Local, small business skills sought for major transformation plan

18 Sep 2015, 3:56 pm

Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council is inviting expressions of interest from local technology SMEs to help the council implement its digital transformation programme, amid budget cuts of more than £50 million since 2010.

Cllr_Iain_Roberts_StockportThe £7.4 million Digital by Design programme will put in place digital solutions to improve internal efficiency and create better digital services for residents. With predicted savings of around £1 million each year, it is central to the Council’s wider Investing in Stockport programme.

“We’ve come up with a programme we see as an investment to bring our IT up to date and as an enabler for other savings we have to make. Savings will be impossible unless we do something like this” said Stockport’s Deputy Leader, Cllr Iain Roberts (pictured).

While the formal tender process has not yet begun, the Council is seeking solutions and skills to implement a customer relationship management, content management and document management systems, and a mobile working programme, among others. Open source software will be deployed where possible.

The programme still needs fine-tuning, but the Council does have a clear approach to contracts.

“We’re keen to engage with local suppliers and not necessarily go to one big company”, said Cllr Roberts. “A key thing we wanted to do is not just go to the standard, safe option and reduce risk by handing it over to the big boys. It avoids [contractual] lock in, so we can maintain control.”

However it would be a “challenge” to move away from handing a contract over to a big company “which takes all the risk”, he said. “We have to take ownership. It’s the right thing to do. But in a traditional public sector world, it’s not the usual way of doing things”.

Case by case

The programme will address legacy IT systems on a ‘case by case basis’, both replacing out-of-date technology and deploying Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to create interoperability between disparate systems.

Stockport will use both in-house and external skills to implement the changes, anticipating a need for a programme director as well as experts in user design and user experience, service design and assisted digital, among others.

“We need external skills”, said Cllr Roberts. “We can’t fall into the gap of having no skills in house”, he said. Use of open source software – meaning the source code of any new products developed will be available for others to freely use – will make it more attractive for people to work with at the Council, he said, as will the pull of “doing something new and interesting that will make a difference to people”, he said.

Earlier this month, the council sent a ‘Soft Market-Testing Prospectus’ to hundreds of local businesses to help it to consider options for the procurement of technology, service design, programme management and community capacity building products and services.

The Prospectus was sent via social media; a public sector procurement portal serving the North West region; and emailed to suppliers registered on frameworks including G-Cloud and the Digital Service Framework. Stockport has so far received around 50 responses and requests to discuss the programme in more detail.

In future, Stockport will explore joint working with other government organisations. “We’re not going to create finished system. It will evolve”, said Cllr Roberts.