The only way is IT for Essex’s £300m savings programme

Chief information officer David Wilde discusses the Essex modernisation strategy that will see Big Data, cloud and a PSN compliant network become the cornerstones of the council’s IT

Essex county council has embarked on a transformation programme that must achieve £300m worth of savings.

Modernising ICT will play a big part in the programme and CIO David Wilde, previously CIO at Westminster city council, has begun by moving applications into the cloud, putting out a multimillion pound tender for an

Essex-wide wide area network and taking a Big Data approach to getting value from information.

“The business intelligence and Big Data thing for me is probably the most exciting area in terms of where I can go next in the public sector. There is a recognition that where IT can add value to any organisation, private or public, is by using some of the newer tools to take data, sort it and serve it up in a way that helps an organisation make better decisions,” says Wilde.

“We are looking at doing full information asset audits to understand what our data is and how we can use it differently and more productively; very much getting into that Big Data thing,” he says.

Wilde’s big data ambitions were fuelled by an unexpected find when he joined the council.

“When I first arrived at Essex I came across something that was done not by the county council but by the whole of Essex, called the Essex Trust Charter, which was set up nearly 10 years ago and is a single set of information sharing protocols across all of the agencies. They have been running that and keeping it up to date for virtually the last decade and it is one of the best examples I have seen in the public sector,” he says.

The web, geographic information and business intelligence staff have been merged, and Wilde believes geographic information systems are the future for rendering data. He adds: “It is quite hard to see it in table or text format but get it on to a map and it really comes to life.”

Essex’s IS modernisation programme aims to bring the IT across the council up to a standard that will help staff work more effectively, enabling mobile working, introducing lightweight laptops, and including an upgrade to Windows 7 and Microsoft 2010.

The programme is a backdrop to Wilde’s bigger plans, with cloud figuring heavily. “The IT strategy is to move to cloud over time, between now and 2015. We are moving more to private cloud around certain systems,” says Wilde. The council is using Execview for risk management, project management and also performance management, as a private cloud service.

“Our payroll service is also in the private cloud – it is Oracle on demand, so all of our payroll is in Austin, Texas. We have got 50,000 employees on that.

“We have also got Confirm on demand, which is the highways system. That has just gone over to the private cloud with Pitney Bowes and I think we are the first local authority in the UK to go on the Lagan CRM on demand platform in Berlin.”

Wilde has evaluated public cloud, private cloud and G-Cloud approaches. “I think the feeling is that private cloud is about right. I am all for cloud but I still want to know where the data is,” he says. That might well be beyond UK borders as long as assurances around information governance and legislative control are in place.

He adds: “The maturity in the market is such that public cloud is actually consumer cloud, and private cloud tends to be business cloud. I would rather people move to those descriptions – consumer cloud and business cloud. That would make sense.”

Channel shift for customer service is central to Westminster’s agenda, with end-to-end customer self-service planned.

“We are driving that on a service by service basis rather than trying to do big bang. We are putting in each service and testing it with the people who are using it, to make sure it works. That means we are taking a bit longer but I think we are getting it right as a result.”

The county council will be first, followed by the districts and boroughs. Later, Wilde will look to extend systems to public health as it is brought under the wing of local government.

The CIO wants to ensure that the council does not have one single CRM holding everything and the council is instead setting up CRM on a hub and spoke basis.

“The master data is the CRM, and it reaches to the other systems where the data is stored when it is needed,” he says. “The beauty of that approach is that you can still manage the information governance around sensitive data wherever it is resident – in social care systems, for example.”

The council is working with the Essex Trust Charter to agree master data for information sharing. “Often on shared services we get bogged down in contracts or in political control when actually what really matters – it is almost like building with Lego – is to get the basics right. On shared service, information sharing is key.”

A £300m county-wide network will provide a major building block for shared services in Essex, a procurement which will see the council with a converged, PSN compliant network service for the whole of the county, which other authorities can buy into.

“It is a really important plank for us for the work we are doing with district colleagues on co-locating. This ubiquitous network will make that so much easier,” he says.

“If you are a county council employee or a district employee should it matter whose building you are in? Not really. You can manage security at the application level and the authentication level rather than the network level.”

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