“The Technology 2020 strategy is not a destination, it is a waypoint,” Director of Business Change and Information Solutions at Sheffield City Council Mark Gannon says. The CIO joined the Yorkshire city council last June. In the spring Gannon and the council hosted a supplier day to bring national and local service providers together to hear, discuss and get involved with the transformation of the city once famed for its steel.
“The chief executive is very clear: that we have to become a different organisation and that transformation is not an activity, it is a mindset. It is the Forth Road Bridge stuff,” Gannon says of looking at change in just the same way as you have to look at maintenance, it is never completed.
Gannon’s role is about harnessing technology both to improve the internal operations of the organisation, but also to use technology to improve the city. That means Gannon is a CIO transforming an organisation and a community.
“I am biased, it is a great city. It has a young population, 30% of the population is under 30 years-old. Creativity is at the heart, we have more breweries than any other city in the North of England,” he says with a smile. “We have an industrial heritage and we are building on that,” Gannon says of how the city is developing the Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Park, which is already a home to some of engineering’s greats including Liebherr, TWI, Rolls Royce, Boeing and a host of scale-up companies.
“We cannot reimagine the organisation by 2020, we are to be fit for the future by 2020 and part of that is not to be dependent on one supplier. So it is about how do we grow the city, that will improve our council tax and business rates returns,” the CIO says of how the council has to have as strong a business ethos as it does social conscious. Gannon believes customer involvement is key to this, whether you are a citizen of the city, run a small to medium sized business or one of the global giants listed above.
“You build a lot of goodwill and better outcomes through customer involvement,” the Aston Villa FC loving CIO says. The other major aspect of Gannon’s new focus is to make the city council an organisation that is digitally skilled and using digital to make the best decisions. To help the city on that journey Gannon and other members of the council have been developing a lot of coalitions across both the private and public sector. These associations, such as the Sheffield Digital Coalition act as vehicles to bring citizens, the authority, businesses and suppliers together.
“I’m interested in building a grass roots set of solutions,” Gannon (below) says of the power of these groups.
New supply of suppliers
With a new approach to the city, new technology and methods will be required. “It is about being very clear about what we are looking for and we appreciate the relationships we have and we are really open to feedback,” Gannon says of the supplier day.
During my day with there I met globals up from their Reading headquarters, regional providers and startups from Sheffield and nearby. On the back wall three technology challenges were outlined on sheets. Throughout the day Gannon and members of his senior leadership team explained the opportunities and the challenges they face. Throughout the day Debbie Turner from the procurement team at Sheffield City Council was there too. With a steady supply of coffee, biscuits and sandwiches the event flowed with conversation and ideas.
On Gannon’s “being very clear” the CIO did not shy away from the well known long term agreement Sheffield City Council has with outsourcing service provider Capita. In 2015 the Council extended its agreement with Capita to run to January 2022. Capita believes the contract “will generate additional revenues of approximately £140 – £170 million” as the provider of IT, revenues, benefits HR, payroll and financial transactions services to the council.
“That contract will continue,” Gannon told attendees, “but our strategy is to move to a multi-vendor environment”.
“I am really keen to engage in the open as far as possible. I want to engage and create a relationship with the suppliers and I know how frustrating it can be when you are on the other side of the fence,” Gannon tells me. Before joining Sheffield City Council in June 2017 he spent two years supplier side with Methods Advisory Services.
“We are past austerity. We are in a new normal and there will not be a massive reinvestment in local government,” Gannon says of the cuts made by the Conservative government to cities such as Sheffield.
“But the growth in demand for social care and at the same time the significant reduction in revenues means we need new thinking of how to cope with that demand,” Gannon says. He adds that the best way to meet the demands of citizens is to involve them in the design of the services. Something the Better Public Services a Manifesto advocates.
“If you look at the services we provide it is life and death,” he says of the critical nature of our local authorities.
“My remit on the digital agenda is external as well as internal. I wasn’t looking, but the bit that did it for me was the remit to do something at a city level and I am really passionate about creating a city where everyone can thrive,” he says. He has spent much of his career with that community thriving focus in locations such as Nottingham, where he was CIO for the city, Hartlepool, Rotherham and London.