Hardly a day goes by without someone on the news telling me advances in artificial intelligence will result in job losses among humans, how digital automation will do the same, and warnings about the possibility of another cyber attack. It’s all enough to put you off your Coco Pops!
The days of ICT simply keeping the infrastructure lights on have passed. The function is no longer purely operational, but instead it needs to work with the business to build a technology and information platform that supports the delivery of the best possible services. It’s a move away from providing a reactive response to a more proactive one. An approach that encompasses traditional operational ICT tasks with wider business responsibilities, centred on a customer-focused service delivery model. That’s no small task, but it is extremely interesting, and one that I encourage ICT professionals to embrace.
The Link Group offers a wide range of services to over 10,000 tenants across 26 local authorities, making us one of the largest social landlords in Scotland. Our services include welfare/money advice, employability, repairs, digital and financial inclusion, as well as building new high-quality affordable homes for rent and sale.
The delivery of such services means that Link’s ICT & digital services (ICT&D) team is considered a key business partner. It is a fully integrated business function involved in the end-to-end design of the wide portfolio of services that Link provides. To achieve this status, it’s essential that the ICT&D team demonstrates visible leadership, is accountable for the quality of the services delivered, takes responsibility when things go wrong, and ensures the continual development of the function to support Link’s strategic aims.
These are exciting times at Link. We have embarked on an ambitious programme of change by developing a new ICT&D strategy. Implementing the strategy will see us modernising our technology platforms, preparing for new data protection legislation, achieving Cyber Essentials accreditation and digitising our tenant services.
Innovation will be driven through our new ICT&D forum, where staff will have the opportunity to contribute to the design of new or improved services. Notably, Link has taken this opportunity to answer the question of “what do we need to do to position Link’s technology to support our business plan?”.
We all have opinions on how to implement digital changes and an understanding of why projects fail, but the challenge is to build a team with the ability to bring together and apply best practice in a number of disciplines, with a clear vision and strategy for change that aligns with our business plan.
Taking into account our national digital strategy and procurement regulations, we now have a complex mix of requirements and procedures to address. We can’t allow ourselves to be accused of throwing IT over the wall, with staff not feeling ready or skilled enough for the new functionality. Doing so could result in a damaged relationship between our IT function and the rest of the business, and perhaps more worryingly, a failed attempt to achieve the expected benefits of the business case.
To avoid this, we have asked Link’s project managers to take great care when introducing change by ensuring the people, process and technology aspects are ready.
It was recognised that this new approach to ICT&D services should not focus on technology, but on our tenants and business drivers. Working in ICT can sometimes mean only seeing the world through ICT eyes; encouraging tenants and the business to change to fit the technology and systems, rather than the technology fitting the requirements of our tenants and the business.
You may have noticed that we now include digital as part of our ICT function. The move from analogue to digital is a long path, one which is filled with unknowns, both for our business and for our tenants. Digital at Link also means digital participation, and we need to take our tenants on this journey with us. To strengthen this position, our digital participation programme will reinforce ICT&D functions and continue to provide valuable services and projects.
Charles Darwin said that it’s not the strongest species which survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change; the world is changing and our ICT&D will continue to evolve in response.
Ken Fox is head of ICT and digital at Link Group.