Reflections from a new digital leader

Darllenwch y dudalen hon yn Gymraeg

This week it’s Digital Leaders Week which felt like a good time to write my first blog as Chief Digital Officer in Welsh Government since I started in July (not quite the famous “100 first days” that politicians refer to but not far away). It’s been a whirlwind few months learning what is going on across the organisation and outside, and at the same time trying to take forward some key pieces of work which we think are important in terms of responding to the pandemic and getting ourselves ready for the future. As with many other work places we have of course primarily been working from home since March. This of course has huge benefits which have been well described over the past few months, but it does present a very different experience in starting a new job and not being able to have face to face contact with my new teams!

As CDO for Welsh Government my primary responsibilities are around digital transformation in the way we work internally and externally, and managing our internal ICT services. But I’ve also got a responsibility in supporting Ministers on their Digital Strategy and working across boundaries to ensure we are developing a joined-up, digital culture across public services. I’ll just reflect a little on both of those elements of my role

Developing our digital ambitions for Wales

It’s fair to say this has been my focus for the past few months. Through our work on a draft Digital Strategy we are going to set out our ambitions and missions for Wales (see fig 1) and how we want to work together across sectors to truly provide user-centred public services based on the best digital approaches to service design. The strategy will also highlight our ambitions on digital inclusion, data, cyber and the economy. We’ve been developing the strategy through discussions and sharing with some of our digital stakeholder groups and a Digital Dialogue discussion hosted by TechUK earlier in the month was incredibly value to feed into this process (and was so impressed with the virtual post-it note software they used!). Whilst we’ll publish this at some stage in the next few weeks we want it to be the start of a conversation and to update it regularly as the landscape changes.

A key part of delivering transformational change is to embed a digital culture across public services and for a joined-up “ecosystem” that promotes and hard-wires collaboration and standards between us all. In June we launched the Centre for Digital Public services in alpha form to begin work on raising capability, setting standards and working with public services to solve particular problems. They’ve recently launched their first set of draft digital standards and will have soon trained around 100 local government officials. They have also been working with 3 local authorities with an expert squad which is about to finalise discovery work looking at how we can improve the way users interact with social care.

On November 2nd the first Chief Digital Officer for Local Government, Sam Hall, will be in post. Sam and I, and a future CDO for Health, will work closely together to take forward and “co-own” the digital strategy and deliver on our ambitions. For example, how can we ensure we are working to design standards that provide a consistently good user experience? How can we provide the tools to ensure that our officials can collaborate to deliver joined-up public services? What can we learn and borrow from each other in terms of application development so we aren’t solving the same “problem” in many different ways across Wales?

The response to the pandemic has seen some brilliant work across the public sector in developing digital approaches quickly and in an agile way. We’ve seen examples of working across sectors in terms of Test, Trace and Protect; Technology Enabled Care; and Shielding where health, local government and Welsh Government have come together to deliver solutions. Everyone I have spoken to since I started the post have been committed to building on this momentum as a way to re-shape how we do things.

Leading our internal change

As I mentioned earlier we were in an excellent position to immediately respond to the unique circumstances of the pandemic with all of our staff working from home. This was thanks to our Future ICT programme which completed last year, including the roll out of laptops to all staff. Our ICT teams responded really quickly to ensure we had the right tools, for example rapidly rolling out MS Teams capability. I’m sure as with many others it’s now hard to see how we lived without it.

We’re now thinking about the next phase of this work – with the expectation, outlined by the First Minister, that significant remote working will be how we do things in Welsh Government in future. So we’re asking ourselves what other tools will help us with remote working? What other parts of our corporate applications do we need to transform so that our staff, as users, have services that allow them to work efficiently and productively?

Another part of the change programme was to bring our ICT function in-house. This was again a benefit at the start of the pandemic as it provided us with far more agility and control to make the changes we needed. One of my priorities is now to complete work on our workforce strategy for the Digital, Data and Technology (DDAT) profession, which we haven’t been able to progress over the past few months. It’s important we have a clear plan for our DDAT workforce so they can see how they might progress and develop within WG. We also want to have a clear plan for boosting the profession through apprenticeships and how we might raise capability amongst the non-DDAT profession. We’re delighted that our first cohort of digital apprentices recently completed their apprenticeship and have now been placed in roles across the organisation.

Finally, data has clearly been a key issue over the period of the pandemic. We’d already begun work to set up a new internal Data Science Unit ahead of the pandemic and we continued to progress this over the spring – we could see the skills we wanted to develop would be invaluable to support the pandemic response. It’s great to see the progress in this as described by John Morris in his blog recently as well as the brilliant work done by our Administrative Data Research team to support the response to covid-19. An important next step is to develop our internal infrastructure to support the use of data science tools so that we support analysis and internal use of data, and from there consider how we can improve the way we use data standards and storage throughout the organisation to make using our data so much easier.

As you can see there’s a lot going on. I want our digital teams across Welsh Government to be open in what they are doing and spend the time to communicate through this channel, as John did recently and Rhys Morris will be doing on the Business Wales pandemic response this week. So you’ll keep hearing from us!

Glyn Jones, Chief Digital Officer

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