ICT Contract (Agenda Item 7)
To receive a verbal update.
The Head of Information & Customer Access advised Members that he had been in post for a couple of weeks and he had been looking at the IT provision across both Councils. He would give a verbal update and Simon Linsley and Steve Leggater (NCC – also new in post) were present to answer questions.
Progress had been made with the backlog of projects but there were still concerns as there were some critical deadlines approaching and resource issues had been identified.
There were currently 31 live projects of which eight were red, eight were orange, 11 were green and four were blue (complete). Progress had been driven by Breckland interim staff. A Governance Board was being put in place to monitor performance and to look at the project plans and risk register. There was still a lack of performance data, despite repeated requests.
A meeting had been set up between NCC and CPBS (Compass Point Business Services) to progress some of the projects.
There was a need to invest in more permanent resources and it was proposed to get resources from the transformation reserve. It had already been agreed to utilise internal audit to review end-to-end processes.
He then moved on to update Members on some of the on-going projects:
· Members IT Refresh was on schedule and there would be a demonstration of the equipment at the next Council meeting.
· Disaster Recovery was improving and should be completed in April.
· PSN Compliance was due to be completed by the end of April but there were two areas where additional information was needed.
· Desktop Refresh was behind schedule but two critical areas were being delivered (HR and Democratic Services).
· Citrix Farm was being replaced to provide PSN compliance and enhanced functionality. Due to the need for specific skills the Council had committed to support the NCC Server Team with an additional two engineers for four months. The resource was within the current budgets.
· Exchange Server (Mail) was an area of concern as the current system was approaching end of life and was not PSN compliant.
In conclusion progress was being made and plans were being put in place to address areas of concern and critical projects working alongside NCC and Compass Point. More capacity and expertise were needed.
The Head of Information & Customer Access said that he would welcome the opportunity to return to the Commission to provide further updates and was happy to answer any specific questions.
The Chairman thanked Mr Leggater for coming as the Commission had been trying to get someone from NCC to come and talk to them for some time. Councillors and Officers were not happy with the level of service being provided. Nor were they happy that they had found it necessary to recruit staff to do the job that they were paying NCC to do. At least that was their perception. It was a serious issue and as more and more responsibility was devolved to local level there was more and more reliance on ICT.
The Leader of the Council said that the bottom line was that the Council was paying twice to ensure that they were providing the required service. The ultimate concern was to have the best service and he was willing to invest in that if necessary.
The Head of Information & Customer Access explained that the agreement with NCC was quite basic and did not provide for IT architecture and future planning so the issues were not all at NCC’s door. He accepted that the Council needed to put in additional resources but was not happy that they were currently having to micro-manage the service.
Councillor Duigan asked what structure the new Governance Board would have and was advised that once the Service Agreement was defined the aim would be to align the performance data with service delivery.
Councillor Chapman-Allen asked if the Members Refresh was on time and within budget. She also wanted to know if the laptops would be ready so that existing Members could receive training before the election to reduce the strain on the IT department.
The Interim ICT Manager confirmed that the project was on track and that two elements of training would be provided; Windows 8.1 and IT training for such things as logging in and connecting to Broadband. The training would form part of the Members’ Induction Programme. The order for the new equipment would be placed shortly and it would take six weeks to delivery, which was in advance of the election.
Councillor Chapman-Allen hoped that the equipment could be guaranteed before then and Mr Leggater responded by saying that the message was clear. He too was unhappy with the level of service being provided. He would be dedicating one day a week to turning the projects round and would be out and about in the District and visiting Breckland. He could guarantee that the equipment would be on time and that training would be delivered too, as they had just done that at Yarmouth.
Councillor Gilbert asked if it was possible to break out of the contract with NCC if things did not improve and he was advised that there was a termination clause with six months notice by the Council which would give time to find an alternative solution. However, they were currently working on getting on with critical projects.
The Leader of the Council thought that the ideal solution would be to stay with NCC if they could provide the required service.
The Chairman pointed out that the Council had to have a fall-back as it had to be in a position to carry on delivering services.
Councillor Joel asked about the Helpdesk. He believed that NCC Members got a better service than Breckland Councillors.
Mr Leggater said there was an average speed for answering calls which was the same for all organisations. They were working to improve that time and would hope to see improvements within the next 6-12 months.
The Leader of the Council challenged that as he believed that NCC Members had a different telephone number to call and that number was answered, whereas the one used by Breckland Members was not.
Mr Leggater said he was not aware of that. He would look into it and respond within 24 hours.
Councillor Kybird asked if ‘on-line planning payments’ was one of the red or orange projects. Councillor Bambridge confirmed that work was being done and the Council would be able to accept payments by debit and credit cards soon.
The Chairman asked if that applied to payments through the Planning Portal and the Assistant Director Community advised that there had been problems between the Planning Portal and the Ocella software system used by the Planning department. However, Councillor Bambridge said that he had been assured that people would be able to pay for planning applications on-line.
Councillor Canham said she had been experiencing problems but she had not bothered to log a call as she was not able to wait in all day for a return call. She asked if any consideration had been given to using Apps to improve customer service
The Head of Information & Customer Access said that was a good point. The Council’s number one priority was to improve digital access to services. People should not have to download forms or pay by cheque. Services should be available on-line, whilst still maintaining choice for those that did not want to use that route. Up until now there had been no co-ordinated approach and some areas had better service than others. It was an item high on the agenda and part of the investment was needed to work with each service area to deliver what customers wanted.
The Leader of the Council advised Councillor Canham that there was now a process where Members with IT issues could book an appointment with IT and leave their equipment to be fixed whilst they were attending meetings at the Council offices.
The Chairman asked about mobile working which was something that had been discussed for a number of years. Members were frustrated that Officers were out and about in the District and had the opportunity to flag up issues not in their service area and provide feed back. For instance, Building Control Officers could report fly tipping. But it was still not happening.
The Interim ICT Manager explained that there was a lot of work to ensure that the infrastructure was robust enough. They were concentrating on mobile phone technology and identifying needs as part of the digital agenda.
The Chairman said it had been a long time coming and he was glad to be told it would be happening this year.
He thanked the Officers and particularly Mr Leggater for attending.