Director Digital & ICT, Southend-on-Sea City Council
Digital adoption is the hurdle that UK authorities face as they look to revamp their legacy systems. But what results from this task is seamless operation, inclusivity of a vast array of stakeholders and more opportunities for the future.
As digital technology had already provided benefits for Southend-on-Sea City Council (SCC) during the COVID-19 pandemic, further adoption is taking place to ensure that the Council can continue to meet the demands of its locality. In charge of the digital adoption and IT team is Carol Thomas, Director Digital & ICT at SCC, who, since migrating from South Africa, has positioned herself as an influential leader in the city council.
In a positive way, Thomas claims to be one of the most stubborn leaders, never leaving a task to failure and, as a result, is well-practised in building high-performing teams to facilitate successful digital transformation projects.
“Strangely, given that I work in IT, I’m a people person,” says Thomas. “I build strong relationships with stakeholders, and I create high-performing teams that operate like families.”
“Even though I’m strategic and focused on the future, I have a commercial mindset and love to see people grow as individuals.”
Having worked in various high level roles in her home country—including Chief Information Officer for South-Africa-based organisations AVBOB, SACAA and ATNS—Thomas is a great fit for leadership at SCC, a role that has allowed her to implement several successful digital transformation projects with the IT team. This was particularly important for the authority as it navigated the COVID-19 pandemic, which influenced a digital response to its internal operations.
“We moved from an underperforming IT environment, which was not engaged with the rest of the council, to having an absolute desire to build a smart city—and we’re now working towards it,” Thomas emphasises as she discusses her leadership of the team during one of the most difficult challenges globally. The first response to the pandemic was the digitalisation of its internal processes, allowing the team to work remotely—something SCC still leverages today.
Facilitating culture shift to digital
Thomas attributes a lot of her success in SCC to delivering the correct narratives. Recruiting is one thing, but the ability to retain talent is crucial; enabling employees to hold a valued stake in projects is an ethos that she champions across the department. Her primary focus is around team building and ensuring that prospective team members possess the same cultural outlook as the organisation, which is a priority over their skills.
“We found that that helps immensely in allowing us to deliver what we need and then take all stakeholders on our journey. It’s absolutely critical to what we want to achieve,” explains Thomas.
Following in the footsteps of some of her inspirations in the world of work and in her personal development, Thomas believes the most important advice for anyone in the technology sector who wishes to facilitate meaningful change (and succeed in doing so) is to continue learning, valuing the knowledge and experience gained along their journey. She also says to “always have your finger on the pulse and never lose your sense of humour”.
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“Sometimes automation is seen as a panacea. We see it as one of a number of solutions, not a silver bullet.”