Interview with Ben Goward, Director of Information Communication Technology at Harrow Council

As announced previously in June 2020, Version 1 has been awarded a two-year contract by Harrow Council for Hosting, Application Maintenance and Support of the local authority’s IT Estate. As a Gold Microsoft partner with the capability to rehost SQL on Azure, Version 1 will be taking over the service in November 2020.

Harrow Council is the local authority for the London Borough of Harrow in Greater London, England providing an extensive range of local public services for 250,000+ residents. The council shares responsibility with the Greater London Authority for strategic policies including housing, planning and the environment.

Employing approx. 5,000 people, Harrow Council is continuing with its digital transformation agenda to help improve service and reduce costs through the delivery of high-quality technology services. With over 90% of Council transactions already being carried out via self-service, the Council will continue to make more services available online, making it easier for residents and businesses to contact and transact with the Council.

Ben Goward, Director of Information Communication Technology at Harrow Council joined Version 1 for an interesting discussion on his plans and priorities for IT for Harrow Council, what success looks like for the council’s IT,  and what ultimately led to Harrow Council selecting Version 1 as its partner in ongoing Digital Transformation.

Hi Ben, technology is clearly a huge priority for Harrow. What are your plans and priorities for IT across the next few years?

Ben Goward: Last year, I was looking for a new challenge and began reviewing councils hiring new IT leadership.

Harrow stood out as an opportunity to come in and do something really quite holistic and radically different. Taking the service forward, stepping over some of the generations of tech missed and moving right to the forefront with user-centric experiences.

My first priority is fixing the plumbing (to use the GDS term) — bread and butter stuff like moving out of on-premise, rearchitecting the whole core of the network.

It’s fantastically ambitious — everything is currently in that single point of failure and ideally, we need to move to the public cloud. It means SaaS, it means Azure, moving into edge services in the public cloud as quickly as we can.

The other priority is creating a very different kind of IT service for the organisation. Putting in place systems for intelligent client-side stuff and great contractors and partners like Version 1.

It’s about really working as a collaborative and proactive high-performance team. Closely hooked into the user experience — of 2000 staff initially then 250,000 residents in Harrow and their needs.

It’s interesting you highlight partnerships and ways of working as such a focus there.

Ben: Collaboration is a key priority. Organisations are all about collaboration, de-layering and agility. A lot of the technology we are now implementing around Microsoft Teams, Yammer and things like that — they’re all designed to help on that journey.

But as an IT service ourselves we need to reflect that too. We need to be non-hierarchical. Working together as a team really well. Respecting the commercial interests of our partnership and pointing in the same direction.

The London Borough of Harrow Council is moving forward from a model that was standard years ago — a single source where you don’t have IT capability in the council, where if you want something done you raise a request and give it to a supplier, who tells you how much will cost and how long it will take.

What led you to selecting Version 1?

Ben: We ended up selecting Version 1 for several reasons.

Firstly, its great track record from other places including working with the incumbent provider and making that transition. We were really satisfied they could adopt an approach in the council’s interest, not just their own. So not just saying let’s move everything into Azure public cloud and generate revenues — but looking at the application estate and what was right for each application.

Secondly, there’s a great team there, we have a really good chance of integrating our new client-side team there and delivering a great service.

We are massively depending on Version 1 here — it’s a really important contract because all the systems that Version 1 will be supporting and hosting are the lifeblood of the council.

What does success look like with this kind of work?

Ben: There will be some pretty hard measures of success for us — in terms of stability of services. Those applications will still be available to staff and citizens.

We will have been able to close the existing data centre. We would expect the cost of the service to be overall reduced. That’s a key part of this contract.

But then beyond that, we really want to partner with Version 1 to be ensuring we are at the latest version of this tech — that we are flexible and agile in the cloud, that when we want to introduce new developments, we have a partner who can do it quickly, responsibly and at the right cost.

Harrow Council took a long, long look at the market for this project. Both in putting the toe in the water, then the procurement exercise. We had been with a single-source provider and realised — if it keeps hurting, don’t keep doing it.

It was a case of if we think you’re wrong, we’ll tell you. If we think you’re right, we’ll support it.

Thank you to Ben Goward, Director of Information Communication Technology at Harrow Council for taking part in this Q & A with Version 1.

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