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Networking Essex

Source: Public Sector Executive March/April 2013

Essex County Council is to deliver enhanced ICT services to around 200,000 users through its Next Generation Network (NGN) services whilst also reducing its costs. PSE spoke to the council’s chief information officer, David Wilde.

Essex’s Next Generation Network (NGN) is spoken of as a ‘true public sector network’, built to PSN-standards but requiring no new financial investment from the council.

The NGN will initially establish a single network with connectivity to schools and council sites and for members of the Essex Online Partnership (EOLP), a group of organisations already working together on ICT projects including district, borough and unitary councils, Essex Police and Essex County Fire & Rescue.

It has capacity to cater for public sector organisations in the wider region too should they choose to join.

The 10-year NGN contract, valued at £81m, has been awarded to Daisy Updata Communications Limited (DUCL), a joint venture.

Cost, quality and coverage

Essex CIO David Wilde told PSE that improving the quality of ICT services and reducing costs were equal drivers, alongside better coverage. He said: “The three key things we wanted to concentrate on were coverage, quality of service and costs.

“Why coverage? We’ve got a shed-load of countryside with shocking network connectivity. That feeds into the quality of service aspect, so being able to cover rural areas is really important.

“Some of our more remote sites will get a tenfold increase in bandwidth – which is massive. For some of our schools and some of our bigger sites, there is actually a 100-fold increase in bandwidth.

“Of course, it’s one thing to have voice and data convergence – that’s not difficult. What is difficult is making sure one of those two services doesn’t get compromised by the other, which is about managing the quality of service, competing demands and peaks and troughs of data, voice and of course video.

“Reducing cost is a bit of a no-brainer in the current climate. We’ve managed not only to achieve reduced per annum costs, to the tune of 15% which is quite good news, but it’s also about future-proofing the maintenance. It’s outcome-based and built into the contract: the liability and responsibility of the supplier is to sustain the environment, so we’re not locking ourselves into today’s hardware and today’s infrastructure for the next 10 years.

“They’ve got the responsibility of making sure, when new technology comes along, that we benefit from it.”

The public access network is also being much improved by being hooked up to the new infrastructure, covering over 1,000 computers in 70 libraries. “With the library network getting a tenfold improvement in its bandwidth, I think the users might notice!” Wilde said.

Ubiquitous networking

The new service is “fundamentally different” to what has come before, Wilde said, and has put in place a contractual relationship allowing complete convergence.

“In practical terms, it means we should be able to go to ubiquitous networking for public services, which brings PSN to life. In hard numbers, we’ve already managed to drive out 15%, so if we start converging with districts and with health and so on, more and more cost is going to come out.

“The beauty of it is that it isn’t actually significant amounts more hardware, and it’s using the same fibre. All you’re doing is using it more wisely.”

The contract combines the county council’s data and telephony networks and adds additional services – unified communications, video conferencing and fixed telephony, for example. It must be fully compliant with PSN standards to enable secure connectivity to government services and to provide a platform for sharing services with other public sector stakeholders.

Asked about risks and challenges, Wilde said managing the bandwidth-hungry demands of video link technology will be key.

“We’re looking at possibilities around e-learning and one-to-one video conferencing to cut down on travel. For such a big county as ours, that opens up lots of interests and opportunities for more virtual work.”

Expanding throughout the public sector

The county council is proactively seeking more partners throughout the public sector, Wilde said. The core users from day one are the council’s own corporate services across 200 sites, and 550 primary, secondary and academy schools. But the council is being careful not to get “cocky”, Wilde said – it wants to ensure everything is done properly before rushing into anything.

“We are getting a lot of interest from public sector bodies not just in the county but outside – which tells me we’ve hit the right buttons.”

The contractual structure “allows public sector bodies to use this in a non-intensive and nonbureaucratic way” he said, which will be a big benefit. He has called the commercial model “highly innovative, transparent and flexible”.

Richard Bennett, managing director of Updata Infrastructure, said: “From the outset, we wanted to provide best value for the council.

“By combining our respective strengths, the consortium was in a position to focus on driving costs from the supply chain.

“By forming the DUCL consortium, we have ensured that there is absolutely zero margin-on-margin mark-up, helping the council to meet its tough cost saving targets whilst delivering a flexible and highly resilient network.”


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