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Network allows flexible working

Surrey Council is totally revamping its networks to enable flexible work practices. Karl Cushing reports

Surrey County Council has embarked on a root-and-branch reform of its voice and data networks as part of a strategy designed to support flexible working practices.

The council had originally planned to link its buildings using a single wide area network (Wan) but the project took on a broader scope after the council called in network consultantcy Improcom 18 months ago.

As Surrey Council's IT project manager Mike Barker explains, the council had six different Wans linked to County Hall and, although its bigger buildings were connected by a corporate voice network, the smaller buildings all had their own systems. "It was very fragmented," he says. "We needed to pull all that together."

However, the council realised that it could not simply patch up the existing system. Barker says it had been doing that for years and had done just about all it could. "We concluded that we needed a whole technology refresh," he says.

Unfortunately, cash and resources were tight, as the council aimed to achieve its ambitious goals within its existing budget.

To reduce the outlay, it opted for a fully managed service.

The council chose partner Cable and Wireless from a shortlist of three companies. A key factor in the decision was that C&W offered a fully managed service using Cisco's Avvid integrated voice and data networking architecture. "We were interested in having technology that would take us into the future," explains Barker.

Because Cisco has opened up its programme interface to third parties, the council should not get locked into using a single supplier. The Cisco switches also support interconnectivity, which will be crucial, as the council plans to link up with other local public sector bodies using the network as the hub.

Affordability was another factor. C&W will integrate the council's voice and data networks into a single network and all calls sent over that network will be internal and therefore free.

The system incorporates Novell technology to allow users to set up "roaming profiles" so they can set up any phone or computer to automatically have the same settings as the one in their office. Barker says that by the end of the year the council will also have implemented Avvid's integrated messaging component which allows users to access fax, voicemail and e-mail messages in one place. "That is one of the things that will really appeal to the users," he says.

The contract, which is worth £13m over five years, was signed in October 2001 and the council aims to have the new network in place in 18 months' time. "Having an effective, robust and reliant network is essential to what we are trying to achieve," says Barker.

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