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GO Interview – Jos Creese

Tuesday June 29th, 2010

Jos Creese, the new President of Socitm, speaks to GO Features Editor Morven MacNeil about the impact the Government’s recent spending cuts will have on procurement and his future plans for the organisation.

Socitm – the Society of Information Technology Management – was founded in 1986 as the professional association for ICT managers working in and for the public sector. It is a membership organisation running both professional and commercial activities.

With around 1700 members from 550 different organisations, including 98 per cent of all UK local authorities, Socitm provides a widely respected platform for the promotion, use and development of ICT best practice. The Society also plays a leading role in ICT-facilitated local government transformation in the UK. GO spoke to Jos Creese, newly appointed President of Socitm, about his thoughts on the latest round of efficiency savings and the future of the organisation.

How did you first become involved with Socitm?

I first became involved with Socitm through the Socitm Insight service. They were doing a lot of innovative and useful work on benchmarking and research on matters of interest to public sector IT managers. It was from there I became involved with the work of the Society.

What other remits does Socitm cover?

Socitm has a number of business streams including a large consultancy group, research, events, training and membership services. In addition, the Society has a number of more corporate functions. It supports the local public services CIO council, it has a regional infrastructure and network of events, and it has a strong policy and strategy team where we respond in a timely fashion to government announcements and initiatives.

The new coalition Government has announced that a further £6 billion in spending cuts will be made to non frontline  services in financial year 2010-11 and that a full Spending Review will report in the autumn. What impact do you think this will have on procurement?

Initially we will see a detailed review of all existing and planned procurements and projects. I think there will be a focus on smaller procurements in the future, but all existing projects will need to pass two tests. First of all, are IT projects and procurements aligned to the Government’s new priorities? Secondly, are they going to deliver the best possible value and have they been structured in a way which will  maximise benefits? The ‘nice to haves’ will just not happen unless there is a really strong business case. I also believe that many more collaborative arrangements will emerge because a lot of public sector organisations are approaching the marketplace at the same time for the same types of goods and services, particularly around IT. This cannot be sensible.

How important do you believe innovative thinking will be in achieving efficiency savings over the coming years?

I think it will be absolutely essential. Less money and harder challenges will stimulate more innovative thinking than you would get if money was plentiful and we could carry on doing as we’ve always done. The challenges ahead will force more creative thinking: we can’t simply be a bit smarter about doing things we’ve always done. We have to radically rethink public service design.

Do you think eProcurement will play a major role in achieving efficiency savings?

I’m not convinced about this. Clearly eProcurement is important, not only because doing things electronically is lower cost, but also because potentially there are now technologies to modernise the way we do procurement, such as eAuctions. Having said that, I think the big savings from procurement will be threefold – doing less, getting more out of what we are doing, and doing it more efficiently. Doing it more efficiently means reducing the rules and regulations; working collectively with others; and helping the private sector to do business with the public sector more easily. Wherever we can, we must drive costs out of the system.

What can the public and private sectors learn from each other with regard to procurement?

Quite a lot. The public sector needs to understand that simply trying to pass risks and costs to the marketplace does not reduce the overall cost of the solution you get in return. I think there are times when the public sector is quite naive in the way it engages with the private sector, and we’ve seen that in a whole range of failed procurements or outsourcing contracts that did not deliver the scale of benefits expected. So I definitely think the public sector needs to have a better understanding of how things work on theother side of the fence and, therefore, how to engage more appropriately with the private sector.

Equally, however, parts of the private  sector are still responding to procurement requirements from the public sector using a model that was out of date certainly by the 1990s. They send out the same price list, using the same contractual model, with the intention of making money downstream as things change; these approaches are just not sustainable. We have seen too many examples where the unit costs of existing contracts or the inflexibility of those contracts is hurting the taxpayer. Suppliers are going to have to work harder and develop more flexible models which can respond to the challenges being faced by the public sector.

Supplier accreditation is becoming an increasingly important area for buyers and suppliers; how does this fit in with better quality procurement?

I am in two minds about this. There is something about a Kitemark – using standards to do things in a common way to better manage risks and reduce costs – which I would strongly support. Where accreditation results in repeatable processes, less reinvention of the wheel and better understanding and management of risks on both sides, it is to be welcomed. Having said that, I think the accreditation has to prove that that’s what it’s doing; that it’s not simply increasing the ability of large suppliers to compete because they have earned a few more ‘badges’. It’s got to be practical, something which helps deliver better results, not just a marketing gimmick.

What single element would you change in order to improve procurement?

Regulation. There are some positive aspects to the public sector tendering process – it’s rigorous, transparent, forces market testing in an objective fashion and as a result helps to prove best value use of public money. However, the way in which we do that at times is riddled with cost and overheads which, frankly, I think has to be challenged. I don’t believe that some of the bureaucracy is welcomed by the public or the private sector, so let’s do away with it.

Do you envisage any major changes in Socitm over the next few years?

Well I hope that we will see some major changes, because any organisation that doesn’t keep abreast of change, especially when it is representing IT professionals will struggle. The sort of change I would like to see, and I have committed to this during my year as President, is around the way in which Socitm engages with its members  and with other organisations, whether they are suppliers or other societies. The strength of an organisation such as Socitm doesn’t lie in the talent of the small band of people working in the centre. It lies in the membership. I don’t want to see members paying a fee and expecting to be spoonfed; I would like to see them more actively engaged – sharing ideas and best practice, getting involved in regional events, maybe leading on specific pieces of research providing case studies of the work.

On the affiliation side, I think there is a lot to be gained by building alliances. How should Socitm be working with organisations such as Intellect, the LGA and IDeA? How should we be working with supplier organisations looking to understand the public sector better and looking for access to some of the information that we have in order to do a better job for us? I am keen to open doors which strengthens the fundamental purpose of Socitm and builds partnerships that can improve what we do with IT in the public sector in meeting the challenges ahead.

Thank you for speaking to GO.

Profile…

Jos Creese is Head of IT at Hampshire County Council and was confirmed as the new President of Socitm at a recent AGM. His involvement with Socitm prior to becoming President included chairing Socitm Insight and acting as one of the Society’s three Vice Presidents. He will hold office for one year. Mr Creese has over 20 years’ experience in IT management, and joined Hampshire CC in 2002, following an earlier career in IT at district, unitary and county level, having started out in IT in the Department of Health. In his day job at Hampshire CC, he runs the IT group of technology and business professionals, and supports a variety of business change programmes enabled by IT for the Council. Hampshire also provides IT services to several hundred other public sector organisations. At a national level, Jos is a member of the CIO Council and the Local Data Panel, and chairs the Local Public Service CIO Council.

Further information…

For further information, please visit:

www.socitm.net

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