Interview: Siobhan Coughlan, Local Government Association

Siobhan Coughlan, programme manager as part of productivity team at the Local Government Association, describes negotiations that led to the extension of support for Microsoft XP for public bodies, as well as PSN compliance.

Last week, the government announced a £5.4 million deal with Microsoft to extend support for XP products for another year.

Siobhan Coughlan, programme manager as part of productivity team at the Local Government Association, describes negotiations that led to the deal, as well as discussions around PSN compliance. What is your role at the Local Government Association?

Sarah Coughlan: We try to help councils deliver services more efficiently. This includes looking at shared services; procurement, demand management and or the technology tools they can use to deliver local public services more effectively. I am not an IT professional but my remit is around helping them see the opportunities, including technological ones, to deliver their services more efficiently by enabling more customer self-serve and or by enabling their staff to work remotely.

PT: How did the XP upgrade issue come to a head?

SC: It came out of work on PSN. Over the past six months or so, a number of issues were regularly emerging out of the work I was doing with specific councils and from feedback via  Socitm colleagues. The challenge with XP was that councils had to migrate by April when Microsoft said it would stop supporting it. But this was the same deadline they had for migrating to PSN. There was real pushback from councils trying to deal with multiple issues at the same time as this had both resource and financial implications for them. Some councils would have been challenged to get everything  done by 31 March. Central government departments were  also pushing back on the XP issue as this impacted on them as well.

PT: How did the LGA get involved with the negotiations?

SC: Sarah Hurrell worked for Crown Commercial Service and was brought in as senior information risk owners on PSN to help strengthen the management team. Her day job was that she was negotiating on technology contracts for central government. We had a conversation and it was realised that local government was facing the same issues as central government. In this case, a one-size-fits-all approach across all of government really worked. It is a really good example of where Cabinet Office led a collaborative approach on with local and central government, to create a solution that benefits all taxpayers.

PT: Now the XP issue is resolved, are all councils due to be PSN compliant?

SC: With a month to go before the deadline, there were probably around 40 councils yet to comply. Most have become compliant since. A handful are not yet compliant however, most of these have signed off plans in place and so are working closely with Cabinet Office to deliver these as agreed, a couple remaining are in the process of having their plans signed of so no council is at risk of being cut off.

PT: Will PSN compliance be easier for councils next year?

SC: Looking forward, the challenges are going to be some of the things that came out of the process this year. The hard work that was done this year was around creating a shared understanding of what the problems are. Going forward the problems will be how we act on that. The LGA on behalf of the sector’s representative bodies has sent a letter to the Cabinet Office requesting that we sit down to talk to agree  a plan to better manage the processes including strengthening the governance arrangements and improving communications. We want to put together working groups to look at the detail of some of the common issues for example Bring Your Own Devices or Staff Security Standards. There might be challenges to standards however; it is more likely the guidance and how this is being interpreted that will need to be debated in 99.9 per cent of the cases. In addition, in order to comply some councils may have switched off systems or put in place a temporary fix, and they will now need to look at a more permanent solution.

Colin Marrs

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