CIO interview: Neil Moore, head of ICT, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service

Hampshire Fire and Rescue’s CIO talks about collaborating, moving to the cloud and getting staff on board with digital transformation.

The project is both comprehensive and ambitious, and Moore expects to have multiple infrastructure elements and applications in place by the end of the year. “We are certainly going for it,” he says.

“Our big ambition is to make more use of on-demand IT. By using the cloud, we feel we can deliver agile services to users.”

In a wide-ranging conversation with Computer Weekly, Moore explains his desire for change, his strategy for transformation and his long-term aims.

Moore became head of ICT in September 2002, having previously worked in business analysis for Hampshire County Council. The fire service was keen to create consistency and standardisation across its platforms and processes, but, most of all, the organisation needed an individual who could help create a long-term IT strategy, particularly with regard to governance.

“While public sector bodies are often risk-averse, emergency services must embrace risk – their day-to-day activities are all about managing risk,” says Moore. “It’s a careful balance – emergency services must be risk-hungry, but they need to mitigate danger at the same time.”

Moore stepped up to help create this balance. It was his first technology management position and he admits being apprehensive about the transition initially. “Moving to IT leadership was a bit like a move to the dark side, as I’d been so involved in technology and development,” says Moore.

But his concerns quickly receded. Now, 14 years on, Moore relishes his role as much as ever. “I enjoyed IT leadership straight away,” he says. “It’s great to have the opportunity to learn about new ways of running and using technology. That interest remains strong today.”

Key achievements

Moore points to three key achievements during his tenure. First, he has helped the organisation achieve its long-desired aim of a stable and consistent technology platform. “That was a significant accomplishment,” he says. “When I joined, some of the departments could not exchange documents because of a lack of integration and version control.”

Second, Moore has helped Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service to embrace information security. As well as implementing policies and procedures, he has focused on cultural concerns and has used cyber security as a business enabler. “I’ve always been interested in how IT can have a positive impact on the way an organisation operates,” he says.

Moore’s final key achievement concerns his current priority project – digital transformation. “When it comes to technology, we’ve gone back to the drawing board altogether,” he says. “The only thing we haven’t changed is our command and control system, which we run jointly with two other fire services – Devon and Somerset, and Wiltshire and Dorset.”

The fire service currently uses IT services from Hampshire County Council that are delivered through Citrix technology and managed centrally. Thin client-style provision – with managed desktop functionality and access to services through a browser – is likely to remain the focus of the organisation’s strategy for most users. However, the fire service is establishing its own relationships with key technology partners across multiple levels of provision.

“We want to support business change and drive innovation in technology,” says Moore, referring to the organisation’s plans for digital transformation. “The arrangement with Hampshire Country Council allowed us to provide a stable environment. But the model no longer meets our requirements, particularly with regard to providing more agility.”

Rationale for change

The business case for digital transformation was signed off in May. Moore spent the previous 12 months working alongside his business colleagues to establish the requirements of the change programme. “When we started, we were clear on what we wanted transformation to achieve,” he says.

The change programme covers a range of infrastructure and application areas and for all of these, Moore is calling on the expert advice of trusted partners. He is using Virgin Media Business to help establish a new wide area network, and specialist provider Unify to implement unified communications.

Giving our workers secure and reliable access to information from any location is absolutely crucialNeil Moore, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service

Moore is working with Canon across print, and VMware is introducing a new virtual desktop system. Most applications will be hosted in the cloud, such as Microsoft Office 365 and document management via SharePoint, while some specialist tools might be managed on site. The organisation will also continue to draw on its close working relationship with Hampshire County Council.

Commitment to the transformation project from stakeholders has been crucial, in terms of both funding and timing. “They had become frustrated that the old model of IT provision did not provide enough agility,” says Moore. “I work for an ambitious organisation that wants to be the best fire and rescue service.

“I have a seat on the service management board, which is a privileged position that has helped me prove the benefits of IT. The rest of the business understands technology and they want to embrace digital transformation to create a range of benefits. We want to be able to change directly and quickly.”

Moving to the cloud and Office 365

A key element of the organisation’s change programme has been its decision to implement Microsoft Office 365, says Moore, adding that mobility is a hugely important area for the fire service. “We are a mobile organisation,” he says. “Giving our workers secure and reliable access to information from any location is absolutely crucial.”

Many of the organisation’s users only need a light touch in terms of Office services, such as productivity and email. Moore says he wants to encourage staff to be out in the community and he wants to support them working from any location, including the home. Here, the flexibility provided by cloud-based and browser-based services, such as Office 365, is a business advantage.

Moore assessed Office 365 and rival service Google Apps for Work before opting for Microsoft’s offering. He ran a two-month trial of both services with 80 employees. Moore says the decision to implement Office 365 was a close call and inevitably came down to which service was the best fit, particularly in terms of more specialised functionality.

“To be honest, both products are great,” he says. “We wanted a nice, clean model that made best use of the cloud. Both Office 365 and Google Apps delivered new functionality and more agility. The great news for us is that the decision has now been made and all the contracts are in place, so we can start rolling the services out across the organisation from January.”

Key business challenges

Moore recognises that implementing a major change programme is not straightforward. Digital transformation involves a transition in terms of staff training, he says, and workers across the organisation must get used to the scale of change. Engagement plays a crucial role and the IT team uses roadshows to present the benefits of transformation to fire stations and crews across Hampshire.

Moore is also making use of external expertise, and has contracted a public relations specialist to the digital transformation project for nine months to help boost engagement. This communications lead provides invaluable input, he says. “Everyone in the senior team recognises the strengths of the role. A strong communications strategy is helping us demonstrate that the technology you use at work can be great and can help drive innovation.”

Partnerships are also important. The fire service might be running more of its own IT systems, but it still needs to work closely with Hampshire County Council and Hampshire Constabulary. “We need to extract IT carefully, so that we don’t create additional difficulties, and we also need to make sure the correct support is in place,” says Moore.

The IT team is also focused on its working relationships with supplier partners, both new and old. Moore says client management is crucial when it comes to the changing nature of contracts with existing suppliers. The business case for transformation included new funding to source external expertise, he says. “In many cases, we now have new engagements with suppliers we might not have considered before.”

A platform for change

The key message is that a quick digital transformation is achievable. Moore’s programme has made rapid progress thanks to strong management support, effective strategic planning and regular team communication. More importantly, the six-month turnaround in infrastructure and applications should be seen as nothing more than a crucial first stage, he says.

“January 2017 is another starting point,” says Moore, referring to the completion of the digital transformation project. “The aim is that our new approach to IT will drive innovation. The world will be our oyster once we have left behind the frustrations of our existing systems. As an IT team, we will be able to deliver new services that are driven by the imagination of the business.”

Moore says this continual process of innovation means he will need to focus on the development of IT skills in the technology department. “New projects will continue to bubble up and we will need dedicated teams for these initiatives,” he adds.

For example, Hampshire Fire Service will soon be responsible for the control system for the Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service. Another upcoming project involves introducing new digital technologies to replace the mobile communications network Airwave as part of a national programme. Moore hopes these initiatives will help boost collaboration.

“We’ve achieved so much through digital transformation and there’s still lot of things we can do but the general feeling about IT in the organisation is now increasingly positive,” says Moore.