On 16th May, iNetwork’s Partnership Director, Shelley Heckman, and Stakeholder Engagement Manager, Tom Hindmarch, travelled to Leeds to attend Socitm’s collaboration event. The event was hosted in conjunction with three other partner organisations: Yorkshire and Humberside PSN, CIPFA, and Yorkshire and Humberside WARP, each leading sessions throughout the day.

The agenda encompassed a variety of topics, including public sector case studies showcasing innovative work, interactive discussion sessions, and suppliers highlighting how they can support the public sector.

The event commenced with a presentation by Helen Rhoden, Strategy and Innovation Officer at Leeds City Council, who outlined their digital strategy for 2022-25. The strategy focuses on establishing robust digital foundations to enhance service delivery and improve residents’ lives. It comprises five key pillars: data management, connectivity and infrastructure, digital skills, and data ethics. The strategy adopts a person-centred approach and aims to improve interconnectivity and collaboration within the council to ensure vulnerable individuals are not left behind in the digital era.

Helen explained that as part of the strategy, the council has been promoting innovation through a regular events program. They organise hackathons to encourage the local tech community to develop innovative digital solutions for real-world problems, as outlined in the digital strategy. Last year, as part of the Leeds Digital Festival, the council hosted a Hack for Good event, leading to successful trials of various applications that improve how people use and interact with services.

Following this, public sector suppliers were given the opportunity to present short, sharp 5-minute elevator pitches, highlighting their products and software. Netcall was the first to speak, discussing their low-code solution for developing new systems and apps. Their AI platform allows users to build applications using a simple drag-and-drop function.

The elevator pitches were interspersed with valuable networking time, enabling attendees to discuss their practices with colleagues over refreshments. During the break, iNetwork had the chance to catch up with event sponsors, members, and partner organisations.

Next, IP Performance provided a 5-minute overview of their product. They offer an alternative solution to councils that lack the resources to operate a Security Operations Centre (SOC). Additionally, they offer products and services related to penetration testing (PEN test) and securing DNS servers. The final elevator pitch was delivered by representatives from 4C, who discussed their support for the public sector in tackling challenges and transformation.

After lunch, Terence Hudson from Yorkshire and Humberside PSN facilitated an interactive exercise focused on delivering technology in times of austerity. Participants were divided into small groups to engage in in-depth discussions and debates. The exercise centred around the English fairy tale ‘Jack and the Beanstalk,’ with each table being given a differently-sized cow representing a specific amount of money targeted for saving. The saving targets varied, ranging from £200k immediately to £10 million over 3 years. After half an hour of discussion, the different groups proposed several cost-cutting solutions, including:

– Collective licensing and collaborative procurement for sector-wide products such as Microsoft 365 to ensure fair pricing for each organisation.
– Reducing unused devices and data packages for staff, including mobile phones and tablets.
– Providing training opportunities to improve staff retention and upskill the existing workforce.
– Utilising data intelligently to inform decision-making and identify areas for cost savings.
– Streamlining services that consume a significant portion of the local council budget, with a focus on areas such as social care, including fall prevention, adaptations, and the Internet of Things.
– Exploring opportunities for commercialization within council services.
– Encouraging multi-agency working and collaboration across the local public sector to collectively solve challenges.

In the subsequent session, Andrew Cross from Bradford City Council delivered a presentation on how the council implemented Power BI to produce complex reports and forecasts. Andrew showcased various examples of what the organisation had achieved using Power BI, highlighting its capabilities and the effective use of data within the council. Bradford aims to expand the use of Power BI into more aspects of the organisation. Andrew emphasised the importance of adopting a whole-team approach, employing strong governance principles, and investing in training to upskill staff within the organisation. Bradford is currently collaborating with Leeds City Council to share knowledge and best practices regarding the use of Power BI in the local public sector.

The day concluded with a live lounge panel discussion focused on the implications of AI in the public sector. Yunus Mayat, Chair of Yorkshire and Humberside WARP, moderated the panel, which included representatives from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Bullwall, Microsoft, and Galaxkey.

In regards to the threat posed by Chat GPT to the local public sector, the NCSC emphasised the importance of exercising caution. While Chat GPT may not be as alarming as it seems, it is crucial to read and understand the terms and conditions. Users should refrain from sharing sensitive information with Chat GPT, as it is a privately owned platform.

The discussion then shifted to the broader role of AI and cybersecurity in the public sector. Sameer from Galaxkey highlighted areas where AI is already making an impact, such as intelligent phishing, chatbots, and data protection. He also stressed the need for AI to enhance secure coding practices.

Ben from NCSC acknowledged the increasing sophistication and automation of cyber threats due to AI. He mentioned that NCSC utilises Chat GPT for protecting new infrastructure and leverages machine learning for a reliable source of truth. However, he also recognized the potential misuse of AI by threat actors and aimed to explore ways to block and protect against vulnerabilities.

Andrew from Bullwall emphasised the importance of AI in automating processes and identifying good data. He mentioned the use of encryption in conjunction with AI to isolate users and enhance security measures.

Richard from Microsoft discussed the utilisation of AI in security monitoring and Defender. Microsoft employs AI for anomaly detection, analytics, and developing a protective closed-loop system. However, he acknowledged the challenges of information governance, data ethics, and evolving threats that need to be addressed.

The panel concluded with recommendations for staying safe, including implementing strong perimeter protection, adhering to the cyber essentials plus guidelines, and utilising tools provided by NCSC, such as PDNS, Webcheck & Mailcheck, and the Early Warning Service. Richard from Microsoft stressed the importance of patching and automating patching processes to enhance cybersecurity.