Shona LeaveyShona Leavey is the Head of IT Services at Agilisys, the digital transformation specialist working to support public sector organisations to deliver sustainable change.

Having spent over 20 years working in the States of Guernsey’s civil service, Shona’s background in public service delivery gives her a special insight into how technology can enable and transform services to improve citizen experiences.

Tell us a bit about your current role

At Agilisys, we’re working in partnership with the government of the 65km2 Channel Island of Guernsey – the States of Guernsey – to deliver its 21st century vision for public services.  Enabled by a truly comprehensive IT and digital transformation programme, our SMART Guernsey Partnership combines network and hosting, information security, cloud computing, data science, robotics, and the latest in IT software development techniques. The aim is to provide resilient, modern, and secure public services to the Island’s 63,000 residents.

SMART Guernsey is all about using technology to unlock and support new more efficient ways of working for States of Guernsey employees, which in turn improve how public services are delivered. It’s about making it easier for public servants to do their jobs – and improving the experiences of Islanders interacting with government.

In my role, I lead a team of over 50 professionals responsible for delivering IT Services across the breadth of States’ services, including Healthcare, Law Enforcement, Social Security, and much more. As you can imagine, our work is both complex and varied – from looking after the systems which allow the breeding of Guernsey cows, to supporting the systems that help safely deliver babies!

As IT professionals, it’s natural to focus on what technology can do for people, rather than what people can do with technology. But having spent 24 years of my career working in the civil service, I’ve learned that strong skills in communicating and working with people are ‘must haves’ for any modern IT programme – and the most successful projects are those where time is spent up front with users and providers to understand how services work, and how they’d like to do things in the future.

For me, every IT project begins with people. That’s why having a holistic approach to IT is so important: blending soft and technical skills is key to ensuring our IT services put people at the heart of what we do.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

In truth – not really! In fact, I’d never really thought of myself as an ‘IT person’. I’m a people person. I love being part of a team and connecting with people.

I’d originally planned to be a teacher, but shortly before I was due to go to university, I got ill and couldn’t go. The civil service was taking on school leavers, so I applied and got a job with Social Security.

The first four years of my career were spent processing benefit claims. The technology system we used was old and ‘clunky’ – so when it was being replaced, I jumped at the chance to work on the project and make sure that the new system would work better for me, my colleagues, and customers.

This was actually my first taste of IT project management – and I loved it so much that I made the move into IT, first within Social Security and then working across all the States’ business units as Head of Projects, before transferring to Agilisys in 2019.

Shona Leavey

It was during the first lockdown in March 2020 that I temporarily stepped into the role of Head of IT Services – a role that became permanent in July 2020. In this role, I lead BAU (Business As Usual) IT, as well as taking into service the transformed IT estate across Guernsey’s public services.

This has probably been my most significant personal achievement to date – and it came with the realisation that there’s really no such thing as an ‘IT person’. Having spent most of my career leading IT professionals, I’ve learnt that our services are dependent on teams of people with diverse skills, experiences, and capabilities.

Bringing together diverse teams of people, and empowering colleagues to make a difference for the community – that’s probably been the biggest driver of my career strategy.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

My greatest career challenge has probably also been one of my greatest accomplishments: navigating the upheaval and uncertainty caused by the global pandemic.

When Guernsey went into lockdown in March 2020, the IT infrastructure in place within the States was not geared up for remote working: the majority of the service areas are office-based, with civil servants primarily working on desktop computers without he tools that could enable a more modern way of working.

Over the space of a few short weeks and during a time of global supply chain shortages, our team procured and supplied over 700 laptops, 1,000 Microsoft Teams licenses, 200 VPNs – all to enable remote working for States of Guernsey employees.

We trained over 200 civil servants and politicians to use Microsoft Teams across 15 remote sessions in 8 days, and engaged Microsoft to support Guernsey’s parliamentary team – enabling them to facilitate the very first virtual States of Deliberation sitting, complete with roll call and live streaming to the public. This was in fact the very first remote parliamentary sitting in the British Isles.

Beyond this, as we responded to the impact of COVID-19, we rolled out what has been described as ‘two years’ work in just two months’. This has included:

  • Setting-up IT solutions to enable remote public services across the whole of government to ensure the delivery of critical services – from the Revenue Service to Health & Social Care
  • Delivering new services to support the frontline response to COVID-19 assisting in the creation of COVID-19 hotlines as well as embedding IT infrastructure in the hospital’s COVID-19 ICU unit
  • Developing solutions for Guernsey’s Track and Trace, Bailiwick Vaccination Programme, and Business Support – helping to enable Guernsey’s world-leading response to COVID-19

But alongside all of this, our team have delivered everyday IT services and worked alongside colleagues in our IT Transformation team to bring in new, modern, and resilient technologies. Most significantly, this saw two members of our local team help to build two on-island data centres during the pandemic – laying the foundation for the transformed IT estate and delivering a saving of £1.4m back to the public purse.

What top tips would you share with Senior Leaders looking to lead their team through IT Change?

To drive meaningful change, we can’t overlook the wider importance of culture. For IT leaders today, that means creating a working environment where employees feel they belong and can be their authentic selves. It’s about nurturing a learning and coaching culture that supports teams to recognise their talents and unlock their growth potential.

At Agilisys, we’ve implemented a Learning & Development programme that focuses on upskilling our team with not only technical accreditations, but also soft skill learnings.

Over 80% of our on-island team have completed training relevant to their roles. Some examples of the technical training undertaken include ITIL 4 Foundation, Microsoft O365, Microsoft System Centre, Cisco Enterprise Networks, PRINCE2, and the BCS Professional Certificate in Agile Business Analysis.

But the pace of technology change means we’re going to need more people with more skills – even if we don’t yet know what some of these may be. And so, looking beyond technological certifications, we recognise the importance of communication skills as well as developing people, project, and change management capabilities for everyone.

Investing in our people, enabling their personal and professional growth, and empowering our teams to make a difference for our communities – that’s what leadership is all about.