Features: February 18th, 2003

Partnership Brings New Technology and New Ways of Working

Southwark is an inner London borough, south of River Thames, with a population of 239,000. A rich multiculturalism is one of Southwark’s hallmarks – 32 per cent of the population are from minority communities and over 100 languages are spoken in the borough’s schools. Another is social deprivation: the borough is ninth in the country on the Government’s index of local deprivation and has an unemployment rate of five per cent which, although at an all-time low, is still above the London average of 3.3 per cent.

Southwark has outsourced its core ICT services since the mid-1990s and in 1999 the authority mounted its Strategic Systems Review so that it could put together a framework for departmental and strategic developments in IT for the next three years.

The completion of the review revealed limitations in the existing outsourcing contract and provided a template for the authority’s response to the Government’s Modernising Government Agenda, a call to local authorities to embrace online delivery of services, which was published soon after.

Zbish Przekop, Head of IT in Southwark’s Corporate IT department, says: “We transformed what we had already done to fit the new agenda. Then we went to look for a partner who could stabilise and develop our steady state services and also engage us in moving the Council forward in meeting the Modernising Government Agenda.

Delivering the vision through partnership

“The Council’s e-Government vision is to achieve a radical and sustainable improvement to the long-term quality of life of our residents, through investing in technology that will enable a complete overhaul of how services are provided to our citizens. New technology and new ways of working are necessary to transform our Council over the next few years and will add significant value to the services we deliver and enhance the outcomes we achieve. We needed a partner to enable this.”

The partnership included the continuation of outsourced support of all departmental ICT, except revenues and benefits. This included desktops, applications, network support including voice and data, datacentre services, the customer service centre, reporting and handling of service requests and strategic project work. The contract also incorporated business consultancy to help the Council to manage the ‘change’ that was required to ensure it received the greatest business improvement from the IT and e-Government investments.

And Southwark’s ICT environment is big, Zbish Przekop adds, “We have 3500 desktops and around 160 servers spread over 100 sites. We also have the voice network of around 3800 voice extensions, over 100 applications and nearly 5000 staff.”

A competitive tender was put out and ITNET, a leading supplier of IT, business process and outsourcing services was chosen from a shortlist of six.

The complex process of transferring outsourced services from the incumbent supplier to ITNET was a major challenge. Southwark and ITNET worked closely together to set up a transition programme that would move existing services over with “no wobble” and then move on to transform the services so that Southwark could make better use of its IT.

“The transition was handled very well. ITNET brought a very broad range of skills to bear,” Zbish comments. “Each service area had its own focus and the only limit on success was from the knowledge transfer that they were able to effect from the previous supplier.”

Southwark chose a balance of on-site and remote support from ITNET. “We thought that this was very important for us,” Zbish explains. “The most critical systems, which are UNIX based, are at ITNET’s datacentre in Birmingham and we have network links to Southwark from there. The departmental systems are locally based within the borough and ITNET has quite a large presence here in the heart of the borough to provide support for those.”

Southwark’s ICT arrangement is “considerably improved” concludes Zbish. “The boundaries have moved out. The emphasis before was on a locally focused managerial relationship. Now we are clearly working with an organisation that has a far greater breadth of vision and scope for responding to a wider range of service developments. That makes a great deal of difference to our horizons.”

The ICT review has created the foundation for some exciting future developments, he adds.

Zbish Przekop believes that authorities looking to follow Southwark’s example should not underestimate the importance of clear communication – or close examination of their own needs. “I think that a major lesson we learned at Southwark is not to underestimate the value of the client side in the success of the relationship – you need to invest as much time in looking internally at your own processes and communication as you do with the IT partner.”