Leaving the Oxford course, Craig and I have taken slightly separate tracks as we pursue learning from our individual sub-domains of government business ? although the commonality outweighs the differences.
It was great to be back in London a couple of decades after living here for several years, way back when. Many things are the same but much has changed. The demographics of the people in London are a stark difference. Wherever I've gone in London, I have been struck by the influx of people from other parts of Europe and the Middle East. (The place certainly bustles long into the night whatever weekday it is).
The relative economic opportunity is a factor. Britain has had some tough times but it has done well compared to most other European countries. Immigration is a significant factor in driving population growth from 57 million to 63 million in a short space of time. In the news, there have been a number of stories about very positive economic indicators, including declining unemployment, showing that the UK is probably entering a period of real growth.
When I lived in the UK years ago, New Zealand seemed ahead of the game in terms of electronic services. Banking was a good example. I'm not sure that is still the case, and there is much to admire about the way the British government is consciously driving forward the digital services agenda across agencies.
I spent two days earlier this week with a number of senior managers and teams in the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) interspersed with a day with Gartner research analysts.
Some things that stood out for me are the active participation of DWP in the digital strategy championed by the Government Digital Service (GDS), which is an arm of the Cabinet Office, and the fact that DWP is developing an integrated enterprise-wide business strategy with a heavy digital focus. DWP is a 102,000 member organisation (and it's smaller than it used to be). Things don't happen overnight at that scale but DWP is well on the way to building a new future for themselves that ties in with the government strategy. There are a number of their innovations such that I would like to explore on my return to New Zealand.
In fairness to the people I met, I can't be too specific in a public blog but attending a stand-up meeting in an agile development team at least five times the size of any agile project I've seen in New Zealand was quite an experience. This was a multi-disciplinary team with a large number of people seconded direct from the front-line. Rather than just developing system functionality, they were also developing new business processes.
Part of the challenge for DWP is grappling with critical legacy systems while they build the digital future in parallel with evolving the current-world IT setup. As with New Zealand, they are also contributing to all-of-government IT efficiency initiatives that aggregate buying power and create common capabilities.
I was privileged to visit the Hammersmith Jobcentre Plus building, which is the first London site to implement the first phase of one of the major DWP programmes. This site has been visited by a number cabinet ministers in recent months to see how the new operation is going. As they would have been, I was impressed at seeing the old model and the new model operating side by side in the same Jobcentre Plus site. That is quite a systems and logistical feat. Staff were enthused about how the new model with simplified systems and greater face-time with clients was going.
A feature of visiting DWP headquarters is that you are within metres of Westminster Abbey, and Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament. I didn't have far to go to do some impromptu sightseeing.
The day with Gartner analysts included a preview of future disruptive technology over a 10-15 year horizon, the manic pace of mobile technology innovation, and more on the changing role of the CIO.