Planning to make life easier for everyone

Despite early problems, Guildford Council's e-planning system is set to improve efficiency and reliability

Despite early problems, Guildford Council's e-planning system is set to improve efficiency and reliability

In order to provide councillors with instant planning information online Guildford Borough Council had to find a way to access information held on legacy systems and present it via a Web browser.

Guildford Council was keen to provide councillors with direct access to up-to-date planning information, when and where they needed it.

The council needed to replace its ageing planning system, and switched to Acolaid from local government systems firm Plantech, later adopting its Acolnet Web software as well. The system was implemented but the performance at first was not to the council's expectations.

The reasons for the disappointment were discovered to be an underpowered server and the preponderance of out-of-date PCs - at the time, the council was still using 386s and 486s - plus the complication of historic data conversion from an antiquated IBM AS/400. Eventually, a superior server and higher-spec desktop PCs were acquired and the performance improved.

"We have now laid down desktop standards using Pentium III computers, Windows and Office 2000. The lesson we learnt was that investment in the latest technology is important in implementing any new system that depends on high-speed performance," says Tim Russell, the council's IT manager.

The next phase involved the roll-out of the system to the councillors. The pace quickened when the council set up a dedicated project team. The system was demonstrated but there was some delay. Andy Hird, the council's systems administrator, explains, "The council wanted to make sure the network was stable enough to support it. We weren't in a position to offer this until we had ensured that the platform for the roll-out was in place," he says.

Guildford Council and Plantech have made the e-planning system, which they are currently piloting, as easy to use as possible. This is important as the council intends to roll out the system not only to the whole of the planning committee, but to the public as well. "The system has been so straightforward that councillors are able to use it without any training," says Russell.

The council is considering rolling out other services to the public such as its minutes and agendas system. "This project really is important as a catalyst for other ideas," says Hird. "We anticipate that Acolaid and Acolnet will be helpful to the delivery of other council services electronically."

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