Computers don’t respect boundaries so why does council IT?

So what exactly does McDonalds have to do with council IT?

One of the under-appreciated parts of any local authority is its IT department. Unseen by members of the public and bemoaned by council staff people only care about IT when their computer stops working and even then it is assumed that it is just some stupid IT tech who has got something wrong.

This is, of course, silly and local authorities are becoming increasingly reliant on all sorts of IT networks, applications and systems. In today’s guest post, a ‘techy’ (which is a technical term!) discusses how savings can be made, even within the increasingly complex information technology world.

If you have a guest post to submit then please send it to

It has been obvious to me for some time that many public sector budget items have been unnecessarily duplicated time and time again for no apparent reason other than territorial integrity. Centralised procurement of goods and services has been highlighted as one area where huge savings can be made.

Imagine, for example, a hugely efficient private sector operation like McDonalds allowing each branch to negotiate and buy its own supplies of buns and burgers etc from different suppliers. It’s total nonsense since there is no way that the best deals on price and quality could be negotiated other than by one or two central buyers speaking for the whole McDonalds empire with its massive buying power.

Yet, for reasons of history and cultural difference this is just how vast chunks of the public sector have been operating with the inevitable result that individual departments have been spending far more than they needed to on everything from paperclips to computers.

The trend towards using the public sector’s huge buying power to drive down costs by aggregating purchases has clearly been gaining momentum since the Coalition’s ambitious cuts have been announced and most local authorities have been busy investigating every line of budget looking for savings, any savings.

Nor is it just the area of everyday office supplies, and hamburger buns, that can generate substantial savings. Increasingly, there is a recognition that vital ICT services can be aggregated so that a disparate collection of local government agencies can share expensive items like networks.

And here comes the technical bit (apologies for those not involved in IT!!!):

Socitm is the professional association for ICT managers working in and for the public sector network and, as many as 60 % of the organisations represented by Socitm members reported in 2009 that they already had some form of shared networking.

Expect this number to increase very quickly and for the 60% to be expanding their sharing very quickly.

Socitm Consulting have examined benchmarking data for the provision of voice and data services in various types of local authority and concluded that where voice and data services share a common network, savings of around 25% on contracted service costs can typically be achieved. That’s thousands of pounds that won’t have to be found from the frontline.

They also conclude that this figure can be raised still higher where IT services and applications are provided by one partner via a shared network to other partner agencies on the same network. This achieves significant additional visible savings such as reduced staff and accommodation costs.

A prime example of this is , an “ aggregated community “ which won a 2010 E-government excellence award in the shared services category. Linked to the Government Connect Secure eXtranet (GCSX). It’s believed that this saved £1 million for the county in savings and efficiencies which is no small beer.

One very useful by-product of such large capacity networks is that they can provide the platform for the inclusion of rural “not spots” where the digital highway presently peters out to the detriment of new business growth. It seems there is no limit to the number of winners in the race to aggregate services via network sharing.

And for the non-techies; you’re back in the game:

In conclusion, local authorities are already looking at their IT contracts and asking where the savings can be found. This is not enough; councils need to be looking to their neighbours, forgetting about their administrative boundaries and looking for solutions that not only save money but can add value for their frontline services and local residents. IT moves on so quickly this might just be possible.

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4 Comments on “Computers don’t respect boundaries so why does council IT?”

  1. Sarah Says:

    For once I’m actually pretty sure I know the guest blogger!

    One issue with sharing IT that I know of is where there is a dominant partner trying to impose their will on other partners. Smaller or less dominant partners can be understandably nervous of how IT changes may effect other systems in their control.

    It is worth reminding the IT bods then that although they think ‘techy’ they also need to think of people as well in order to make this succeed. Talk in plain english to use non techies and give us some reassurances of the stability and security of what you’re trying to implement.

  2. misskrin Says:

    It’s a decent argument, and the cost savings may well be there.

    One major concern that springs to mind from my time working in Local Government is the propensity for large scale enterprise IT projects to blow out any costs savings from over-run on project timelines, and/or a substantial scope creep, both of which are often affected by the inexperience of managers in dealing with large corporate clients (there is an excellent post on this in the We Love Local Gov archives, which I cannot find at the moment), or by central steering committees who do not understand the project, but want to get involved.

    All part of the joy of local government of course, but any project of this nature is going to have to be VERY tightly managed, but someone who has extensive experience implementing enterprise level IT projects in local governments and has the skills to steer it through the various committee quagmires that they will face. Otherwise the suggested savings could easily disappear into the project managment budget, or leave a Council with a system that doesn’t perform as it should.

    (NB: the tone of this comment may be affected by previous frustrating experiences, catharsis is a wonderful thing)

  3. Tony H Says:

    One other danger with aggregating Local Government IT Projects is that it plays into the hands of the larger suppliers who often supply the Henry Ford type of solution, i.e. any colour you like as long as it’s black or one size fits all. Local Government also has a tradition of flexibility, allowing it to stimulate the local economy with local partnerships. Quite often these bigger players keep their costs down by off-shoring a portion of their development work meaning UK skilled developers often lose out!

  4. […] pet topic of mine, and was brought up as I delved into a new shared drive area, which thanks to the vaguaries of ICT randomly became available to me. It covered recruitment, and laid out a dozen or more job […]

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