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CIO interview: Duncan Dewhurst London Borough of Lewisham

Lewisham (1)

“I don’t think it is always recognised how valuable good contract management is,” says Duncan Dewhurst, CIO and Head of Transformation at the London Borough of Lewisham.  Dewhurst, who has been with Lewisham since August 2014 has been managing a move away from outsourcing and into a new shared services model with neighbouring authorities.

Lewisham is south of the river in the nation’s capital. The local authority is based at Catford on the eastern edges of the River Thames and is home for over 300,000 Londoners and is one of the most ethnically diverse parts of the capital.

DewhurstWhen Dewhurst (left) arrived in local government from a role in central government’s Cabinet Office he found a technology service that needed to raise its profile and “look outward” he says. Sine 2014 the CIO has been involved in modernising the back end technology and in particular improving the management of its supplier contracts. In tandem with the back end modernisation Dewhurst and team have been developing the digital services the residents of Lewisham expect. Throughout my conversation with Dewhurst its clear that the CIO could not think of using the bi-modal model of different speeds, he had to fix the technology underpinnings and at the same time and at the same pace develop new services and models for the changing needs of the residents.

“We had a lot of catching up to do on the digital and the back office,” he says. Today Lewisham has a digital team using business intelligence (BI) tools, change management and service re-design.

“The technology had been holding us back. The culture was that using IT was a distraction and it has been about changing that perception. The technology is just 20% of what you need to do.” Dewhurst admits one of the largest challenges was “getting people to understand the value of changing behaviour” and like many of his CIO peers in the public sector, a history of a “compliance culture” has prevented new service designs and behaviours from developing.

“Getting social workers, for example, to use technology to make it easy for them to do their job and be more clever about the way that they work,” is the hardest, but also the most rewarding aspect of the transformation, the CIO says.

At the back end Dewhurst and his team introduced new datacentre and networking, getting the organisation off legacy thin-client technology and in to the cloud. The application estate has also been heading into the cloud using Microsoft Dynamics. Moving over 80 applications to the cloud was a big task for an organisation that Dewhurst says is “medium sized”.

New source for outsource

“All the infrastructure had been outsourced and the relationship with the outsource service provider didn’t work as well as it should have done,” he says. “I’m not sure outsourcing works in this scale of organisation.” The reason for Dewhurst’s opinion comes back to that point in the introduction about the ability to manage a contract. Outsource service providers, and in particular those serving the UK’s public sector, tend to be organisations of a scale that dwarfs many public organisations, particularly borough authorities.  As Salford NHS trust CIO Rachel Dunscombe told this title’s recent CIO podcast, public sector organisations have developed too many tactical ways of completing tasks that suit departments or authorities, but do not interoperate or can be replicated in other organisations.  As a result large outsource service providers have been able to develop bespoke solutions for each and every case, but that comes at a cost. That cost is where good contract management is necessary. Lewisham is far from alone in discovering itself in this position, Mark Adams-Wright faced the same issues with BT when he was CIO for Suffolk County Council.

Dewhurst believes local government may not be at the scale to operate large outsourcing contracts effectively.  The CIO says he has seen “a lack of real understanding about managing the parts of contracts.” Having exited its contract with Capita, Lewisham now manages its infrastructure in-house and then uses the Microsoft Office 365 cloud stack of tools.

Data driven

“We need to know we have the right interventions,” Dewhurst says of how data has to be core of so many local government services. Throughout the move to digital services Dewhurst and his team have been focusing on improving the experience for frontline government workers.

The shared service is not only helping Lewisham meet the needs of its residents and the continued austerity, Southwark Council and Brent Council in the north of London have adopted the service. “It gives us scale to things.” With a third borough joining the shared service Dewhurst says scale returns and the authorities will be able “to do  more”.

“A lot of public sector organisations do pretty similar things, there are 30 local authorities in London,” he says of the opportunities to rationalise and yet improve services. “We all want to make better use of technology and re-imagine the service that we deliver,” he says.

Dewhurst became a CIO from a civil service career rather than as a technologist. He joined the Treasury in 2005 and has worked on a number of areas including energy policy, internal budgets and vehicle taxation before finding his way to Lewisham. 

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About Mark Chillingworth 199 Articles
Mark Chillingworth has over 20 years of journalism and editing experience across all media platforms including online, live events, print magazines and television.
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