Manuels Hotel on the Taupo lake-front. Lake Taupo is the biggest inland lake in the southern hemisphere, roughly the size of Singapore, and formed less than two thousand years ago in a volcanic explosion.

On Sunday the ALGIM Team and international guests had a 9.00 start for the day's sightseeing. We viewed the Huka Falls, and the Wairakei Power Station from various vantage points. The Power Station is the second Geo-Thermal Power Station to be built in the world, in the '50s. It currently supplies around 3.5% of New Zealand's energy, but 60% of electricity in New Zealand is generated by natural resources, and projects in-hand will see 90% of energy production for the North Island in Taupo. New Zealand is a "nuclear free zone", which was a brave move, antagonising, as it did, nations like the USA which was used to parking its ships at New Zealand ports, but is no longer allowed to as it won't say whether they carry nuclear material. We then toured up the Waikato River by Jet Boat, and crossed to the Orakei Korako Thermal Park – a "prehistoric" landscape of bubbling pools, geysers and other geo-thermal wonders. We powered back up-river in the Jet Boat - powered by twin 350 Chevvy V8 engines, developing 750 bhp between them - doing some "boat acrobatics" along the way. Apparently, the Jet Boat was invented by a New Zealander, named Hamilton, who wanted to reduce his 20 minute boat journey home from work as his local pub, in those days, closed at 6.00 pm! On the way back to the resort we stopped to see the 2.00 pm opening of the Aritatia Dam on the Waikato River. A condition of its planning consent was that it should be opened four times a day so the river could follow its original course. To stand downstream of the dam, and see the empty river fill, in a matter of minutes, to a twenty foot deep raging torrent is amazing. We returned to the resort to meet ALGIM's President, Mike Wanden, over drinks prior to the Conference Opening.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Holidaying in Hong Kong

We landed in Hong Kong at about 4.00 pm on Sunday, and were in our hotel on Causeway Bay by 6.00 pm. Chris and I had arranged to meet with Wan Lik Lee, who we met at the Socitm Conference, on our arrival, and after we had freshened-up he came to meet us and took us out to see Hong Kong by night. We took the Star Ferry across to Kowloon, with the 8.00 pm Laser Light Show between Tower Blocks either side of the harbour in progress. What a fantastic introduction to the city! Some of the towers are already decorated for Christmas, and you can get some idea of just how spectacular it will be when they’re all in their seasonal regalia. Afterwards we took a taxi up to the Peak to see the famous City views (and photo opportunities) by night, and were (apparently) lucky to have arrived on an unusually clear day. After exploring the Kowloon Quayside as far as the Avenue of Stars, we returned to Causeway Bay, and Wan Lik took us to a local noodle cafĂ©, which has served nothing but beef and chicken with noodles for 30+ years, for a supper washed-down by soya milk. It was the sort of place that, I’m sorry to admit, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to venture into without someone familiar with their surroundings but I was really glad we went there, and the proprietor fussed over us and seemed delighted at our enjoyment of his food.

On Monday, we boarded a west-bound tram close to our hotel, and stayed-on past the Western Market, which Wan Lik had advised us would be a great way to get an overview and orient ourselves to downtown Hong Kong. I’m not completely sure where we got-off, but we walked back through the bustle of the dried-fish market that was the original business of the Island, which had mesmerised us as we passed on the tram, doing our best to capture the atmosphere in photos. We made our way back to the Star Ferry Terminal, and stopped for a beer in the sunshine, with the temperature still in the low 80’s, before crossing, again, to Kowloon and catching the subway to Mong Kok, where we spent the afternoon wondering among some of the many conjoined markets, including the Ladies, Sportswear, Flower and Bird markets. On returning to the Ferry Terminal, we took the route direct to the Causeway Bay area, rather than Central, and were exploring our way back to the Hotel when Wan Lik contacted me on my mobile to say he wanted to take us to dinner on the famous Jumbo floating restaurant. This again, was not to be missed, and we enjoyed a sumptuous Chinese meal.

I awoke at four ‘o’ clock, on Tuesday morning, and couldn’t get back to sleep, so spent a couple of hours on e-mail. Chris and I spent the day at Ocean Park. The Cable Car ride along the coastline and cliff-edge, from the entrance attractions up to the “headland” and main park, is amazing. The park is well worth a visit for the Coral Reef, Jellyfish and other aquariums, and there is the obligatory, but well done, dolphin show, as well as some thrill rides. There’s also the Giant Panda Habitat, including a pair given by China on the 10th anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty. In the evening, Chris and I dined at the hotel, and then went for a walk around the locality. It really seemed a different world, to us, with its busy street cafes amid towering tenements. Many of the apartments have seemingly home-made verandas hanging to the sides of the buildings!

On Wednesday we arose reasonably early and went for a swim and a sauna at the roof-top health club. I’ve always been afraid of heights, but it’s the first time I’ve suffered vertigo in a swimming pool! We were booked to fly to Auckland on an evening flight and decided, the previous evening to check our luggage in early at the Central Rail Terminal for the Airport service, which Wan Lik advised us we could do. In the taxi, however, on a whim I decided we’d go all the way to the Airport, reasoning that the visits we planned were all in its vicinity on Lantau Island, forgetting that we already had train tickets, and what a long way it was. The extra cost wasn’t too great, as taxis in Hong Kong are quite inexpensive, but there were no early check-in facilities at the Airport, so we also had to pay to leave our bags in the Left Luggage for most of the day. Then we caught a bus to Tung Chung and got the Cable Car to Ngong Ping, where the world’s tallest outdoor seated bronze Buddha sits atop the mountain. The Cable Car ride was long with spectacular views, and the Buddha and Po Lin Monastery were well worth the visit. From there we caught a bus down the mountain to the Tai O Fishing Village, known for its stilt houses in its main creek. Again – not to be missed, and more great photo opportunities. We caught another bus back to the Airport, and had sufficient time for a snack and a drink after collecting our luggage and checking-in for our flight.

Our first trip to Hong Kong was a fantastic experience. Apart from the incredible atmosphere of the place, one of the things that most affected me was the impact of the SARS virus. Quite a few people were still wearing respiratory masks. Hundreds died, and the outbreak turned Hong Kong into a virtual Ghost Town for 3+ weeks, which is even harder to comprehend once you’ve seen the energy and vitality of the place.

Monday, 17 November 2008

You will have seen from Richard's blog that he and Chris are now in NZ for a well earned break as well as Richard attending the NZ conference. You will also have seen from Richard's blog that because of uncertainty Steve Hopson has asked to defer his Presidency year and the Socitm Board of Directors has agreed to nominate me as next year's President. I take nothing for granted however and regret the circumstances that have led to this situation. From a personal perspective however I have huge pride in and enthusiasm for the position and, if elected, will work to put members first, recognise regional agendas and continue the transformation of the Society.

Whilst Richard is away I will be taking a personal lead in working with Rose on establishing the Membership Board, moving forward discussions on what programme of events we want as a Society, continuing the work of the NAC and making arrangements for the AGM in April. Richard still has more than 5 months of his year of office remaining however and I (along with all of the other Directors) will be supporting the work that he has been so capably leading in restructuring the Society and increasing its influence.

If we all work to move the Society forward then we have a bright future both as a members orgnaisation and a thought leader/influencer. That requires we all work in the Society's best interests whilst recognising the significant diversity of needs, views and opinions about how we progress. I look forward to working with you all as we move forward.

Steve Palmer

Friday, 14 November 2008

On My Way...

The Events Futures Working Group – Adrian Hancock, Ken Boxhall, Martin Fuggles, Steve Palmer and myself - met with the NCC’s Ian Jones and Kylie Smith at Camden Town Hall. We had detailed discussions about Socitm’s Events Management requirements and the ways in which the NCC could engage with us to provide an enhanced service. Our discourse was structured in the following five areas – Annual Conference, Regional Events, Ad-Hoc Events, Roundtables and special events like the President’s Dinner. We were keen to identify added value that will be achievable, including use of the sort of technology one would expect from a Society of IT Professionals, such as web-casting and electronic voting.

Further proposals will be developed based on the information discussed. We have started to think about an event to coincide with the date of Socitm’s next AGM, in April, with a probable theme around Social Responsibility, which may provide the “test bed” for a relationship.

After lunch Ken, Steve and Martin left, and Adrian and I were joined by Steve Markwell (NCC CEO) and Andy Hopkirk to discuss a broader Socitm/ NCC relationship. A number of potential areas of co-operation were identified. There’s potential for linking to the NCC’s Evaluation Centre to enhance our development of the Software Supplier Index being merged with Brent’s e-Gov Register, and there appear to be opportunities for bundling added member benefits on either side.

At the end of the afternoon, Adrian and I were joined by Steve Pennant, now of Capital Ambition (London’s RIEP), to consider its relationship with Socitm. The Capital Ambition Efficiency will comprise representatives of the various professional disciplines, including Finance, HR and ICT. ICT representation will come from a Socitm London sub-group to be known as the Socitm Transformation Group.

Steve explained his approach to ICT Strategy development. My concern is to ensure consistency with Socitm national policy and strategy developments. We need to ensure that there is adequate linkage between the Socitm (London) Transformation Group and Socitm Futures.
The emerging model is a good one, ‘though, and I hope that we can negotiate similar relationships with the other Regional Improvement & Efficiency Partnerships.

I’m off, now, to the ALGIM Conference, with a few nights in Hong Kong, en-route, followed by touring New Zealand in a Campervan, before travelling home via San Francisco. See you in mid-December!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Welcome, Steve!

My original intention for the Socitm President’s Blog was for it to be a President’s Team Blog. That didn’t happen, but we’re now taking a step in that direction! Steve Palmer, the next President, will become an occasional contributor to the Blog and, I hope, able to maintain and develop the facility – perhaps as a Team Blog? – when I step down. I’m also hoping that Steve can make his first contributions during my trip to the ALGIM Conference, and extended holiday, in New Zealand, although I’m also aiming to still make my own occasional contributions in this period!

The Chair of the Microsoft Public Sector Software Licensing Project Board contacted me to request that I do not make any further Blog reports of the development until a deal has been concluded. I don’t think I’ve written anything that’s at all confidential or controversial, and I do believe in doing the best I can to communicate the work we are undertaking in the name of public sector colleagues. I therefore regret the decision, but will comply with the request as I don’t want to compromise my ability to represent the local public sector on the Project Board.

There were to have been GC CoCo Exemption Committee Appeal Hearings today, but they were cancelled. Great! I got to stay at home and get up-straight with correspondence and ‘phone calls.

Me - a Philistine?!

Now, it’s not just me saying that we need to address the insufficiency of IT skills in the work-force.

Siemens hosted a Socitm Futures meeting at its offices in Old Bailey.

The agenda included Nicky Stewart, from the OGC, on “Supplier Management Issues” – more effective strategic procurement – developing a standard Pre-Qualification Questionnaire and “Procurement Qualification Tool”. Better working between the Public and Private Sectors, supported by a “Joint Statement of Intent” between the (public sector) SRO (Senior Responsible Officer) and SIRE (Senior Industry Responsible Executive).

The project is using a tool, developed by Siemens, for modelling Desktop cost reduction, which sounded interesting. It is benchmarking costs, using Flex as the comparator. We agreed to explore alignment of the approach that’s been developed in Socitm, and offered our support to extend public sector penetration.

Having explained his role in supporting the local public sector support to adopt the security framework developed for central government, the CESG’s Kevin Hayes then presented on the “Information Assurance Maturity Model” and the “Security Policy Framework” that’s replacing the Manual of Protective Security (and available, now, for downloading from the CESG website). The usual discussion of pan-Government security alignment and vision followed, but the meeting was very supportive of the initiative.

At my invitation, Adrian Norman and Richard Quarrell attended to present “PSIPHON” – their project to create tools to automate the creation of registers of public sector organisations’ Information Assets, and create a market in the reuse of information, satisfying the relevant EU legislation, whilst providing commercial opportunities for information owners and a single search and retrieval source for those seeking information. It was agreed to set-up a small working group to explore how Socitm should help in this venture.

In July 2005, Socitm Consulting produced a briefing on the Directive on the Reuse of Public Sector Information, which stands the test of time.

Simon Norbury attended to provide an update on Government Connect and the CoCo.

The meeting finished with lunch, following which David Hopkins kindly allowed me to work-on at Siemens’ offices until it was time for me to pop-across to Euston for my train to Chester, where I was met by Steve Hopson, and stayed with him and Sue before Tuesday’s NW Socitm Regional Meeting at Tate Liverpool, at Albert Dock.

David Hopkins has accepted an invitation to serve on the new Member Benefits Board, which I neglected to mention, last week, will be chaired by Rose Crozier.

The theme of the North-West Regional meeting was “Managing and Accessing Information”.

Cheshire’s Par Esegobona (who, I’m glad to say, later joined the Region’s Committee) presented on “Building an Information Management Roadmap” from the perspective of the Cheshire County and Districts Councils, which are being reorganised into two unitary Authorities (Cheshire East & West) which come into existence next April. That context vividly illustrated the challenges of effective information management – ensuring information is available to the right person, in the right place and at the right time. (I couldn’t help reflecting that here was another application for PSIPHON.)

Simon Norbury had planned to travel up to Liverpool the previous evening, but as his kids were unwell (Chicken Pox) elected, instead, to travel up to Liverpool in the morning, arriving in time to present his Government Connect/ CoCo update, which resulted in a lively debate, and I weighed-in with Socitm’s rationale for supporting the programme.

I presented on the changes in Socitm, following which the sponsor – NetApp – presented “Tiered Storage or not Tiered Storage – that is the question” - its storage system and approach to de-duplication of data. I was unfamiliar with the company and its products, but quickly concluded they merited further investigation.

After lunch, Professor Barry Forde, from Lancashire University, and John Barrett, from Cheshire County Council, presented “Developing a NW Regional Communications Network”, based on the joining of Cheshire’s IP Network with CLEO – “Cumbria and Lancashire Education Online”.

Finally, Mark Wheatley, from Socitm Consulting, presented on “Developing the IT Professionalism Agenda”, which included details of Aspire.

The NW Regional AGM followed. Steve Hopson stood-down as Chair, and Cheshire’s David Crowe was elected to succeed him, with John Curruthers, from the Wirral, as Vice Chair and Denise Griffiths (Cheshire) Secretary. Steve remains on the Committee which Steve Jones (another Director) has also joined.

Those of us who stayed (mainly the organisers) had the opportunity to look around the Tate Gallery after the meeting. It started well, for me, with “The Kiss” by Auguste Rodin, who I’ve always been a fan of, on the ground floor. As we wandered up through the Galleries, ‘though, there were increasing numbers of more avant garde works that I completely failed to appreciate!

I was staying with Steve and Sue for a second night and we went out to dinner at a hostelry in their village where we bumped-into Chris Guest, who is Head of Technology & Improvement at Flintshire County Council, and a Socitm Past President.

Steve and I were up early to get the train back to London to attend a Directors’ Training Course at Old Sessions House, in Farringdon. Earlier this year, the Board agreed that all its number should ensure they were fully aware of their duties and responsibilities, and we eventually found this course that (nearly) all of us could make. Directors, Steve Palmer, Steve Hopson, Steve Jones, David Bryant, David Houston, Adrian Hancock and I were joined by Pam Larsen, Secretary, and Melanie Smith, Finance.

At first I enjoyed the frequent anecdotes, but as the day wore-on I found myself resenting the time that I could have spent on other things, and I had to agree, as other Directors had already opined, that the material could have been effectively covered in half a day. Nevertheless, I learned quite a lot, and think it’s a really good discipline for Socitm to make the commitment to the proficiency of its representatives. I also had the opportunity to get some advice about some of the issues we are dealing with in the wind-up of Caboodle Solutions in Newham.

Friday, 7 November 2008


The announcement of the Socitm 2008 Conference Photo Competition winners somehow passed me by, but details are here. Congratulations to all the winners.

Today, I worked at home – wrote this month’s President’s Report, which should be hitting your in-boxes soon, drafted my presentation for the ALGIM Conference in New Zealand and got up-to-date with correspondence.

Since I’ll be away from the office most of next week, then off to New Zealand for the Conference and holiday until 12th December, I’ve now set my out-of-office automated response for the next five weeks!

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Strengthening Socitm Social Responsibility

Yesterday, I neglected to mention an exciting development, discussed at a breakfast meeting that Adrian, David and I had with William Hoyle, Chief Executive of CTT – “Charity Technology Trust”. William was representing CITRA – the “Charity IT Resource Alliance”, with whom talks concerning a merger with Socitm are at an advanced stage. In a recent EGM CITRA members agreed to the plan, which should see CITRA becoming a special interest group within Socitm. We are in the process of final “due diligence” and hope to make a formal announcement soon, for implementation from 1st January. We have also agreed cross-representation between the boards of Socitm and the CCitDG – “Charities Consortium IT Directors’ Group”, which is composed of the Heads of ICT from the major UK Charities.

The Socitm Board met today.

Steve Hopson, the Senior Vice President, had earlier advised us that, because of Local Government reorganisation in Cheshire (the county is being split in two from next April) he is unsure of whether he will be in a position to fulfil the duties of Socitm’s next President, taking-over from me in April. It was therefore suggested that Steve Palmer – the current second Vice President – should succeed me, which he has agreed with his employer, and Steve H will remain as Vice President for a further year. All subject, of course, to Member approval at our next AGM. The board supported these proposals. Whilst it shared in the personal disappointment that Steve H felt at the position in which he found himself, one of the reasons that we have three Vice Presidents is to enable us to cope with such circumstances, and the board was grateful to both Steves for their flexibility and pragmatism.

The Society’s budgetary position is continuing to improve, and there are signs that the new arrangements with Socitm Consulting are working well. David Houston presented the initial Base Budget for 2009, which has a number of important provisions supporting continued development of the Society and, for the first time, makes explicit provision for annual commitments, such as the President’s International costs(!) and office administration and training budgets.

The Business Plan for Socitm Insight was also presented. This now ensures that Insight picks-up agreed overhead costs of the Society’s support for its business, and requires a 15% revenue return to the Society. This approach is both more businesslike and fairer to Insight which, in the past, has had revenue contribution targets arbitrarily increased to help cover Society deficits!
The Board had also asked David to prepare a report back on progress made against the Affiliates recommendations (24th April, 2008). I’m very glad to say that this was extremely positive. I will provide a copy when I am certain that it has been endorsed by the affiliates (with some minor redaction of commercially sensitive information).

There was some discussion of the National Advisory Council and Socitm Futures, and of some confusion or misunderstanding of their roles. I am to write to their Chairs to clarify the position. In summary, this is that the Board runs the Socitm Business; the NAC is the primary body representing the Socitm membership, and responsible for nominating the membership of Socitm Futures - the Society’s research arm, and the body responsible for developing the Society’s policies.

We agreed to suggest to the NAC that it determines the membership’s policy priorities – probably by a survey – as we clearly don’t have the capacity to work on everything at the same time. Security, and vision thereon, is already the implicit top priority, and I would hope that will be confirmed. It’s important to note, too, that under its protocol for policy development, all policy proposals developed by Socitm Futures will also be subject to mandatory thirty days’ consultation via the Socitm website before they can be enacted by the Board.

I am also to request monthly progress updates to the Board from the NAC Chair.

At its last meeting, the NAC did ask the Board to nominate a Director responsible for Member communications. We are still in the throes of setting-up a Member Benefits Board, which will provide a natural home for such a Director but, in the meantime, we’ve agreed it’s me!

The initial report-back from the annual Socitm Conference confirms it was the most successful in a long time – in all respects, numbers attending, the exhibition, attendees’ and exhibitors’ feedback. Whilst we are, of course, delighted at that news (and congratulations, again, to the Events Team for a tremendous job) we can’t afford to rest on our laurels! The Board requested the recently appointed Events Review Working Party to present its specification of requirements, and a schedule for implementation of its recommendations, to the February meeting of the Socitm Board of Directors. Some of the considerations are – separate country conferences supporting the agenda of devolved administrations? A permanent venue for UK Conferences? Centralised support for regional events planning? Out-sourcing or partnership with other media and/ or events organisations?

A great deal of other business was covered by the Board, but perhaps the most noteworthy remaining item was that Shey Cobley, our Board Advisor until she is succeeded by Frances Kettleday, this year’s Graham Williamson Challenge winner, in April, will host a Board Workshop to consider how the Society should develop its Member Services to embrace its wider membership following the decision taken at last month’s EGM.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


Adrian, David and I all attended this morning’s “Socitm/ Intellect Local Government Supplier Forum”, which had as its theme “Government Authentication Services”. We are keen to bolster our support for this forum, consistent with our new membership model, providing “equality of membership” and desire to articulate a policy agenda that’s understood and shared with private sector colleagues.

Speakers were from the DCSF on the Employee Authentication Project and the new “Gateway to Educational Services” (GES) project, and Hampshire’s Ian Cooper presented a local government perspective on Government Authentication Services, and elaborated a number of challenges for all those who are working in the field, consistent, of course, with the need to develop pan-Government security vision and strategy.

GES aims to engage parents /carers and other stakeholders through a single secure infrastructure to support all related services delivery – such as admissions, attainment, transportation, school meals, course planning and grants. A generic online Free School Meals application was used to exemplify the GES approach. I thought this a little flawed, as it still required parents to apply for Free School Meals, whereas I understand that if they are in receipt of certain benefits - Income Support, for example - their children automatically qualify and could be passported through the process.

I had planned to stay for the Management Board in the afternoon, but left Adrian to keep our end up while I returned to my hotel room to deal with some correspondence and reports, including last minute updates to tomorrow’s Socitm Board agenda, agreed at yesterday evening’s session.

In the evening I attended the Computing Awards for Excellence 2008 at the Battersea Park Events Arena – the first time I’ve been there – it’s big! Rob Brydon did a great job as the after dinner entertainment and awards presenter.

Funnily enough, my evening started in conversation with Intellect’s Charles Ward – a fellow Computing Awards judge - who introduced me to John Higgins, Intellect’s Director General, and we agreed to meet in furtherance of a closer working relationship.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Stating the Blooming Obvious

David Houston and I met with Gartner’s Nicola Bain to discuss our prospective relationship. Our present contract covers, primarily, the research service used by Socitm Insight. (Several of our consultants are at the annual Gartner Symposium, in Cannes, this week.) Socitm’s relationship used to include discounted pricing for the local government community, but this is now little used and, I am told, most authorities contract directly in their own right. If we are to rebuild our relationship with Gartner, my view is that it should support our policy development, and we agreed a further meeting, or telephone conversation, initially, with a Gartner strategist in furtherance of that aim. In addition, we agreed to exchange monthly updates on events planning in order to effectively plan opportunities for cross-marketing and representation.

I met James Lee, again, and his Legal Advisor, so that they could take me through the proposed contract for the PSMP before I submit it to Newham’s Legal Services for approval. Although not yet signed, its provisions, which provide Newham with a 50% share of net revenue in the borough, are now effective.

Following which, David Hopkins had asked if I would address Siemens Public Sector Management Team, at their offices in Old Bailey, on “selling to Local Government in times of uncertainty”. They got my interpretation of the environment that suppliers are now faced with, heavily laced with views of how we, with our industry partners, should be approaching issues like digital convergence and social networking.

I had arranged to stay in-town and meet-up with Adrian and David to prepare for Thursday’s Board meeting, and review the agenda and priorities going forward. We were booked-into the Bloomsbury Park Hotel, in Southampton Row, where we met in the bar and worked before and after dinner, finishing about 11.30pm.

I’ll include details of some of our discussion in the next President’s report, but it ranged over matters like succession planning, setting a budget for the Socitm office, commercial planning, marketing and incentivisation, and recharging of corporate services.

I’ve lost the link, for now, but did you read that the Prime Minister said, when commenting about the latest loss of a memory stick with some (encrypted) Government Gateway log-in credentials, that “total security cannot be guaranteed” (or words to that effect)? At last – stating the blooming obvious, but it means that we all must plan accordingly and think not just about making systems as secure as possible, but also contingency and how to respond if there is a breach.

Monday, 3 November 2008

And the Winner is....

Well done, Lewis; well done, Felipe; well done, ITV.

After two days of meetings, at the end of last week, correspondence has backed-up, again. That took care of my morning.

In the afternoon, I attended the final stage of judging for the National e-Government Awards at the Cabinet Office, Admiralty Arch, with fellow judges - John Suffolk (Government CIO), Laurence West (KPMG), Paul Lankester (CE of Stratford on Avon District Council & representing Solace), Tony Singleton (Directgov), Suraj Kika (CEO of Jadu), Ray Whitehouse (Havering) and Chris Histed (Public Technology Limited) (who runs the awards).

There was surprising consensus in our judging undertaken independently online (which apparently is usual) and agreed the results for all eleven categories. I believe the shortlists will be announced on Friday. The Awards evening & black-tie dinner will be on 20th January, at the Guildhall.