Rachel, perhaps you could tell the readers a little bit about yourself.
Since I left school, I’ve only ever been an interim, I didn’t go to university, I was keen to get stuck in with work. I started in project management and went through project and programme management, predominantly on the business side. They were IT projects but I was very heavily sitting on the business side. In my early 20’s I setup, ran and sold my first company providing resources to implement IT systems.
Image kindly supplied by Rachel Murphy-Cooper
I worked for three of the big five consultancies probably each for a 12 month period as an interim and I’ve also worked for Kelway and Kier in the private sector. I’ve run the social care team at Central Bedfordshire Council. I went in to build the organisation for adult social care when they were taking the council and three district councils and creating a Unitary Authority. They had lots of challenges with their IT and they asked me to reshape the function. That was the first time I ran an IT department – that was probably seven years ago or maybe a bit longer. I’ve also worked in central government as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at the Department for Education and I’ve held a CTO role at The National Archives and now The Nursing & Midwifery Council.
What are some of the challenges you face as an Interim Chief Technology Officer?
Pretty much wherever I have been it has been organisations where they need to drive a stabilisation and improvement piece then move on to business transformation. That is the bulk of the work I have done.
As is so often with IT you don’t necessarily know what is in your estate and that is the biggest challenge. The first thing I do when I go into a new position is to understand what the infrastructure is and the applications which sit on top of it. It’s not because I am desperate to know the technology but unless you know and understand the picture, you won’t know where you are likely to get caught up and have issues. Equally important is understanding the User Journeys and understanding how the business processes knit together.
Often businesses do not want to use a permanent head to make some of the changes I have to make as an interim. I think it’s because if you are permanent you have got to hang around. There’s often a fair bit of dirty work and heavy lifting that needs to happen.
Is transformation always about the technology?
In a previous CTO role I managed four digital teams and an IT team. Over a six month period we ran a tech reboot programme right across the functions. We joined up three of the digital teams and implemented a joint development approach. The technology transformation was more centered around the cultural change really. It was about the joining up of people. When I joined, the five teams had never sat in a room together so digital and technology were worlds apart and so were the different digital teams – they didn’t talk, they didn’t share resources and they didn’t have a flexible resource model. They were all developing in different ways.
It’s not IT that interests me it is absolutely people that interest me and it always has been. I really like developing teams, developing people and seeing that change. That cultural change is what floats my boat really – how to motivate the troops.
How do technology teams engage with the business?
At The National Archives we took IT on the road – we did a Technology Bar which literally moved around the business functions. We showed up with the kit and shared some of the mobile devices we were trialling and made it real for the business. We also did a full Tech Week where we had the value chain maps for the organisation up and the business users could scribble on them and challenge the IT thinking. We opened up our ‘scrums’ from an agile perspective and people from the business came into those and the stand-ups and experienced that.
They (the business and IT) shouldn’t be separate. IT and digital are so integral to what you do nowadays as a business it needs to be a very close working relationship. IT and the business need to understand each other’s worlds.
Are there any particular tools which you use?
I have previously mapped the key user journeys and used the Wardley value chain maps to document the current IT estate. We then overlayed our contract base to identify savings and created IT roadmaps.
This makes it valuable for the business because they now understand what the IT team is banging on about. When you are taken through a value chain map people can see it and it feels real for the first time ever.
What role does understanding the user need play in IT projects?
Knowing what the user demand is at the start is critical. What are they actually after and making sure you are very clear on what the requirements are is key.
When I worked for Kier we actually put people working in the technology team out at the coalface to understand what it’s like working on a rubbish collection. They had to collect rubbish and take a photo, with a Motorola MC75, which had to be sent through to the office. Then suddenly they find they don’t have a signal to send the photo. They experienced the frustration of that. Make it real. Make the IT real.
You have got to make it real. It’s so easy to pretend. Why are users getting so frustrated? Well they are actually trying to do a job and they can’t use the service. At the heart of everything I do is service management.
Is there an experience which demonstrates how technology has been humanised?
I use the example of Uber – it’s brilliant, there’s no other way to describe it. You can feel the whole process, you can see it happening in front of you. You call it, it rocks up two minutes later, you can physically see it on the map: where it is and you know what it is going to cost you. All of it is fabulous. I love all of that. It is making things incredibly accessible; you can almost reach out and touch it. You own that experience.
The more you can make technology accessible, faster and easier and change what has been a business that way for ever and a day absolutely fascinates me. To create something that is so fundamentally different to what we have been doing for such a long period of time. That is cool, very cool.
Where are some of the future opportunities?
I think the opportunities with technology are massive. I saw an article recently about an airline 3D-printing parts of their planes to speed up the process – instead of having to go through the whole build cycle. Wow, how good is that?
Technology in the workplace is behind the individual experience most people walk around with an iPhone – apps have been around in your private life for a long time. They are not prevalent in business.
We are very lucky I think to be around in this time for technology but also for the opportunities it presents. Businesses can now stand up in half an hour and start creating something.
Future area for opportunities?: it’s going to focus around data. Why do we need a million systems? The currency of business is data. There is also something around collaboration and getting shot of email.
You can find out more about Rachel Murphy-Cooper on LinkedIn.