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E-GOVERNMENT SUPPLEMENT - RISING TO THE TOP

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Socitm's new president, Jim Haslam, is not afraid of speaking his mind, Lewis Williamson finds out what is on it ...
Socitm's new president, Jim Haslam, is not afraid of speaking his mind, Lewis Williamson finds out what is on it

Jim Haslem is a man of many talents. His pastimes include motorcycling, badminton, travel and angling. He is not a serious fisherman, however, which is unfortunate for a journalist writing about IT issues because this means elaborate puns about getting hooked online or having problems with the net must be ruled out.

And in the writer's search for a handy metaphor to describe the challenge Mr Haslem faces as the new president of the Society of IT Management, the phrase 'having a mountain to climb' must also be ignored; he has already climbed a mountain - Mount Kinabalu, South East Asia's highest peak, to be specific - and appears to find the process relatively easy and nothing out of the ordinary.

But one must not be fooled by this modesty about his achievements. A colleague once described him as someone who always takes on too much but somehow always gets it done.

Currently Bromley LBC's head of information systems, Mr Haslem has achieved a lot in his 51 years; over the past decade he has held a number of key posts in Socitm, including chair of the society's Information Age Government Group. Now, as president of the society, he hopes to achieve a lot more.

One of the goals is to continue developing relationships across the public sector as well as with suppliers.

'The local government marketplace is such that in each area there are only a few suppliers who are vital to vertical applications and we really have to ensure that those suppliers are up to speed with where

e-government is going,' he says.

The society is in the early stages of a restructuring to ensure the commercial activities properly support the members' priorities.

'As part of that, it is important that we re-energise our regional focus. Socitm already has a very active regional network but we need to provide additional support for those regions as well as the groups of the society.'

Yet if things are going to move forward, the government must play its part too. Mr Haslem says the new draft e-government strategy is an important step.

'Its particular strength is that it has laid out the ground, it has given us a framework around which we can now start to position our work across local government with partners. Another particular strength is the involvement that the DTLR is looking for from local authorities.'

However, he is disappointed by its lack of leadership. 'It's an excellent summary of what's happening now but it does not lay out how that is going to be taken forward. I'm also disappointed that it ducks the business case - which it has not made out in any comprehensive way.'

In common with others in local government, he is also concerned about the lack of detail around the way in which the finance is going to be allocated to projects.

'It does not clearly identify what level of funding projects are going to receive; it does not define the processes throughwhich projects are going to be approved and scoped. It does not, therefore, help local authorities to any significant degree.'

This is a real difficulty because of the time it has taken for the strategy to get published, he says. 'We are already coming up to halfway through 2002. Given the time needed to take decisions and then to implement them, there is very little time for those councils that are struggling to meet the 2005 targets.'

Another criticism he has is of Whitehall's inability to practice what it preaches in terms of joined-up government.

'It is clear that across government each department has its own agenda, and those agendas are not joined-up. Local government is still challenged by initiative-itis. And as far as local government is concerned, it is having to engage differently with separate departments, fragmenting its energies and its resources.

'A cohesive strategy for each local government organisation must be developed so that they can put e-government at the centre of that change. Establishing a proper strategic planning framework with e-government embedded within it is absolutely fundamental. If you do not do that, you will undermine the ability to deliver

e-government and other organisational changes. '

The other big issue for local government in general, and Socitm in particular, is skills.

'The role of the IT manager is changing demonstrably and this is related to the changing nature of

e-government. Whereas previously the IT manager needed to be primarily technology focused, now they need to be focused on the organisation and its priorities.'

'The level of change e-government implies requires an enormous amount of skills and experience in a much broader sphere than the IT profession has had to cope with so far,' says Mr Haslem.

'This is not just about technology, but its also about the development of skills around customer care around development of effective partnerships and around sustained change outside the organisational boundaries that we have dealt with traditionally.'

To this end, Socitm has been looking at sponsoring MBAs and other professional development activities to ensure IT managers have the skills to evolve in the way in which their organisations demand.

But the most important thing for IT managers in local government, according to Mr Haslem, is working collaboratively across organisations.

'Obviously, I believe there is a leading role for the IT manager in the change agenda, but that is not a role in isolation. It is as part of a team involving all the other parts of the council.'

As if to illustrate this point, our conversation has been regularly punctuated by the electronic beep of his PC signalling the arrival of new e-mails, and the occasional appearance of a colleague asking about forthcoming meetings. The government may not always practise what it preaches about communicating and collaborating

with partners and colleagues, but it appears that Jim Haslem does.

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