Aberdeenshire Council’s Nicola Graham talks digital transformation
Q. How did you get into IT?
I graduated from Napier University in 1994 with an honours degree in commerce. I had previously worked in a summer job in a very small IT team at a coatings manufacturing firm doing general PC support. After leaving university I went into another IT junior post, this time in the financial sector.
Since then I have gradually worked my way up the tree. I started on the infrastructure side and was a Novell systems administrator for a number of years, before moving to be a technical team leader. I always enjoyed the customer engagement and business side of my role and took any opportunity I could to become more than just a traditional “techy”.
I joined Aberdeenshire Council five years ago. Working in the public sector was a conscious choice for me, I enjoy being a public servant and it gives me an enormous amount of pride in my team’s work to know that the changes we’re implementing will positively impact on other people’s lives. There can’t be many other jobs in IT that give that level of job satisfaction!
Q. What are your key priorities for delivery of digital services?
Aberdeenshire has a clear digital strategy that focuses on our services, staff, citizens and information. We have a number of projects that are driving the delivery of this strategy.
Firstly we are working on master data management and how we manage our data appropriately and use our information as an asset to support our services. Councils manage large volumes of data, coming into different service departments. Being able to deliver joined-up services and for our staff to have access to accurate information and removal of departmental silos and duplication of data is essential. Ultimately we aim to improve service delivery and make better and informed decisions and therefore deliver better outcomes for the people we serve.
Leading on from that, we are one of the lead councils in Scotland using the Scottish Government’s ‘myaccount’ functionality for citizen authentication. It allows for a single username and password across all online services. We currently have all our school meals payments, public wi-fi access, customer portal and notifications using the technology.
Our roadmap is for a significant proportion of our services to be delivered on-line via this authentication method. Uptake and feedback to date have been excellent.
From a traditional IT perspective, we’re midway through a transfer from on-site data centres to a hybrid-cloud solution with an external provider. This, in conjunction with a move to Office 365 and Microsoft Enterprise Mobility Suite, provides us with the opportunity to deliver our services differently and provide mobility.
We are a large rural authority and access to high availability technology from anywhere is essential. Moving to an improved data centre and Office 365 allows this to happen and opens up many other opportunities in the kinds of digital services we offer to employees.
Q. What do you see as the key challenges in delivery of a digital strategy in the public sector?
The difficulty I see is not in the technology itself. Sure, we have challenges with broadband and the IT systems that the public sector uses, but those can all be easily addressed. The biggest challenge is all about setting the vision and driving the culture change that is necessary for councils to become more digital organisations. It really needs strong leadership and a senior management team that understand the challenges and are up for the change.
The culture change also requires upskilling staff, ensuring our staff and managers have the appropriate skills and confidence to use technology and our leaders embrace new ways of working.
Our strategy focuses on the people side of change and in particular how we get digital skills to become a core competency of our staff. We are working to develop an employees’ skills programme. To keep the profile of digital high, we have a senior cross-service leadership group that is responsible for driving the programme and we are consistently engaging across the organisation on the changes, art of the possible, “show and tell” sessions along with a clear and articulated roadmap.
Q. What does your role as chair of Socitm’s Scotland region entail?
We have a great committee in Scotland which works hard to make Socitm a success and we have around 50 people regularly turning up at our quarterly events. We always try to make the agenda as interesting and relevant as possible.
I am heavily involved in organising the Socitm Scotland conference in November. The key theme is Scotland’s Digital Future and in particular digital inclusion, skills and leadership. A huge amount of time and effort goes into the event, but it is always a great day and an excellent opportunity to meet new people and catch up with other colleagues across the public sector.
A number of the committee also represent Socitm on the Scottish Local Government Digital Transformation Board. The board has been in existence for a couple of years and over the last six months it has been formalised into a partnership with 27 of the 32 local authorities in Scotland joining. Just recently I have been involved in the recruitment of the Chief Digital Officer post.
The CDO will lead a small team to drive forward the digital strategy that has been developed and to support the 27 councils in taking full advantage of digital technologies and collaboration.
Q. What do you enjoy doing out of work?
We recently got a new puppy, so he is keeping me busy at the moment. I am also kept busy with my other full time job, as a wife and mum! I have a 13 year old who brings all the usual challenges of a teenager.
I am a big motorsport fan and we make an annual visit to the MotoGP at Silverstone, where we look forward to cheering on our favourite riders and enjoying the fantastic atmosphere at the event.
Other than that, we live in a beautiful part of the north-east of Scotland and spend a lot of time outside walking and cycling and enjoying the fresh air. We’re National Trust of Scotland members and spend our weekends exploring our surroundings. We live just a few minutes from the wonderful Crathes Castle and Gardens and the river Dee. The scenery, wildlife and food produced in Aberdeenshire are absolutely fantastic.
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