London borough’s journey to new ways of delivering ICT

Croydon’s director of service transformation Aiden McManus tells Gill Hitchcock how the authority plans to build greater flexibility into its new ICT services

A short walk from Croydon’s main station is Taberner House, one of the borough’s numerous 1960s office blocks. It isn’t a pretty sight and is due for demolition after its occupant, the London borough of Croydon, moves next door into a new building in 2013

Named Bernard Weatherill House – after the former House of Commons speaker – the new office block is intended to become ‘hub’ for local government services, delivered through flexible working methods and underpinned by a new ICT contract worth more than £180m.

At one time Croydon maintained a large in-house central ICT department, but since 2003 the bulk of its ICT services have been supplied under a private finance (PFI) deal with Capgemini. The company supports all the council’s ICT infrastructure and networks, including some 4,000 desktop computers and business applications, such as finance, procurement and customer services. Although the deal was renegotiated in 2008 – which led to a £83m extension – it expires next year.

Aiden McManus, Croydon council’s director of service transformation, says: “Our current PFI contract with Capgemini was a good arrangement when it was signed, there was significant risk transfer and capital investment, but it’s not really fit for purpose for the next decade.”

To some extent, the borough’s 2011-12 corporate plan makes gloomy reading: Croydon has to deliver its largest ever budget reduction, mainly as a result of cuts in central government grant. McManus admits that the PFI contract is “relatively expensive” and that the financial pressure “ain’t going to go away”.

One objective for Croydon in seeking a new ICT deal– which it intends will be fully operational in 2014 – is shorter contracts with suppliers, so that if improvements and savings can be made by switching hardware or systems, it can move quickly and without financial penalties.

“We’re going to be a position where we will be constantly changing shape and technology is constantly changing shape as well, which means you can’t lock into a long term arrangement,” explains McManus.

It intends to sign a contract with a prime contractor for an initial five years – a significantly shorter timespan than has traditionally been the case in major public sector ICT deals – but it could be extended by a further two years and then one further year.

Another driver of change is the council’s ICT strategy. Titled Transforming Croydon through Technology, the document sets out ideas around developing flexible working, greater efficiency, self-service and a “single customer view”, which will entail a review and then the integration of all current systems into one customer relationship management (CRM) system.

Croydon has already introduced an electronic HR information system; a corporate geographical information system; and it has plans for an integrated children’s database, which will all tie in to the new CRM.

McManus says that cultural change will be necessary for many of its planned developments and that IT will be driving that cultural shift. The council intends to extend mobile and flexible working, he says. Home working has already been successfully trialled in revenues and benefits, and mobile working has been introduced in children’s services. It wants to extend this type of flexibility to other parts of the organisation.

“It is important that we use this new contract to accelerate our journey in terms of new ways of working,” says McManus. “More flexible working can have an affect on morale, sickness absence, quality of life and everything else. If staff are more suited to home working we will provide them with the kit.”

According to a pre-tender questionnaire, the core ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) v3.0 elements of service provision will include continual service improvements and responsibility for transitioning to the new contract over about nine months.

The prime contractor will manage a number of Croydon’s service delivery towers, such as end user devices, a local area network, and security infrastructure. It will create its own supply chain for the delivery of towers for print management, mobile communications, hardware and software, external network services and contact centre technologies.

“Ultimately we are looking at a multi-source arrangement, that was the strategic approach, but there is a whole reality there about the role of the prime, making sure that is attractive to the market. So there is a balance between procurement complexity and the complexity of managing the contract,” says McManus.

“What we have looked at is the prime and then a number of service towers, but we have break clauses in there for the towers so that we can step in and benchmark and make sure we are locked into a long term arrangement. Typically we are looking at break points in those towers every three years.”

Data centre management, along with disaster recovery and web hosting will be run in-house, however. According to McManus, the reasons are the risks to the data centre – currently the responsibility of Capgemini – if there is a transition to new management; also having speed and flexibility to update web services.

“If we want a funky app for our website, we’ll have almost a ’boutique’ type of arrangement. And that is important, and being adept at channel shifting, and make sure we keep pace with the field,” he says.

McManus expects to tender through the Official Journal of the European Union for both the data centre and web hosting services this autumn.

The council currently has its own framework for professional services, which delivers project management and business analysis, and that will continue to be used by the council and its new service delivery partner.

Responsibility for transformation will also remain with the council, as McManus explains: “What we have learned is that transformation strategy has to be in-house. But in terms of project management you have the option of a service delivery partner and the framework, so we are giving ourselves the flexibility there.”

Croydon has still to decide whether to include a number of important areas within the scope of the deal: ICT training and development – including support for schools; finance, HR and payroll; the hosting of revenue and benefits; and public library IT services.

Asked whether other public sector organisations could use the contract, McManus responds: “Where we have got to is that a lot of contracts have been open, the world and his wife can join in, but when you test the legalities of that where individual authorities or agencies have been through the process, actually it is challengeable.

“What we are looking at is Croydon-based public services using it. Public health, and the police will be sharing the new building, and they may be using it, but not outside the borough.”

In terms of the yet to be completed procurement process, McManus says: “It’s important that the procurement enables a cultural match between the service delivery partner and ourselves, so that they get where we are going and what our business outcomes are.

“Having a technology partner who can walk at the same pace as essential changes is key.”

This article is published by Guardian Professional. Join the Guardian Government Computing Network free to receive regular emails on the issues at the top of the professional agenda.

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