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29.05.15

Essex County Council looks to the cloud for IT mobility

Will Fensom, head of architecture, security & configuration at Essex County Council, gives an overview of the challenges and opportunities involved in moving to a cloud-enabled flexible working infrastructure.

Three years ago, Essex County Council set out on organisation-wide project to give our 10,000 employees ‘any time, any place, anywhere’ working.

As one of the largest local authorities in the UK, working across 160 council-supported locations, this was without doubt one of the biggest IT mobility projects attempted by a public sector organisation and had to be carried out within a tight budget.

Replacing what had been expensive and slow dial-up connections that were only available to a limited number of users, the objective was to enable council staff to work anytime, anywhere and over any medium, without the county council having to pay for additional and expensive hardware and software licences.

As well as giving the workforce greater flexibility, we hoped the project would increase IT satisfaction levels, build credibility and help the IT department become a more strategic partner to the business.

Overcoming IT challenges

Migrating from a large-scale legacy IT platform and equipping council staff with new laptops and mobile devices were both essential parts of the project.

As well as making a judgement on which devices to use, it was necessary to justify the business requirement and ensure that the appropriate security provisions had been adhered to, in accordance with the Government Security Classifications set out by the Cabinet Office.

To achieve this, we moved from legacy Windows XP platforms to a mixed Windows 7 and Windows 8 estate. Staff were offered a choice of large, regular and lightweight laptops and had the option to use a Windows 8-enabled tablet. To properly enable them to work flexibly from home and other locations, laptops were enabled with Windows Direct Access, making it possible to securely connect to the corporate network in the same way as from the office.

With many staff members now working away from the office and no longer having a fixed desk, it was also necessary to replace the internal telephone system with virtual telephony using Microsoft Lync, an application that is included as part of the upgraded licence agreements.

The challenge of connecting the 160 different sites was addressed using a managed multiprotocol label switching (MPLS). To ensure documents were not left on printers, we also introduced an identity-controlled managed print service to ensure information security.

Industry recognition

With the technology in place to introduce a full flexible working policy, the county council has seen substantial benefits, including no longer having to provide the same level of office space. Having a choice of where to work means the organisation as a whole has also cut down the many thousands of miles and hours staff would previously have spent travelling to and from office locations each day.

Equipping users with new desktops and laptops and giving them greater flexibility radically increased user satisfaction ratings and helped IT services build credibility and trust in the organisation. As a direct result of this, IT is now seen as an important partner when it comes to new strategic projects.

The success of this far-reaching project was recognised at the British Computer Society’s 2014 Awards, where the Essex County Council IT team was awarded a Project Excellence Award in recognition of “the exceptional results” it had achieved. It was also commended for “the outstanding project implementation and the high levels of IT professionalism maintained through the project”.

Building on the fact that a number of smaller functions have now made the transition, we are now working to evolve IT systems and processes even more with the objective of using the cloud and cloud-enabled applications to deliver further cost-saving and value-driven IT projects.

This potential future shift towards cost-efficient cloud-based IT has been made possible because of other recent changes to the way government information is classified, allowing public sector organisations to use cloud services for anything up to and including official-rated documentation. This was followed by confirmation that Essex County Council does not hold any secret information which would prevent it from putting data into the cloud.

Overnight, the question of whether the county council would incorporate the cloud in future projects moved from being a matter of ‘if’ and instead became a matter of ‘when’.

About the author

Will Fensom will be a guest speaker at this year’s Interop London event (16-18 June 2015, ExCeL), the flagship event of London Technology Week.

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