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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.

Inspiring leadership

Adams-Wright is Suffolk County Council's first CIO, creating the role by bringing ICT and Information Management together, and he has worked with its leadership to inspire new levels of interest in technology.

"In my first meeting the leadership said the new strategy sounded good, but then who were they to question it?" he admits. So he brought in fellow trail-blazing local authority CIO Jos Creese of Hampshire and some Gartner analysts and presented the technology strategy to the leadership again, with Creese and Gartner there to scrutinise the plan on the behalf of the management board as 'Critical Friends'. That move, Adams-Wright says, changed the engagement towards ICT and created a real buy-in to the IT team's journey and aims.

"They have moved from a position of reticence to knowing what they want and they are hungry to have it," he says.

Back in 2004, Suffolk was one of the first authorities to form a major joint venture with a business when it signed a 10-year service provision deal with BT Global Services, called Customer Service Direct (CSD), reported at the time to be worth £301 million to the telco. By 2010 the deal wasn't performing and the council leader that struck the deal had left. With four years remaining on the deal when Adams-Wright joined, ensuring that the that relationship remained healthy and beneficial to both parties was critical.

"Just like any long-term commitment, you don't get what you want and need if you don't work hard at it on all sides as we needed to work harder to keep the partnership successful," he says.

"I felt we were not getting the best value we could at the same time as the downturn in the economy began. The cost of change was too high and becoming beyond affordability for the council. So by the time I joined there was a need for a re-think. The key issue was that change was chaotic - anyone could make a request for a change and work statements were created all over the council. We lacked the rigour and control we need to scrutinise spend, for example we had amassed nearly a dozen different reporting software solutions, and not enough drive was in place for corporate solutions evaluation and re-use.

"So we set up a corporate process for any change over £500 to be assessed and a Commissioning Board now meets every Tuesday with senior representatives of all business areas, the Contracts and Procurement team and the CSD team. The need for commissioning new work has to be evidenced and explained by the Requestor at this meeting and the board judges whether it is in the interest of the council to spend money on that requirement. It has been a hugely effective process, saving the council upwards of £8 million in unnecessary or non-value-added spend over its life to date.


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