Publictechnology.net caught up with David Wilde, chief information officer at Essex County Council about the savings being made through ICT.
How is Essex shifting services to online and mobile channels?
We have had some success with some service areas. We now have 98 per cent of our schools admissions service online, which means not many people call the call centre. Our Family information service pointing users towards nearby childcare provision reduced calls by 40 per cent in the first month. We have saved the money of seven full time equivalent posts by online shift, and the plan is to have saved up to £6 million by 2015.
What is your attitude towards the relative benefits of short versus long ICT contracts?
I have just taken the council on a two-year journey organisation programme for IT. A large part has been moving to new contracts – going back out to market. We awarded a long term contract last year for next generation networks. For unified communications you need a stable platform. If you have good benchmarking then you can sweat the asset and make savings.
In procurement – social care case management and corporate systems. We are in procurement at the moment for social care case management and corporate systems – we are looking at five year contracts with options to extend, which will give us scope to swap if we are not satisfied. People sometimes ask why don’t you go for software as a service solution, but in this area the market is not mature enough. We have gone for software as a service for customer relations management (CRM) management, a contract awarded was awarded last year.
Do you prefer working with SMEs or larger providers?
What I do is to take a business-led view and look at market. In Certain parts of market SMEs can play a big part – mobile apps around specific apps. It is the perfect market for that. If the contracts are in the £20-£40,000 range we can run a quick procurement. Similarly, we ran a very quick procurement for an online payment system for an event. We turned it round in a week.
Do you use Twitter and how does the council use the service?
I am a Twitterer. The council uses it to get information out to the public. We have a decent following. Today we used it because someone spoofed our email account and sent out an email with a Trojan on it so we wanted to warn people. We also use it to monitor FOI requests which are often submitted using Twitter. We are looking to extend it to help with public consultations in future.
Is the council enforcing open standards?
Yes – it is something we demand when we award contracts. It is fairly simple. Our social care systems makes sure the operator enters the NHS number so there is a corresponding record. We have found it really helpful with fault reporting on highways.
Should local councils start using a standardised website template in the same way that government departments now do?
Do councils need a web presence? Yes. Do they need to procure separately? No. You would need a framework and agreement around technical standards. However, back office IT is more complicated. A unitary authority runs 380 services. DWP is the most complicated government department and it only has 40. The diversity of the architecture is massively more complex because of the range of services you need to provide. There aren’t really moves to think about it because the web bit is relatively cheap. We are more focused on the communications infrastructure and business systems – that is where we can take big costs out.