Posted by:7 June, 2012
Local councils face challenging times. One of the biggest concerns for councils’ senior staff members is how they can continue to innovate and provide the best quality services, with budgets tightening and fewer resources. Mel Burns, head of IT at Portsmouth County Council, pictured, tells us how her local authority has overcome this obstacle by thinking a little differently about its communications and the benefits it’s seeing as a result of a major telephony overhaul.
We have an IT team of about 120 people who work behind the scenes to keep phones ringing, and systems and services running for a total of around 5000 council workers across Portsmouth. We came to a point about a year ago when our ageing analogue telephone system became unsupportable; support was becoming a problem because it was so outdated. To be honest it was a bit of a dinosaur, and took up a whole room - precious space that we could use for better things. The telephony system is the linchpin of the entire council: it services the civic office, three other call centres, the city’s main helpdesk and the children’s social services helpdesk, it was clear that the time was right for a major technology overhaul.
We could have just replaced the old analogue system like for like, but what we really wanted to do was upgrade to a digital IP telephony system. The only snag was that we had a budget of around £1 million and some quotes for digital systems stacked up at around £2.4 million. A framework agreement that provides IT services to local councils across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, known as HPSN2, saved the day. It meant we could procure a full-blown IP telephony system from Virgin Media Business, for the right price.
HPSN2 is Hampshire and the Isle of Wight’s answer to the national Public Services Network programme. The massive network links together many local public sector organisations including the fire service and schools to ensure every public sector body has access to the best technology solutions, for less money. It’s achieved through shared infrastructure and investment, allowing partners to select the bundle of services to meet their needs at both local and strategic levels. Everybody wins.
One year on, we have new phones, a new corporate directory and easy-to-use reporting, enabling staff to provide a more professional and tailored service to local citizens.
Flexibility for our staff is perhaps the biggest business advantage. Council workers can now be contacted on one number, wherever they are. We’ve also got wireless on campus so we’re all round better connected and more mobile. This has reduced our on-going costs and energy consumption.
Within my own department, I’ve also noticed a big bonus when it comes to attracting and retaining IT staff. We’re able to attract the IT resources we need from outside because people really want to work with this technology. For many, it’s a whole new technology and the experience working with it will help individuals progress in their careers.
Migrations like this are a challenge for any IT department and we knew that as a city council, we couldn’t afford any downtime. Twelve months later, we’re seeing it all pay off. It’s surprising the impact a new telephone system can have, this has really helped staff to do their jobs and we will make savings as well. My aim is to develop the system further to provide a unified messaging facility and to roll out IP telephony across the rest of the City. In the future we will use the framework again where it provides best value for the council and to ensure we continue to innovate and provide staff and citizens with the best services possible.
Mel Burns, Head of ICT, Portsmouth City Council
Anyone interested in more information about Portsmouth’s efforts should contact Meera Lakhani at Speed on 020 7842 3243.
Share your scheme
Does your council have an example of best practice you can share with your counterparts in other local authorities?
Get in contact now and tell me about them
From The Little Things
LGC’s blog series from local councils on the schemes that make a real difference to their community. Best practice examples from councils for councils.