Your shout: Deploying CRM systems in councils

Although it is true that there are widely divergent views about how the requirements of data protection and freedom of information can be delivered consistently, we see evidence of this being actively considered by councils and of a willingness to exchange ideas and approaches to the problem.


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Deploying CRM systems in councils

Although it is true that there are widely divergent views about how the requirements of data protection and freedom of information can be delivered consistently, we see evidence of this being actively considered by councils and of a willingness to exchange ideas and approaches to the problem.

Deploying customer relationship management systems often brings these issues into sharp focus and enables them to be considered properly, as the article implied. However, I would take issue with the contention that CRM deployments are being carried out in isolation.

Our experience is that the real value from CRM comes from being able to integrate front- and back-office functions to provide a coherent view of people, information and services - and that this is dominates many councils' thinking when procuring CRM.

Successful CRM projects, such as that at Newcastle City Council, show how this can be achieved in practice.

Des Speed, chief executive officer, Lagan

The risks of giving laptops to children

Ignoring the risk of being branded a Luddite by those with vested interests in the use of IT for its own sake, it seems necessary to state what should be obvious even to them.

Although "gift horse" and "mouth" and support costs are valid arguments for free laptops in schools, aren't we missing the point? Laptops should not be provided by the state to children. The cost is exorbitant compared to textbooks, so how can spending on luxuries such as laptops be justified, while school buildings decay and supposedly temporary prefabs cannot be replaced for lack of funds - surely a case against decentralisation.

While a few lost or defaced textbooks may be readily replaced, who pays for the expensive damage to a laptop? Would it be the school, the child or the parents? In some schools, there is malicious damage to PCs and theft of mice as the class is supervised. If a laptop is used for homework, it has to be carried home safely. Once home, it increases the temptation to cheat.

Unauthorised use must also be considered, maybe by other members of the family. Whose job will it be to monitor and audit the laptops? Having turned a lot of teachers into business people, are they now also to become helpdesk technicians?

And please do not quote the specious argument of saving paper, when the ecological considerations encompass energy used in production and disposal as well as use. How much simpler to print a book, recycle the paper and plant a tree than to manufacture the plastic for a laptop and then dispose of it.

Finally, remember there are bad uses of computers as well as good. The world is not a better, happier place for the spread of the latest technology, just different.

Geoffrey Curtis

The dangers of overriding the firewall

After reading the letter from David Townsend (Letters, 6 April) I was incensed enough to reply. To say that a "whole day was lost in project development" because the firewall was blocking content is complete nonsense.

First, there are other ways to get technical support than using the web. Second, did the gentleman have no other work to be getting on with?

Also, he claimed that it is often necessary to send or receive e-mails containing .exe attachments. This is clearly incorrect. It is almost never a requirement that an attachment be sent as an executable without being stored in a zip archive. Most recipients of e-mails have the ability to unzip files and this also reduces the amount of bandwidth. Claiming that the lack of ability to send raw executable files over e-mail caused his entire department to cease functioning is, at the least, a gross overstatement.

That he wrote a tunnelling program to overcome the firewall and company policies is also, surely, a disciplinary offence. It would be at all the companies I have worked for.

David Glass, software engineer, Brulines

Will the NHS be able to support new systems?

While the NHS is awarding multibillion-pound contracts, agreeing specifications, timeframes and rewards/prohibitions, down at the coal-face success is measured in working products that everyone understands, that do not fall over, are not unduly delayed and provide accurate, clearly presented outputs.

We are soon to be involved in the first of the big-bang applications - the electronic staff record. I believe the fourth attempt to provide a stable solution is currently out to test and the project is 12 months or more behind.

Shall I predict that when the product is finally rolled out, like launching a ship, there will be much cheering, an enormous splash, a great deal of wobbling and, finally, settlement? But what if the trials reveal that the NHS cannot handle traffic with the same instant response we are used to, so producing a head of steam in payroll departments across the UK?

When we should be attending to the required cultural change, human resources departments are engulfed in a national regrading exercise. Then, just when we pause for breath, maybe foundation hospitals, wearied with delays, will pull out, leaving the rest to bear a higher charge until the cost becomes prohibitive and we all sink without trace.

Richard Hayes, workforce planning manager, Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen Hospital

Include utilities failure in business continuity

The phone cable fire in Manchester certainly highlighted the importance of business continuity planning (Computer Weekly, 6 April), but what is more worrying is the inadequacy of current continuity measures.

Not viewing business continuity as a dynamic process that requires adaptability, and failing to incorporate critical elements such as risk analysis and business impact analysis into the plan, is the reason this scenario developed.

In January, we released the results of a survey which looked at the business continuity plans of a range ofÊFTSE 100 companies. The survey revealed that, despite 98% of companies having a continuity plan, only 80% included planning for utilities failure. Although 58% of respondents reported suffering a disaster during the past five years, 18% of the disasters were utilities-related and 30% took a week or more to return to normal operation.

Eighty-five per cent of respondents claimed to have carried out a risk assessment, but 45% failed to include utilities. These statistics certainly shed light on why the impact of the fire was so great. It is also important to remember that routing needs to be revisited periodically to ensure that diversity is maintained.

We strongly advise firms to ensure that utilities failure is included in the risk analysis and the continuity plan. Although there is a great deal of emphasis on the heightened terrorist threat and forthcoming events such as the May Day anti-capitalist protest, it is when we take things for granted we end up getting caught out.

Debbie Rosario, managing consultant, Compass Management Consulting

Don't trust surveys - get the truth from users

I cannot see the value of the study on the comparative cost of ownership between Linux and Windows (Computer Weekly, 6 April).

These studies are paid for by companies which are not impartial. The results can be interpreted in any way, to suit any purpose, and all too often they are little more than thinly disguised advertising campaigns.

I find some of the sweeping statements in the results very hard to accept. All the Linux distributors have begun charging "hefty premiums" for technical support? So what? Is Windows support free? After a Windows upgrade, don't technical staff expect or demand new training?

Another statement that fails to make sense was that Linux costs 25%-50% more in technology support specialists than Windows. Why? Linux is not the "black art" it is often portrayed as. Anyone who can support Windows 2000 Server could support a Linux server.

My company uses Linux for business functions such as web servers and e-mail. We chose it for its low total cost of ownership and its reliability. Anyone considering a move to Linux should ignore the surveys and look at case studies of those who have done it. That's where the real truth lies.

Paul Shorter, IT manager, Roush Technologies

My project is smarter than your project

I was interested in your article on Sussex College (Computer Weekly, 30 March). Hull College has a fully gigabit-switched Ethernet core with gigabit fibre links to other areas of the college campus and 30mbps Lan extension service to remote sites. Gigabit Ethernet goes to the desktop.

The college is a Nortel reference site for switched Ethernet. We also have a 2Tbyte DotHill SanII for student and staff data storage linked to three pairs of clustered servers for the delivery of apps, data and e-mail.

The campus was chosen as the European trial site for the Nortel Voice over IP Business Communications Manager call centre equipment two years ago, and all areas of the college are enabled for VoIP quality of service.

We are planning this summer to roll out Windows XP to the majority of our 2, 200 desktops.

The college is a major implementer of UKOnline with 17 learning centres throughout the Hull area all linked back to the college on 30mbps LES. There are 90 networked interactive white boards to aid the learning process. A current project is to install a PC into all teaching rooms for the marking of registers and to facilitate the interactive white boards.

We are investigating the use of Citrix client/server technology to extend the life of current PCs within the college.

Currently we are investigating the possibility of campus-wide wireless technology with Nortel Wireless products.

So, if you are looking for innovation and the use of leading edge technology in the education public sector, look no further.

Ted Prince, IT projects manager, Hull College

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