Northern Ireland provides shared services blueprint

Northern Ireland has begun an £800m programme to consolidate IT systems and share services across its 11 government departments.

Northern Ireland has begun an £800m programme to consolidate IT systems and share services across its 11 government departments.

The flagship programme could provide a blueprint for the rest of the UK public sector.

Rakesh Kumar, research vice-president at analyst firm Gartner, said Whitehall had a lot to learn from Northern Ireland's approach. "Whitehall and big local authorities should look at this seriously. What Northern Ireland has done in a short period is quite remarkable."

The programme features a raft of integration projects, including the merger of at least 10 datacentres, the creation of a single network, and a single finance system to cover 11 government departments.

Bill McCluggage, director of e-gov­ernment at the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS), said, "We are consolidating into shared services and standardising purchasing and licensing. Each department had different systems, and having separate islands of activity is sub­optimal."

McCluggage said the NICS had invested time to build support for the programme across departments. "We formulated a concept, then ran a series of group engagement activities, getting business leaders together and socialising the idea. There was a lot of legwork, but it was beneficial because we have generated a degree of consensus," he said.

The NICS has signed a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement for desktop software worth £1.5m a year over three years, and it is negotiating a deal with Oracle for back-office functions. It will use Dell and HP desktops and server hardware from HP, IBM and Fujitsu.

Departmental datacentres will be replaced by two BT datacentres in Belfast. The single finance system project, dubbed Accounts NI, will centralise accounting transactions using an Oracle finance package.

Separate departmental centres will be replaced by a central IT helpdesk and a human resources shared services centre. The human resources centre will be outsourced to Fujitsu.

The NICS has also rationalised departmental communications networks into a single wide area network.

McCluggage said Northern Ireland expects huge cost savings. "We are in a relatively good position when it comes to the ­government's Comprehensive Spending Review and the tighter financial climate."

He said each project began with a different motivation - such as HR systems reaching the end of their life, or the Gershon efficiency review for IT - and they came together ­under one reform programme which began a year ago.

● A rating system, written by ICS Computing, to calculate residents' council tax bills

● Deployment of 18,500 cut down PCs over three years to reduce power use and free office space

● Mobile working will mean the civil service only has to provide 80% of the workforce with PCs

● Software provided by Steria and Dell for the Records NI project will automatically save documents centrally, eliminating the need to print and file documents

● Classroom 2000 has provided 350,000 school children with e-mail accounts, and they can use a central storage repository for homework.

other projects in northern ireland's IT programme

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