Posted tagged ‘IT’

GIS a break

November 8, 2011

Mapping the benefits

It’s a guest post for us today, which is always something we love to be able to say. If you’ve got a topic you’d like to write about (or even something you’d like us to look at from a slightly sideways perspective) you can get in touch at Until then, here’s some words from someone who’s done just that.

In my line of work I meet a lot of different teams from a lot of different places around the Council, and last week I had the chance to expand my network a bit when I met our GIS team. For the uninitiated and non-councilese speakers, GIS stands for Geographical Information System; basically a way of mapping geographical information on a map, with other data able to be overlaid.

To start with I was taken through some maps of the borough, with ward boundaries and key council buildings plotted on it. Next was a layer produced which showed the borough as it was laid out throughout several periods over the last 200 years, before up came a layer which showed satellite images of the borough.

It was nothing that I couldn’t have seen on Google.

I was then taken through a whole load of new maps they had produced – for plotting where cash machines were, where local businesses were and where some other similar resources were located.

It was nothing I couldn’t have seen on Google.

When I asked them about this, about why they had invested so much time and resource on something which to my untrained eyes looked like it was out of date several years ago and which appeared to be slower than a slow motion replay of a snail in a last-past-the-post race, it was as if I’d asked Jamie Oliver why he didn’t serve turkey twizzlers at his restaurant. (more…)

GCSx – is it really worth the hassle?

August 2, 2011

A step too far?In this technological age, getting in touch with colleagues should be easy. Firstly, many people sit in the same open plan office as their colleagues, so they are able to simply turn their head and speak. Should they not be near enough to each other, a phone call to a landline or mobile will suffice. Alternatively an e-mail will do, whilst some organisations even make use of Yammer, instant messenger, or other forms of social networking. All this should mean that we should be able to talk to each other and share information across teams and partners easily, right?


At some point, a bright spark in the ICT world (or perhaps a salesman with a keen eye for a guaranteed profit) decided that e-mail wasn’t good enough for some organisations. There were obviously hordes of people intercepting e-mails willy-nilly, bleeding vital information from the public sector at a rate the ex-News of the World would have been in awe of. No, e-mail wasn’t good enough; so along came GCSx.

GCSx, for those of you yet to enjoy it’s company, stands for Government Connect Secure eXtranet and is effectively a system which acts exactly like e-mail. It is supposed to sync with Outlook, and is apparently a far more secure way of sending sensitive information. Two people with GCSx accounts should be able to swap information and e-mails about cute cats to their hearts content, safe in the knowledge that they will not have such message intercepted. (more…)

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

April 19, 2011

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.


Anti Social Behaviour

March 21, 2011


“If I had a pound for every time I had to remind you to do something I’d be a rich woman.”  So says Mrs Localgov, arguably not without justification.  Well, if I had a penny for every time I came across someone who had first had experience of being blocked from using one of the most powerful engagement tools then I could ignore my ‘fat cat pension’ and retire today.

Yes, I’m talking about social media and local government’s seeming inability or unwillingness to release the hounds and see what happens.  As anyone who has seen the simply excellent Socialnomics video will know, social media and digital engagement is not something which is going away any time soon, and in fact will probably continue to become a more prevalent part of our residents lives as time goes on.

Why is it that councils are so against adding social media tools to the toolkits they have?  Why is it that they are happy to let staff engage in just about every other way, but as soon as the word ‘social’ is thrown into the mix they revert to risk aversion mode?  Here are some of the more common excuses thrown at local officers, with a few thoughts of our own in answer.

Not all local residents have the internet

True.  Unarguable, irrefutable; this fact is usually the first point of defence when digital engagement is suggested.  Many people don’t have a computer, and even some of those who do, do not have access to the internet.

However, this number is going down.  It’ll never go down to zero, but as time goes on it is certainly sinking as fast as the confidence of an England cricketer.  Broadband access is increasing across the country thanks to government pushes and private sector investment, and there are a number of schemes set up to bring computers to the public.  Most libraries have computers, many council buildings have a terminal available and there are even payphones which allow you to have a browse.

But the biggest thing which is bringing the web to the people is the humble mobile.  Smartphones are fast becoming ubiquitous, and are often seen as an essential item by those who traditionally are seen as on or below the poverty line.  Just about every new phone released has access to the internet as a core function, so within a few years just about everyone with a mobile will have access to the internet wherever they are.

It’s against our IT policy

Having had to argue this one out myself, I will bet money that it’s a load of rubbish.

If you take the time to go through your own IT policy you will usually find something along the lines of “thou shalt not use any IT equipment for anything other than work use”.  Understandable (if constantly abused), this rule is not unusual and not something which should be argued against.

But we are not using social networking sites for non-work related purposes here.  We are using a tool to engage and communicate with the public, which of course is work use.  Just because the word ‘social’ is in the name of the tool does not mean that it’s a laugh a minute play-fest.  Let me use the right tool for my job!

People will spend all day mucking about on Facebook

I’m sure exactly the same thing was said when the argument was made to introduce the telephone to people’s desks.  Then again when e-mail was mooted.  Then again when broadband access to the net came up.

I refuse to believe that any of us have never sent a personal or non-work related e-mail from our work addresses.  E-mail loops were and are a huge distraction at times.

So what?

Are we really expecting every officer to spend every second from start to finish concentrating solely on spreadsheets, project plans and reports?  A lofty target perhaps, but unrealistic.  We all spend a little time a day talking about what we saw on the TV last night, the football, a movie or a night out.  We show pictures of our kids latest exploits, and just have a good old gossip.  And do you know what?  The jobs still get done.

I find that those who are more relaxed about this are also those who end up working above the call of duty regularly, putting the extra hours in when needed, offering the extra support and standing up to be counted.  If they spend ten minutes looking at photos of a relative in Australia and updating their status, they will probably be likely to more than make this up in their own time.

And if it is becoming a problem it is far more simple to prove and deal with than just about any other form of time wasting.  How do you track and record the timewasting of someone who takes half an hour to make every cup of tea, who spends an hour a day distracting people with gossip, who takes days to read a report?  How much easier it is if this is done online: a simple report from IT as to what websites they are visiting and how long they are spending on them is easy and effective; and requires no more technology than is already in place.

People don’t want to use social networks to engage with public services

How do you know?  Social networks have only been around for a handful of years – Facebook turns five this year – and it’s relatively recently that we have started to use them professionally.  Saying that people don’t want to engage with us online is like saying that West Ham will be relegated after losing the first game of the season.  It might happen, but just because they lose one game doesn’t mean they’ll lose the rest.

Likewise, just because people to date haven’t en masse engaged with every local authority online doesn’t mean that they won’t in future.  I have started signing online petitions, joining lobbying groups and sharing local information online; the more I do, the more I do.

And there are plenty of examples of public sector organisations who have done this incredibly successfully, from Newcastle to Bristol to Coventry; funny how these get ignored…

It takes ages – we haven’t got the resources

Yes and no.  To do it properly takes officer time, and to respond to everything can increase this amount of time by a fair bit.

But shouldn’t we be trying to do this anyway?  If a member of the public raises something at a meeting, we should be dealing with it.  If they call us, we should be dealing with it.  If they e-mail us, we should be dealing with it.  Are we saying that we aren’t going to engage in social media in case people tell us about our services and want us to do something about them?

A little bit of time taken to deal with issues early can save a fortune later on down the line; every bit of information we can gather to help us save time and money should be gathered.  We can’t afford not to.

At the end of the day, there will always be reasons not to do something; but with social media and digital engagement there are far more and bigger reasons to get on the train than not to.

And for those who’ve not seen it and have a minute or two spare, take a look at this:

P8ssw0rd m@dn355

March 7, 2011

Can't things be linked up a bit better?

As a child my mother used to tell me that if my head hadn’t been attached to my body, I would have forgotten it most of the time.  As I’ve grown older my memory has not improved one jot; I still regularly forget things to add to the shopping list, dates and events as well as forgetting to take the rubbish out.

Our ICT department do not appear to be sympathetic to my plight however.  Recently a brand new layer or two of ‘security’ has been forced upon us.  There was nothing demanding that this happen, but some ICT people decided that it could be done, therefore it should be, and to hell with the consequences and impact it has on the rest of the staff.

Let me take you through a typical log-in routine.  After switching on a PC I have to input my username and password.  This password is forced to change every 30 days, and follows these rules:

  • Can’t be a password that’s been one of your last 24 versions
  • Must contain upper case
  • Must contain lower case
  • Must contain a special character (i.e. non-letter)
  • Must contain a number

I then get taken to my profile, and have to log in to each of the shared drives I want access to.  Each of these has a different username and password.  Should I need to update our website (part of my normal role) I’ll need another username and password for each one.  I also have to log on to my phone line, requiring yet another password. (more…)

Learning lessons… are we?

December 16, 2010


Well, maybe just a little disillusioned!

Let us not kid ourselves; there is a lot of anger out there. Some of it is directed at the Government and those who criticise Local Government no matter what we do. However, some of the anger is actually about Local Government; we do get e-mails or tweets telling us to ‘get a real job’ or to stop moaning as all we are is over-priced pen pushers. The following piece expresses some of this anger but does so without resorting to insults. It is also interesting as the author is a self-described Local Government consultant. The piece is reprinted below:

Having jumped (before the rest of the population) into contracting earlier last year, I have had the privilege to work in three local authorities over the last 18 months.
It amazes me the bounteous delights of commonality between them. I am reminded about the staff away days, the team training sessions, but most of all Directors sharing best practice at highly priced corporate events where a glass of orange juice is likely to set the organisers back by £5.60.
In the area of cuts, restructure and the glittery world of transformation, I am amazed at the lack of learning seeming to take place throughout these highly paid and, at times, overpriced workers.

A Lament

November 15, 2010


A moon seemed strangely appropriate for a lament


When we started writing this blog there was a sense of genuine joy in our hearts. We wrote posts about council run walking schemes, the attempts of a council to ban their staff from using the stairs, inappropriate use of the ‘reply all’ button, internal fights over dress codes and what happens when someone spills a cup of coffee.

All of these posts were inspired by our sense of love for local government and our amusement at its eccentricities and foibles. And no matter what we said about our jobs and the places we worked, even when we were being serious, there was a sense of enjoyment and fun that permeated through the blog.

Unfortunately, this is no more. More and more the posts we write are serious (ish) discussions of job losses and pay freezes. Obviously, we still write other posts, but when if we do have a little poke at local government it almost feels like somehow we’re helping the Government ‘cut and cut some more’ agenda.

I make this observation because in many ways the blog reflects real life.  (more…)

The Giant Awakens

September 2, 2010

The seasons, like the slide into obscurity for Big Brother contestants, are immutable and inexorable.  They have not changed for generations, although Al Gore is on a one man mission to convince us all through the wonder that is PowerPoint that things will never be the same again (not that I’m disagreeing with him, but a PowerPoint presentation?!).

Still; hot, wet, cold, wet, windy or wet, the British seasons generally roll around in the same manner on an annual basis, vaguely matching the months they fall in.  We are coming to the end of summer time at the moment, and therefore life in local government can once again begin anew.

You see, it’s a curious phenomenon that occurs in the public sector – life stops for the summer holidays.  I’m not saying everything grinds to a halt while we take a six week siesta, but much of the work simply slows down significantly and only begins again when the first 4×4 Chelsea Tractors are spotted at 8.30am and the volume of mobile phone music increases significantly on every form of public transport. (more…)