Interview with Nicola Graham
Ahead of our Client and Partner day we spoke to another one of our brilliant speakers: Nicola Graham, Head of ICT at Aberdeenshire Council
Aberdeenshire Council is one of the first Scottish local authorities to fully embrace a ‘cloud-based’ service management tool for ICT delivery. Tell us a bit about it? What were the biggest challenges and how you overcame those?
Our overall strategy is to move towards a cloud first approach with our key business applications. That brings the obvious benefits around reduction in expensive hardware, requirement for fewer resources, improved reliability and we have in the main been able to reduce our operating costs. Some big cloud changes include our HR& Payroll system, switch to Office 365 and as of last year, we no longer have our own onsite datacentre.
Switching to a cloud based IT service management tool was our first switch from an on-premise application to cloud delivery. We felt it was important for the IT service to lead the way and demonstrate the benefits. The key challenges were concerns around control, speed and security. However, we’ve found the exact opposite, we became more adaptable to changing the solution to meet business needs, it is easier to keep the application up to date and accessibility for our users and staff has significantly improved. Staff can access it from anywhere, without the reliance on our own infrastructure.
This year you became president of public sector ICT representative body Socitm. How are you finding it?
I am finding the year very busy as I am sure you would expect. I have a busy day job as well as taking on this additional responsibility. My key Presidential theme this year is how we embrace new technology such as AI, Robotics & IOT in an ethical manner. From a SOCITM perspective we need to understand our members challenges, do we have access to the necessary skills, what cultural issues do we need to overcome, how do we ensure we deploy the technology for the benefit of the citizens we serve and how do we ensure that we approach this in an ethical manner.
In addition to this, the key for me is remembering that we are a membership organisation and that as President I am there to represent the members views, opinions and ensure SOCITM supports the delivery of digital services in the public sector. I have worked with the Scottish region for a number of years and collectively we’ve grown our membership out with Local Government to ensure a diverse collaborative approach. Public Services are increasingly being delivered in a more collaborative approach, I believe it’s vital for real transformation of the public sector.
You are a strong activist for the ethical use of emerging technologies in the public sector. What is the role of the supplier community in supporting this?
The role of the supplier community is to both support our understanding of how we could use this technology to support delivery of our key services and how we can use it to support some of the more complex and challenging issues we face. Alongside this there is the ethical issue, so when does assistive technology in people’s homes become too intrusive and what could/should we do with the data we gather. Suppliers that can understand these issues can help support and guide that transition will be the most successful.
What would be your top three tips for SME’s looking to engage better with government?
In Aberdeenshire, of my top three suppliers, two are SME’s and we have a successful track record of working with SME’s. My 3 tips would be:
- Spend time building relationships – spend time to get to know people in the sector. Go to conferences, go to SOCITM regional meetings, understand our challenges, get yourself known. Your advantage over the big suppliers is you – be the real face of your organisation.
- Don’t push product, solve problems – too many suppliers get this wrong. They push their product or technology as opposed to focussing on the challenges those products will help me solve. Never start with technology
- Get existing customers to be vocal about your services. We have gone with many suppliers based on word of mouth or hearing about the great work they’ve done with others. We trust out peers to tell us what you’re really like – use that to your advantage!
Thank you very much for your time, Nicola! We are looking forward to hearing more at our Client and Partner day this Thursday.