A year has gone by since Richard Steel, head of ICT at Newham Borough Council, began a 10-year strategic partnership with Microsoft to refresh the council's IT infrastructure.
The decision to select Microsoft was controversial at the time, as the council also assessed a Linux-based infrastructure, which it calculated to be more costly.
People on both sides of the Linux/Microsoft debate pitched in with their views on what Newham had done, but Steel tried to stay out of it. Writing in Computer Weekly last year, he said, "Our job is not to be defenders or advocates for Microsoft, but we reserve our right to acknowledge its customer service improvements where we see them, as we do with any other supplier.
"Nor is it our job to champion the fight against the 'evil Microsoft empire'. If there are better, practical and cost-effective alternatives to Microsoft products that we can readily integrate, we use them."
Steel's focus this year has been on major IT infrastructure renewal. He has opted for blade servers, supplied by Hewlett-Packard, to consolidate the council's server infrastructure. "The blades will be the basis for all our central services, such as e-mail, central file store and a number of central applications," he said.
By next year the work on the central IT systems will be complete, Steel said. He also hopes to be halfway through a project to refresh 5,000 desktops. The council is also planning to move to a new headquarters building, at which time Steel plans to embark on printer rationalisation programme.
But even though the new IT infrastructure has been a key focus this year, Steel stressed the importance of having a "strategic" relationship with Microsoft.
The council recently withdrew its support from the government's National Project for CRM, of which it was one of the pioneers. But Steel is continuing to work with Microsoft on the council's customer relationship management system and is collaborating with the firm on an information-sharing database for chil- dren at risk. The system, due to go live this month, is a good example of a project that has been enabled by the strategic relationship.
Another collaboration is a shared learning group with councils including Lewisham, Wakefield, Rotherham and Sunderland, which aims to show how local authorities can work together on technology. Steel is also working on a single-sign-on project being developed by Microsoft.
Along with the Microsoft partnership, Steel has seen his role change over the last year. "I am working much more closely with the board on the strategic use of IT," he said.