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Bolton and Wigan's strategic ICT partnership: Crossing borders together

Source: PSE Feb/March 2019

Alison Hughes, assistant director of strategic ICT partnership at Bolton & Wigan councils, explains how the two councils are collaboratively facing the challenges of delivering an ICT service.

The digital landscape is changing and councils are faced with increasing demand for services with reduced budgets. Along with the high expectations of residents for 24/7 online services, rapid technology changes, and, in the context of a challenging cyber security landscape, how do we meet that demand while keeping people’s data safe?

The Bolton and Wigan Council Partnership approached austerity with new thinking and grasped the opportunity to take a fresh look at the way it delivers ICT services.

We looked at our old ways of delivering individual services and reimagined them, creating a unique partnership and a strategic, outcome-based relationship with our external ICT provider to deliver flexible resources, knowledge, and expertise to the partnership. We now share roles to develop ICT strategy, contract management, and ICT security functions to create a shared technology and cyber roadmap.

We encourage residents to do business with us online, using their sensitive, personal information. We have a duty of care to protect that information. Statistics tell us that the average hacker could be inside your IT environment for more than 200 days before being noticed. It isn’t difficult to imagine the enormity of information that could be stolen over the course of those nine months, highlighting the importance of protecting the data of our citizens by making sound and appropriate investments, which are procured at lower cost in partnership. The partnership shares cyber security expertise and resources which are key in the current climate, but can be difficult to recruit and retain for local authorities.

Our services are no longer delivered in a silo-based way, but are delivered with other public and community services, crossing traditional service ‘borders’ to benefit our residents.

Our residents want to interact with us digitally, providing information only once. Minimum input, maximum result: a one-click approach. This change in expectation is not something we should shy away from.

This brings some real challenges around ICT security and data, but also opportunities to think differently about our culture. We seek ways to technically share safely rather than locking our systems and data down, as this forces agencies to work within their own silo, repeating assessments and often asking the same question multiple times.

One of the biggest hurdles we all face is around the culture of our workforce. Staff have been used to taking ownership and understanding their obligations when it comes to paper assets, but taking the same responsibilities for our digital data assets has required a shift in mindset to build confidence in our staff.

When Bolton and Wigan joined together for the delivery of their ICT services in 2013, we amassed 8,000 computer users and 8,000 members of staff who had to rethink how they work and apply appropriate security measures so their work and data is kept safe.

The partners have learned together as part of this arrangement. We seek opportunities to standardise technology wherever possible, share project management resources, learning, and costs, whilst still having solutions, tools, and approaches that are right for individual organisations.

We are working to continually evolve the skills of our workforce using the tools available for this, like the free tools available from iDEA, which is accessed by staff at Wigan Council; if there’s anything a local authority must do to protect the data of its citizens, it is that.

Our key message is that cyber security isn’t just the ICT department’s responsibility – it is incumbent upon us all to take ownership of the data we store, the practices we follow, and how we share the information we hold – we all have a role to play in protecting the data of our citizens.


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