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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

"My history of talking to customers through the service desk about a particular service we were delivering to the business gave me a real understanding of the user level experience as well as just how differentiated it was from the marketing seller," he said.

"On the help desk or customer service desk, there is the recognition that the reality of how users were interacting with technology was different from what that sale was. I have constantly stayed with that mission, in terms of the user experience, and recognising therefore that our customers who are either buying our services or using our services or trying to interact with our services, we always need to think about the user level and the user experience."

Having a diverse department which represents its customers is an important part of providing a good user experience, Brown explained, as well as providing a healthy working environment.

"If we are truly trying to service the real residents and the population of Manchester, we've got to have a representation of that real customer base. Not everyone is able-bodied. Not everybody has got perfect hearing or perfect vision," he said.

"I think this is the sort of environment that people can flourish in."

The Know-It-All tech support function has been such a success Brown is overseeing an expansion of the service with a hub at their city centre headquarters as well as being taken out on the road to visit other offices as a pop-up function. Operating within budgetary constraints, however, Brown is turning to vendors and some of Manchester City Council's IT suppliers to sponsor the programme.

Having worked on the IT vendor side and now operating within a period of public sector austerity, Brown is keen to be demanding of his suppliers by asking them to chip in with "some of their business development dollars to fund the expansion of the Know-It-All bars" - as well as being perpetually wary of how he spends public money.

"When I need to spend money, I always think to myself that I'm on stage in some local hall," he said. "I've got the population in front of me - residents and taxpayers. I've got to stand there and justify why I want to spend their money that way. It's a great leveller for me to know that."

The CIO leans similarly on Manchester City Council's suppliers, reasoning that in the absence of a research and development function then his supplier base is his R&D team.

SMEs and startups

By being transparent with the council's strategy and IT roadmap, Brown said that customers and vendors can form more fruitful partnerships rather than hiding behind a transactional relationship.

 

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