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In our view #17

In our main feature we ask how we recruit and retain women into IT leadership roles. Plus, all the latest news and views pertinent to public sector digital leaders.

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Shaping future digital strategy

Council officers leading the way in digital connectivity gain national recognition following a series of successful funding bids and successive appointments to the national body for Public Sector IT leaders.

Kurt Frary, Infrastructure Services Manager at Norfolk County Council has been appointed as the Eastern Chair for Socitm.

Former Socitm President, Geoff Connell, the council’s Head of Information Management and Technology spent the last five years on the organisation’s presidential team and has just been made Socitm’s first lifetime member in recognition of his contribution to the society.

Geoff remains involved in national strategic technology decision making as vice chair of the CIO Council for local government (LCIIC) and is a lead advisor on cyber security.

Closer to home thousands of Norfolk businesses will soon be able to benefit from ultrafast broadband after the council secured £8m funding from the UK Government Digital, Culture, Media & Sport department’s Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) fund earlier this year.

This money forms part of an £11m programme to upgrade more than 370 of Norfolk’s public-sector buildings to the latest ultrafast connection speeds. It will enable 230 schools, 108 Norfolk County Council Corporate buildings (including 38 libraries) and 34 fire stations to be upgraded to gigabit (1,000 mbps) fibre internet connections within two years.

A joint bid for the Norfolk and Suffolk Innovation Network project was also successful in attracting £440,000 Capital Growth Funding from the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). A project which aims to create a network across Norfolk and Suffolk to enable private, public and educational organisations, as well as the public to trial Internet of Things (IoT) technology. This is a network that can send and receive low power signals from digital sensors used in a wide variety of sectors, including flood and traffic management and agri-tech.

The council also hosted a Digital Zone at this year’s Royal Norfolk Show to showcase the latest cutting edge devices and variety of smart tech already available for the home and classroom.

Councillor Tom FitzPatrick, cabinet member for innovation, transformation and performance said: “Ensuring Norfolk has the digital connectivity it needs to build a thriving economy is a key priority for us.

“It’s fantastic for our County to be seen as leaders in terms of digital technology and for our officers to be involved in shaping future digital strategy in our region and beyond.”

Influential women in tech

Socitm is delighted to announce that Sandra Taylor, Nadira Hussain, Nicola Graham and Sam Smith all appear on Computer Weekly’s Most influential women in UK tech 50-strong long list.

Mirroring Socitm’s commitment to promoting and supporting diversity, publishing the longlist each year is part of Computer Weekly’s determination to celebrate the amazing female technology talent that exists throughout the UK.

It will soon publish its expert judges’ decision on which of the 50 names have been chosen for the shortlist, which will go forward to a reader vote to help decide this year’s winner.

It is a tremendous accolade that four women who have proved integral to the ongoing growth and development of Socitm have each received such high-profile recognition for their innovative and inspirational leadership.

We know you will join with us in congratulating them all and supporting them during the public vote.

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Why is there a change from landlines to voice calls over the internet?


  • The UK’s telecoms networks will undergo substantial change in the coming years, as the companies that run them upgrade their technology. Some phone companies are already gradually moving their landline customers from the country’s traditional telephone network – the ‘public switched telephone network’ (PSTN) – to newer digital technology known as ‘voice over internet protocol’ (VoIP), which carries calls over a broadband connection. This means that some businesses and individuals in your sector may already be using VoIP technology, rather than a landline, for their voice calls.


  • The change will offer potential benefits to consumers, such as clearer phone calls, and it will help ensure the UK’s landline telephone services are fit for the future – including because the PSTN itself is becoming increasingly difficult and costly to fix, and it will cease to be reliable over time. The transition will be straightforward for most customers but some may require additional support to help them update their services.


  • This change, from PSTN to VoIP, is being driven by the telephone companies.


How might this have wider impacts on local authorities?


  • This change is not just about making calls on landline phones:


  • Over time, many other services and pieces of equipment have come to use and rely on the technical characteristics of the traditional PSTN phone network – like its ability to transport data encoded in voice band ‘tones’ (which, for example, fax machines use), and the fact that it can carry power to facilities and devices that do not have a mains power supply. Equipment or services that rely on these characteristics may need replacing, upgrading or reconfiguring.  It is possible that some facilities that your sector uses may be affected by the transition.  Based on our engagement so far – with telephone companies, wider communications providers and stakeholders – we think these could include:
    • Telehealth and telecare services, such as monitoring systems and personal care alarms;
    • Internal telecommunications systems, such as voice services and fax machines;
    • Fire and security alarms, pagers, communications systems and alarms in lifts;
    • Transport monitoring and control systems, e.g. traffic lights;
    • Remote monitoring e.g. in waste collection services;
    • Resilience and business continuity / back-up systems;
    • Payment systems;
    • Flood management systems;
    • Social housing services, e.g. boiler telemetry and monitoring;
    • Services and systems in schools;
    • ICT products which rely on telephone line power.[1]
  • In addition, the ‘PSTN switch off’ will also lead to the cessation of ‘ISDN’ (Integrated Services Digital Network – a pre-broadband approach to providing digital connectivity) services. While ISDN use is limited these days, when it is used it can be for specific purposes or in specific circumstances which may be more difficult to replicate or replace. So, while many organisations in your sector may not be affected, any that are may need tailored solutions.


When is this happening?


  • Initial migrations will start this year (2019), where customers opt to use the new services, with completion by 2025 when the PSTN is expected to be switched off. However, different telephone companies are at different stages of managing their switch from PSTN to VoIP, leading to differences in both the particular approach each company adopts, and the timescales over which their migrations take place.


What actions do organisations need to take?


  • Telephone companies will generally not be aware of all the services and equipment that their customers are using which rely on the old PSTN technology. To ensure smooth transition, the communications regulator Ofcom is encouraging organisations to contact their telephone company, and also any suppliers of services they use that rely on the telephone network, as early as possible to discuss the changes and plan for any potential impact on the particular services and equipment they use.


  • Ofcom recommends the following action:
  • Establish if any services/technology that you or your contractors use rely on the PSTN or ISDN, and make sure you know what and where these are, whether they use the PSTN’s voice/or data capabilities, and if they rely on power through PSTN lines. Investigate widely within your sector – be aware that not all services obviously relate to landline voice calls
  • Contact your communications provider(s) to discuss timescales and the potential impact of the move to IP services on you or your business
  • Contact your service and / or equipment suppliers to see if they have conducted any testing or already offer alternatives that will work with VoIP services. Consider whether your equipment needs to be upgraded, re-configured or replaced and plan appropriate action
  • Consider whether it may be beneficial to schedule or bring forward any necessary modifications/upgrades in advance of the move to VoIP to build in optimum time to make changes
  • Ensure that other stakeholders/arms-length bodies are aware of the change and can begin engaging with their communications provider and suppliers
  • Please let Ofcom (FutureOfVoice@ofcom.org.uk) know if you become aware of any additional services that could be affected by the change which have not been identified in this note.


Where can I find out more?


  • Ofcom’s policy positioning statement on migration to VoIP – The future of fixed telephone servicessets out the changes, describes the roles and responsibilities of different organisations, and establishes Ofcom’s expectations of telecoms providers
  • Openreach, which runs the network infrastructure for many telephone companies, has also produced a short video to explain the changes
  • Contact your communications provider(s).


What next?


  • Telephone companies are working together to develop a website that will host information about the change.


  • Ofcom, working with the telephone companies, will continue to work with affected stakeholders and sectors to ensure there is widespread understanding of this change. With good planning, citizens and consumers can be protected from unnecessary disruption.

[1] This list is not exhaustive – there may be other applications within your sector

Five reasons mentoring is vital in the public sector


Cultivating future leadership is essential to the public sector. It’s integral to ensuring the long-term stability of digital service delivery in a climate of increasing disruption. It’s vital that digital leaders in the public sector come together to nurture and develop its own leaders. Here are five reasons why mentoring is vital to the public sector.

1 Deepening the internal talent pool

Research by Deloitte has revealed that 43% of millennial workers plan on leaving their existing role within two years. The term ‘millennial’ might have become an overused sound bite but this generation represents a significant portion of the workforce. For local authorities, particularly, employee retention is key. Experience and knowledge of local idiosyncrasies and issues can often be a crucial factor in the efficiency and effectiveness of strategy deployment and it’s not something that can be developed overnight. Mentorship dramatically improves staff retention. It helps people in more junior roles visualise a career path and value their mentor’s experience, thereby creating a deeper talent pool for future leadership.

However, mentors do not necessarily have to be more senior than the people they mentor. What matters is that mentors have experience that others can learn from. Reverse mentoring programmes, where younger employees share their experience with senior colleagues, are also powerful employee engagement tools. Particularly in the public sector where some established roles haven’t traditionally relied upon technology usage.

2 Employee expectation

The concept of mentorship is now widely known. Although it’s been approximately 3,000 years since, in Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus entrusted his young son Telemachus to the care of his trusted friend Mentor, mentoring has become standard business practice only recently. Studies now show that people are seeking greater mentorship from their employers. The Huffington Post has reported that 75% of millennials not only want mentors, but deem it crucial for success.  In the same survey, 70% of non-millennials say they are open to reverse mentoring. Deloitte has suggested that employers who intend to stay with an organisation for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor than not.

Public sector organisations should regard this as a definite positive. It demonstrates that those entering the sector are enthusiastic to achieve and build an enduring and believe in staying with their employer long term if they are given the opportunity to develop.

3 Mentors facilitate networking

Mentors in the public sector can connect with others able to provide expertise and support in areas that differ from their own. Mentoring programmes facilitated by a membership association like Socitm, mean these connections can be developed beyond individual organisations and across the public sector as a whole. Connections and relationships developed in this way can only improve service delivery and, therefore, outcomes for citizens. This is of particular significance in that different sectors, such as health & social care and local government, can collaborate and apply best practice across the board. Strong leadership is dependent on collaboration, relationship-building and communication. In developing such connections, the public sector ensures that the legacy of leadership is more readily and effectively passed on without disruption to services.

4 People centred not technology centric

There is stronger demand on leadership to confidently navigate businesses through disruption. Evolving technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are all disruptive factors that pose a risk to organisational continuity today. Mentoring is critical to ensuring that those who understand these growing challenges also understand how to lead effectively.

Service delivery that impacts positively on people’s outcomes is the ultimate aim of ‘digital transformation’ in practice. Mentoring is a highly effective means of broadening people’s mindsets, making sure they are aware of the human implications of implementing digital strategy rather than focussing too heavily on technology itself.

5 Mentors grow through mentoring

Effective and inspiring leaders need to know how to establish positive, trusted relationships. Working with a mentee, particularly someone from outside one’s immediate organisation, is an opportunity to practice necessary skills, including empathy and active listening.

Mentoring within the public sector, particularly through an organisation like Socitm, provides an opportunity to continue to build your own network as you support your mentees to expand theirs.

Mentoring also promotes self-reflection and opportunity for mentors to reflect not only on what they have achieved but also on how they have reached those goals. Asking questions of a mentee often supports deeper insights into one’s own learning path, helping to build self-confidence. This self-reflection also helps mentors to identify training and development pathways they may wish to follow.

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