Strong business case links IT spending to e-gov and service improvements in Leeds

Leeds City Council has fought hard to win the funding for the multi-pronged IT infrastructure overhaul which is essential for it to meet e-government targets and the efficiencies required in response to the Gershon Report.

Leeds City Council has fought hard to win the funding for the multi-pronged IT infrastructure overhaul which is essential for it to meet e-government targets and the efficiencies required in response to the Gershon Report.

As Computer Weekly reported last week, the council is implementing a range of Novell software and services as a core part of its year-long IT overhaul, which will finish this September.

The council is racing to meet 2005 targets for delivering electronic services to Leeds' 715,000 citizens and join up many of its council processes and dealings with other bodies, such as the police and health service.

The technology infrastructure had not been upgraded since 2000. By the time the council was Y2K-compliant it had spent a considerable amount and there was a view at board level that IT had had its share.

Phil Bevan, business impact manager at the council, said, "We had Windows 98, Office 97 and different versions of various applications.

"We were finding from an IT services point of view that it was holding the business back - we could not implement the latest versions of the software. We needed new versions of Siebel and SAP and to keep up to date."

To win funding for essential projects the IT department pursued a strategy of making the business case and winning its funding on a project-by-project basis, while having a coherent plan to upgrade the whole IT infrastructure.

According to Martin Jones, a senior programme manager at the council, success in obtaining the project green light, depended on the council being convinced that IT was essential to maintain its ability to deliver services, the change of emphasis coming from central and regional government, and IT no longer being thought of as just a cost.

The decision to upgrade IT systems was taken 2002, on the basis that the ageing IT estate could no longer meet business needs.

Other drivers included clear requirements for having remote network access, home working products for benefits and council tax, and far more mobile working for social services, allowing staff to pick up e-mails and work remotely.

Leeds Council would not discuss its spending on the IT overhaul, but it is substantial.

One of the successes that helped to secure further projects was a 200-user pilot of Novell Netware 6, which centred on remote working. Jones said this gave the department a lever to win support for further deployments.

With the spotlight on IT again, "We have never been in such a strong position as we are now in IT to bid for funding," Jones said. "And similarly, there are a lot of opportunities for external funding to be generated.

"People are seeing a return on investment, and the way IT can transform the business, when the overall budgets are constantly under pressure.

"We are not saying we will just do the Gershon budget cuts, we are planning to exceed them, with long-term efficiencies. We have our own Gershon programme manager."

Close working relationship with supplier brings benefits

Leeds City Council's IT systems upgrade posed a project management challenge because it had so many elements.

Parts of the IT set-up undergoing incremental updates in the 12 months to September include networks, storage systems, servers, desktop hardware, contact centres, and back- and front-end software.

In an upgrade with so many parts, Leeds has had to instigate a range of measures to determine the success of each project. Anthony Burnham, Leeds City Council programme manager, said, "We have metrics on things like downtime, support costs, and the time taken to carry out all sorts of tasks - right down to the time it takes the average customer service officer to log in."

In addition, Novell's professional services division has worked closely with the council, testing and optimising its software. "Novell has shown a lot of foresight, anticipating our needs and providing the best technology for us to meet our goals.

"We are very happy working in partnership with Novell and it is vital that we have a credible partner we can work with long-term, so that Leeds City Council can take a strategic approach to our technology infrastructure," said Burnham.

He added that the new infrastructure will provide greater resilience and greater reliability.

"We will be able to reduce our support costs. From an internal point of view, the end-user will be more productive. And with the portal [due to be implemented after September 2005], we can provide better access to services to the people of Leeds - that will be the test of success."

Leeds' choices

  • Leeds City Council will use:
  • Novell Netware 6.5 network management software
  • Novell Zenworks for desktop management
  • Novell Extend to create a web portal.
  • Novell Nsure - consisting of Novell Edirectory, Novell Identity Manager and Novell iChain - to provide identity management across the council and its partner organisations.

The Novell infrastructure will support 10,000 desktops and a growing number of remote workers. It will also help to improve access to services for employees and citizens, the council said.

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