Colourful Norwich skyline illustration

Michael Sage

IT, Digital & Culture

Digital Portfolio Office

Ideas popping out of a box

I wouldn’t say that the transformation had stalled, or that it wasn’t welcome, but we had some issues finding teams that were willing to “go next”…

That’s how it started. How could we get the business to engage with the transformation programme, how could we get them involved?

In the early days of the programme we ran “buzz” days, things to get teams excited about the new ways of working in Office 365. The sexy stuff was done, everyone was working in the brave new way. The business had taken to it, success!

Our CRM and ERP elements were slightly different, and stalled. CRM was going well and the team were delivering to new services, ERP was live for finance, but how do we get to the hard to reach areas?

We invited Chris from Cavendish Wood to come and spend some time with us. He worked with the digital transformation team and management team and we came up with a plan. The digital portfolio office (DPO).

The DPO was headed up by the CEO and we appointed a business analyst and a project manager. The DPO is like a modern technical suggestion box, no idea to stupid and ideas taken from across the organisation. We were keen that this didn’t appear as another digital / IT initiative and the CEO wrote a couple of blog posts to promote it.

It started slow, had we done the right thing? Then we started implementing some of the ideas, giving feedback to every submission, the flood gates opened, ideas coming from all over the business. Some tweaks to existing systems, some multi-month projects and some custom power app development. 

It’s been nearly 2 years since we setup the DPO and in that time we have delivered a number of solutions, it’s been a success. 

I’d recommend a digital suggestion box to any company, make sure you have executive sponsorship and that you feedback or do something with every suggestion. Finally don’t be afraid to ask for help, sometimes it’s hard to see the wood from the trees, just a few days with a external consultant can offer massive returns.

Guest Blog – Respect in Security

I was lucky enough to be invited to write a guest blog just after the launch of the respect in security pledge. Inclusivity and calling out bad behaviour should be key to all we do, especially in public sector. It was a no brainer for us to sign up.

So what is respect in security?

Founded by a group of cybersecurity professionals who have decided to take a stand against all forms of harassment within our industry, ‘Respect in Security’ offers organisations the opportunity to formally pledge their commitment to creating a workplace and professional community free from harassment and fear.

The mission to is give victims and potential victims the knowledge that the industry they have chosen does not support these behaviours, and to arm people entering cybersecurity with the knowledge that their peers and employers are there to support them should they ever be targeted.

Committed to making tangible change in our industry. Our objectives are for organisations to be more transparent and accountable in their reporting channels and to help drive positivity in the interactions we have with each other as professionals within our industry.  A group that is pushing for change, and is committed to working alongside organisations who truly wish to make their workplaces more welcoming and inclusive.

You can find out more about their pledge and sign up here

My guest blog, leading by example,  can be found here (and a big thank you to all those at Respect in Security who helped make the blog possible)

Public Sector Podcast

Public Sector Podcast

In last May I was invited to speak on “The Public Sector Pod”, a podcast that focuses on digital transformation in the public sector.

I really enjoyed having the chance to talk about a subject that I feel very passionately about, digital transformation in the public sector. I was allowed to chat about the successes and failings we had experienced at Chelmsford as well as the future. 

You can find the podcast here!

Local Gov Strategy Forum​

Local Gov Strategy Forum

Like many of these events I felt a certain amount of resignation as the date approached. These events seem like a good idea when you book yourself on them. Then as they get close you realise you are still in local government and you are still considered a force for change and modernisation over 10 years since you started in the industry.

Well… I was really surprised when for the first time the people I met and spoke to were all excited by change in the sector, in part this has been forced upon a number of authorities due to budget cuts, but once they start looking they see the real benefit of cultural and technology transformation for their residents and staff. 

Of course this event was sponsored, and there were a few of the normal suspects peddling their frankly b/s wears to an already jaded public sector, but for the first time ever, I took two business cards and didn’t file them in the round file! I even have two post even meetings booked in.

Here’s to local government and them finally getting it… guess I better start looking at a career change. 

I admire….

People I follow..

As most of you will be aware, I find management and leadership courses to be a bit futile. Yes, you do pick up good ideas and practices, it is a great way to network with your peers, but has anyone come out a reformed leader / manager… not that I’ve seen. Worse than that, when under stress people revert back to the manager they are. Having said that, in my time in leadership roles I have come across a couple of real gems of people, who I admire and respect, they talk sense (to me). I will update this page if any new ones pop up!

I first came across Simon Sinek a few years ago on a random management course I had been sent on. For some reason he stuck, the way he talks, the way that some of his talk is science (some of it is pseudo science and junk, so be careful). The way he talks and the passion behind it. He is one of my all time favourite TED talkers.

My personal favourite video is this one. His books are a good read and he is constantly tweaking and refining his work.

Dave Coplin is an absolute tech legend. Having worked at Microsoft for approximately a billion years, he was their Chief Envisioning Officer, he totally embraces the fact that we need to change the way we work. We need to accept technical change and more than that we need to embrace it. 

His book Business Reimagined is short, but totally worth a read. The video Re-imagining work shifts in the digital revolution is really worth a watch.

Many of you know my absolute IT hero is Grace Hopper.

She was a truly talented computer scientist, in a time before computer science. She coined the term “bug” when she found a moth in one of her computers that wasn’t working. Her lectures were easy to follow, even on the most complex of subjects including on how far data travels in a second which she used chucks of physical cable to illustrate. 

She was a decorated Navy veteran and in 1986 she was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the US Navy.

A true pioneer. She also gave the world one of my favourite quotes of all time

“It’s to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.”

My IT Titans

OK, this one is a cheat, but I wanted to reflect the people who I respect in my industry… All of them for different reasons, but mostly because they are amazing technologists, leaders, business owners and actual people.

  • Bill Gates – Microsoft
  • Michael Dell – Dell
  • Steve Wozniak – Apple
  • The other Steve – Apple
  • Bill Hewlett – HP
  • David Packard – HP

Chelmsford – The Digital Journey So Far


 The Digital Journey So Far was published in Public Sector Executive in the Apr/May 2018 edition.

Back in 2016 we decided we had had enough of being tied into expensive contracts with the big suppliers and, with this, our inability to move agilely as an organisation. We took matters into our own hands in a programme of digital transformation that would leave the council as a master of its own destiny.

When this programme is complete, we intend to only be using our own internal staff to run, maintain and develop this new platform. We think this programme will take us five years to deliver completely, and we predict it will deliver us significant savings, both financially and in resource. 

This is underpinned by an entirely new technology platform using the building blocks in two core products, Office 365 and Dynamics 365.

In May 2017, we started a realignment of our IT function to ensure we had a team that was able to deliver this new programme. We are proud that during this realignment we were able to attract some amazing talent into the organisation and continued to grow our existing talent with internal promotions. We wanted to run this project as our own and not be stuck with a partner who didn’t “get us,” and to this end the project itself has attracted a number of industry-leading contractors who wanted to come and work with us. This has, in turn, inspired the team and led to better buy-in.

With the wider council, we have massively increased the amount of information we give them, including a fortnightly newsletter and monthly “buzz days” which deep-dive some of the core components in an interactive way.

Office 365 is the first major strand of the project: it becomes the core IT offering and affects all the workforce and councilors. In the past year we have rolled out some of its core components and have started enabling the business to work where and whenever they want. This has allowed teams within the council to start trialling their own ideas, and a number of services have made their own mini solutions. 

With the migration to Exchange online and OneDrive for Business complete, we have started the project to migrate our telephone system to Skype for Business and our shared file infrastructure to SharePoint. We are aiming to have the council fully migrated to the new platform by the end of the calendar year.

CRM is the most complex part of the programme: it aims to take the council’s current back-office systems and migrate them to a single platform, giving a single view of the customer. The beginning of the year saw us build our own platform in Azure, but by the summer it was clear that we would be better on the hosted Dynamics 365 platform. This work was completed in the summer and the team started building our foundational capabilities. Microsoft upgraded the platform and we migrated to the new build with minimal effort, the permanent team really understanding how rapid the development and deployment is. 

In the first year we only experienced one hiccup: one of our systems reached end of life during the year, and this became a distraction. We attempted to accelerate elements of the programme, but in the end this led us into a situation where we had wasted resource on focusing on an issue that we couldn’t resolve in the time we had. Once we successfully used our contingency plans, we took time to reflect and stabilise the foundation work we had already completed – ready for year two.

Digital journey so far

Personality Profiles

Personality Profiles

During my time in the public and private sector I have been subject to a number of personality profiling exercises. In general these sessions normally end up descending into a humourous look at yourself and co-workers, is there any real value of these in a functional team? I would argue not. It might cement some understanding but nothing actually changes.  In a dysfunctional team the answer might be different, but my argument would be, if a team is dysfunctional it is up to you as the manager to change things. The most common personality profile tools used at the moment are the Myers-Briggs Type indicator where you a put into 1 of 16 “families” depending on how you answer questions in the four principal functions; Sensation, intuition, feeling and thinking. You then combine the output to find your grouping.

Kinda useful I guess… Do I need to know this about my team, does it offer any value? 

The second and newer kid on the block is the Facet 5, the most modern and advanced measure of personality available today, a bold statement.  Similar in it’s approach you answer a number of questions, you are then given an individual profile and placed into one of 17 “families”. Facet 5 does give you a personal profile and teamscape report with your engagement and I have just run through this with my current management team, it was a fun afternoon. There weren’t really any surprises and we continue to perform well as a team. The Facet 5 families


And for those of you who are curious… ENTJ & Promoter… My final thought, my management philosophy (and title of my as yet unwritten management book) is “don’t be a cunt”, this has served me much better than any personality profiling.

Outcome Based Delivery

Outcome Based Delivery

I hate presenteeism, let me get that out of the way first… I hate the person who is first in and last out and their smugness. It drives me insane. Flex sheets, holiday balances, minimum hours, etc, etc… who cares? I don’t. What I want from my staff is the job to be done, sometimes this will take 2 hours in a day, sometimes 12… Do they have to do those hours in the office? Hell no. Costa, McDonald’s, home all suitable work locations. Working at 2 in the morning or 11 at night, I don’t care as long as the job is done (and you are working when you want too). Why do I feel like this? Mainly because we have unnecessarily shackled ourselves to Victorian values, I accept you have to be in a factory when it’s opening and making widgets, but for any modern office based team there is no need. The tools at our disposal now make it possible to work from anywhere at any time. My preferred way of looking at this is we have reconfigured our day. The slides below is how Microsoft describe how we used to spend our time and how we do now. My day is certainly made up of “moments” now, I go into the office to socialise with the team and to have meetings that are best face to face. I work from home one day a week, this gives me the freedom to see Alice off to school and be there when she gets home. My work pattern on my work from home days goes something like this get up, go for a run, grab coffee, work from 6-7, see Alice to school, work 7.30 – 11, have a break do bits and pieces, work 13-15, see Alice home from school and eat, work 20-22.30… As you can see my day is about the same length as if I go in, but… I get more done as I don’t have to focus on anything else. I also don’t spend 4 hours of the day commuting. Soooo what do I need to give the team the ability to this? It’s simple… The right tools. Personally I have settled on Office 365, but Google’s G-Suite or Amazon WorkXXX or ZoHo will all give you the ability to enable the workforce to do this.