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Manchester City Council CIO Bob Brown interview: Customer-centric IT alignment

Edward Qualtrough | Dec. 13, 2016
From service desk to CIO - Manchester City Council's Bob Brown on vendor management, CIO leadership, IT skills, and aligning IT with the strategic goals of the council

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"This isn't just IT thinking this would be a good idea; we're answering a need that's there that people haven't been listening to," says Manchester City Council CIO Bob Brown.

The local authority's first CIO was discussing the council's new 'Know-It-All' technology and IT support bars rather than the creation of the Chief Information Officer position in Manchester when CIO UK visited the organisation in the autumn, although Brown later explains CIOs always need to deliver and demonstrate their value - especially when performing a newly-created role in a political environment.

Brown took on the CIO role at Manchester City Council in January 2015, taking the organisation on a transformation agenda with the goal of putting the customer at the heart of its strategy, rebuilding its legacy estate and having the most business-aligned IT service in local government. Recognised in the 2016 CIO 100, Brown worked to make the new centralised technology a strategic partner to the whole council and turn ICT "from a poor-performing service and delivery function to one that brings delivery certainty to our customers".

The former financial services IT executive, who worked at Nationwide, HBOS and Aviva and who also has experience on the vendor side with HCL Technologies, said that reinventing the service desk had been crucial to changing the perception of the department. Staffed by Brown's IT team and with the CIO himself also contributing with a regular shift, the 'Know-It-All' bars - where council staff bring their technology problems to a friendly service desk - got the IT department closer to the rest of the organisation as well as improving a telephone-based IT support service that was underperforming.

"The Know-It-Alls started as a direct need for us to provide our cause with a better service," Brown said. "One of the levels of transformation was to provide a face-to-face relationship with IT.

"We needed to provide a solution that gave us a real presence and a real connection with our customer base, our colleagues, our partners and others that use the service.

"We made it really clear, right from the outset, that this was something we hoped to address this need and deliver these values. If truth be known, it was a bit of a gamble."

From service desk to CIO

Indeed, Brown told CIO UK that he had started his career on the IT service desk before becoming a CIO via the "management or project management groove rather than the technology delivery route". Combined with a stint working in pre-sales for an IT vendor, he said his background offered him a recognition of the value of those roles and how to get the best out of everybody.


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