From legacy to shared services at Kingston and Sutton

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright October 12, 2014
Two London councils are saving millions by pooling their IT resource. But legacy challenges beset the journey to shared services, cloud and open data

Rob Miller KingstonandSutton
Rob Miller

Faced with the need to upgrade outdated systems, two London borough councils combined their IT services into a 100-strong single team in May last year. The plan was to make a savings of £4 million ($6.4m) over a four year period, a quarter from operational savings and the rest from "cost avoidance" when doubling up on a single system instead of buying separately.

In practice, even more has been saved, said Rob Miller, head of shared ICT service for Kingston & Sutton, in a phone interview last week. One example is the opportunity to upgrade to a shared pension system, which will save a further £1 million.

The main driver was both councils were at a point where they needed to make a significant investment in their IT platforms. They didn't want to do the same old, same old.

We're building our way out of two legacies that need replacing. We are rapidly getting to a place where we have a modern, rationalized, consistent platform across the piece.

Cloud computing forms part of the plan although the main thrust at present is on putting in place an infrastructure that's cloud-ready.

The goal really is build it on a modern platform and we are then in a place where we can move to cloud as cloud matures.

There are some areas where cloud is already sufficiently mature and we can leapfrog that part of the strategy and go straight to cloud.

One such example is an implementation of Google Apps for 4200 users which is a third done and will be completed in November.

G-Cloud adoption

Miller is known as an early user of G-Cloud, the UK government scheme to make it easier for public sector buyers to procure cloud services. Kingston & Sutton has sourced both its mobile device management system and its Google Apps implementation partner through G-Cloud.

But he challenged the frequently heard charge that buyers in local government are generally reluctant to participate in G-Cloud.

I'm a bit skeptical of that. The authorities I speak to do use G-Cloud ... People treat local authorities as if they are a single entity — they're not. I guess it depends on which council you talk to.

It's the first place we look but not the only place we buy from.

In the future, Kingston & Sutton may offer services to other London boroughs but initially the most likely external users are local community groups.

A big driver around the move to Google is I can move up and down my email user base very easily. I can create smaller services for people the council wants to work with.

An important first step towards being able to offer services more widely has been to join the London Public Sector Network (PSN), which went live earlier this year. But there's much more work that has to be done to converge requirements and infrastructure before it becomes feasible to share services more widely.

For example, information is often held in legacy systems that make it difficult to extract. Miller cited work that has been started on the Local Authority Software Applications framework (LASA), led by Crown Commercial Services and Camden Council, which has made open standards and access to APIs a core requirement. This is important for opening up data for use by the public and by third parties.

Local government challenges

Miller said he is "very keen" on the concept of government as platform being promoted by government CTO Liam Maxwell and the Government Digital Service. But he warned that it has to grapple with these issues before it can become a reality at a local level.

The benefits are self-evident, the challenges are then, how do we make that real?

If I look on Twitter and the like I see some impatience. I suppose we should be bold, but we also need to recognise the debate on where we start from.

The thing which makes it hard, local authorities haven't made the long-term strategic investment in technology they should have done. I am daily dealing with a whole load of problems with legacy technology — for example the move to Google Apps was designed so that the issues we had last year with Exchange stability are no longer an issue.

Daily you'll be dealing with legacy challenges and also having to work within an environment where frontline services are having to change beyond recognition within a very short timescale.

We're supporting legacy, keeping up with and supporting service change and putting in place the right technology building blocks to get us to where we want to get to.

It's a challenge to move forward at the pace we want to do it. It doesn't mean we shouldn't do it, but sometimes it can be frustrating.

My take

The interview was a fascinating insight into the virtual mountain local authorities in Britain must climb to overhaul an ageing IT estate and make it fit for a digitally connected world. In an ideal world, everyone would be using a compatible infrastructure and consistent datasets and processes, making it relatively easy to share services and open up data. The reality is that each council's IT has been built up independently over many years, and unraveling all of those individual idiosyncrasies will take time.

Miller is one of the forerunners but nevertheless has to remain pragmatic about the progress that can be achieved.

Image credits:  Strong man © Sergey Nivens - Fotolia; Rob Miller headshot courtesy of Rob Miller.

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