Leeds races to finish IT overhaul to meet e-government deadline

Council has until September to complete its end-to-end infrastructure upgrade

Leeds City Council is battling to complete a fundamental IT overhaul that will let it meet end of year targets to offer citizens joined up services.

To hit the targets, imposed by prime minister Tony Blair, the council needs to complete by September an infrastructure upgrade programme with eight simultaneous streams, each one involving major IT surgery.

The council is now 55% through the overhaul, said Anthony Burnham, Leeds City Council programme manager.

Work underway includes updating 11,000 desktops and 300 applications, creating a single Citrix server farm, standardising on a single version of the Lotus Notes e-mail system and rolling out Novell desktop and server applications.

The council has already consolidated 150 servers into a single datacentre and overhauled the wide area network (Wan), local area networks (Lans), and storage area networks (SANs).

Martin Jones, senior programme manager, said, "We haven't met our [e-government] obligations yet. There's a phenomenal amount of work [still to do]."

But he said Leeds was determined not to simply put new front ends on to inadequate, legacy back office systems so it could tell Whitehall all its services were online at the end of the year.

"Within Leeds we've had a fairly mature approach to make sure we've created multi-channel access with standard systems behind them. We're not putting fancy front ends on so we can tick boxes [on Whitehall forms]."

To achieve this the IT department had to fight hard to win the funding it needed. "Our technology infrastructure hadn't been upgraded since 2000. We had spent considerable amounts on making Leeds Y2K compliant. In terms of overall finance, IT had had its share [according to the board]," said Jones.

But funding for current IT overhaul was won on a project by project basis.

"It's about truly delivering service rather than meeting a target through adding frills. It's easy to say if you can look something up (online), you've got e-government. We are aware that councils have different approaches," he added.

Angela Waite, president of Socitm, the local government IT managers' organisation, said that Leeds was better placed financially than many other authorities to deliver IT-enabled services and called on Whitehall and local authority leaders to continue investment in IT after the end of 2005.

Leeds' self-imposed September deadline will allow it to start developing its citizen portal, through which 715,000 citizens will be able to access e-government services.

Fifty staff in the 350-strong IT department are involved in the IT overhaul, supported by software developers and IT contractors.

Jones said Leeds could make further efficiency gains by using open source software, under a deal with Novell - its strategic software supplier. It is currently rolling out a range of software applications from Novell, including the Netware 6.5 network operating system, ZenWorks to manage 11,000 PCs, and eDirectory to manage the identities of its 33,000 employees.

Looking to the future, he said, "We are actively considering desktop Linux within our existing contract that runs to October 2009, and also more open source applications. We plan to start a review process in 2007, to possibly be able to change for 2009."


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