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Suffolk Council CIO Mark Adams-Wright packing local punch

Mark Chillingworth | April 12, 2013
"The enthusiasm to take risks and make big changes is pretty healthy," says Mark Adams-Wright, CIO of Suffolk County Council. At the council's Ipswich headquarters he describes the journey the authority is on to become a thriving community that subtly embraces technology while remaining a rural idyll.

As well as throwing open the doors of its offices, Suffolk has been reaching out to its denizens online, through a new citizen-facing website which has won government awards.

Community and the cloud

These changes in attitude have been underpinned by change in the operational basis of the authority.

"We want this organisation to be as flexible as it can be. We are going to be less about delivery and more about community," says Adams-Wright, adding that this will change the technology landscape Suffolk operates.

"Over the last three years I've challenged the views of what can't be done and on the issues of risk, which are often about a lack of understanding. So the strategy now is about the impact of cloud for example," he says.

"We use Smartsheet, a project management tool in the cloud. It's like Microsoft Project, but better, and we are now a very large user of it. We now have pockets of cloud-based solutions and we are analysing the opportunities that Google Apps offers.

"We decided it was time for us to look desktop automation and challenge the 'Microsoft-only' question as it is a huge part of our spend. We asked ourselves - is this the only way? We looked at whether Google Apps could be used by the council as a truly viable alternative and a real game-changer in the way the council approaches the utilisation of its desktop tool suite.

"We are not doing a like-for-like comparison, but what I want to do is make sure that we have the right tools for an organisation that is shrinking.

"We must be brave and honest enough to ask ourselves whether Google does enough to be a viable alternative, and whether the organisation is ready for browser-based desktop access? So a pilot group of 60 users is using Google as their main environment. Some of the feedback is positive, some less positive and that is no surprise. Some of the issues are about the way that people use applications - habits and expectation - and reflex actions forged using Office are challenged with Google's suite.

"Where we have teams working on complex spreadsheets, then Google is less popular, but in Communications they love the collaboration on Google as they can use it wherever they are, especially if they are out in the field and need to create information for press releases or update their teams.

"Our strategy is to have a multi-vendor approach and that is the way the cloud works," he says. Adams-Wright is excited about cloud computing freeing IT to deliver value rather than spend its time on integration.

"Integration has placed itself at the wrong part of the food chain; it is a by-product of getting something right.


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