This blog first appeared here and here.

This was my first Socitm conference but far from being my first conference of the year, and as I encountered the Socitm crowd for the first time it was interesting to spot the similarities and differences with other events, summits and conferences I’ve been to recently.  Anything I say about this is obviously going to be a bit of a generalisation, and I apologise in advance to anyone who feels traduced or misrepresented.  I’m also going to be slightly provocative.

A touchingly uniform theme across the local government conferences I’ve attended this year has been a sense of purpose and determination.  To call it “optimism” would overstate it, but there is a sense that the many issues and obstacles can be overcome – no-one is giving up (or maybe the people who are that way inclined have had, and taken, opportunities to leave).  Whilst Solace and Chief Executives are soul-searching about the exact form of the contribution which can be made (under significant external pressure and doubt), the Socitm crew seem more confident that technology-underpinned cost and service efficiencies they can bring are a necessary part of the solution. This isn’t something that was specifically asserted, but it was clear from the mood of the event.

Another interesting difference was a much greater comfort between the public and private sector.  There were the usual jokes about “the dark side”, but perhaps because of the inevitable dependency on external providers of the basic machinery of IT, and supported by the flow of staff between the public and private sectors, there seemed to be a closer working relationship.  This arguably places more of an obligation upon the private sector providers to be coming up with wider, future-proof solutions not only to the technology issues but to the technology-in-context issues of change.  If you are being held at arms length it is harder to understand the issues and develop relevant solutions; if you are closer in, then you need to be respecting that position.

A bit of “mood” where the Socitm folk felt behind some of the other LG communities relates to localism.  Whether IT folk are inherently excited by the idea of uniform, systematic approaches, I don’t know, but there was less discussion than I expected about technology-underpinned localism and much more about shared services, or joining up to achieve scale.  The IT Community (along with the other core professions) is grappling with issues of stepping up to show leadership within organisations.  Rightly recognising that some of the programme and change management disciplines that are hardwired in to IT are less strong in the rest of the local authority skill set, the community is clearly seeking to develop its future leaders with an aim beyond Chief Information Officer and seeking a top-table influence.  It remains to be seen whether they seek to achieve this influence by lobbying for it and asserting its benefit, or letting it happen naturally by ensuring that its senior representatives are people who earn a place at that table.

The Capita stand at the conference was a strong highlight for me. My colleagues started each day with, literally, blank walls, onto which delegates’ ideas and views of the current and future issues and opportunities were captured by some impressively skilled artists. This built up a very rich picture of the state of current thinking.  I have taken some of that for my comments above, but there is much more information to be gleaned from these, and I expect the discussion to continue well beyond the conference itself.

socitm 300 SOCITM 2012 illustrates local government challenges