UK: Ripe For The Picking? Technology Futures In Local Government

Last Updated: 5 July 2007
Article by Deloitte LLP

Most Read Contributor in UK, August 2017

Foreword

‘At a time when technology is fundamentally changing people‘s daily lives... I am keen that the excitement, motivation and momentum that the strategy generated are not lost as we work towards putting it into action.‘ (Ian Watmore Transformational Government, March 2006).

It is hard to disagree with the sentiments that technology has a major role to play in transforming local government. When combined with a transformation of people, process and data, it is clearly helping to provide better quality and more efficient services and fundamentally, services which are more focussed around the citizen.

It is also fair to say that considerable determination will be required by all parties involved to achieve these ambitious objectives. However, technology and its proponents has a bad track record in presenting itself as a quick-fix solution – and it is all too easy to choose a solution that is not yet ‘ripe for the picking’. All that ‘excitement, motivation and momentum’ needs to be grounded in reality. So whilst there are various directives originating from central government which have a technology impact, we believe that a longer-term view of technology will help to inform the debate around how to realise the benefits that technology can bring to local government.

Overall ICT spending by Western European governments will exceed £25 billion by 2009 according to researcher IDC1. Just over a half of the expenditure is expected to come from local government – reaching £13 billion by 2009. It is largely left to local authorities to decide how they should deliver electronic services. Not surprisingly, local authorities face a barrage of technology hype from vendors describing how they can fulfil their obligations with a range of emerging technologies.

This report cuts through the hype and presents a clear analysis of the business relevance and timeliness of four main strands of technology which will enable local authorities to achieve effective connected government. This is not an exhaustive list – the technologies have been chosen because of their simultaneous ability to offer both significant benefits to local government services whilst at the same time presenting a number of risks that need to be clearly understood and managed. Security of access to services must be balanced by ease of use and concerns about civil liberties.

They must also take account of general advances in technologies such as broadband communications, mobile phones and wireless. New strategies for integrating services must be underpinned by robust infrastructural technologies and take account of advances in systems architecture.

Analysis of the current state of these key technologies is accompanied by practical examples of local and central government projects which illustrate the benefits to forward-looking authorities. We‘ve also used the terminology ‘flowering‘ to indicate where technologies should be approached with caution and ‘ripe fruit’ where they are mature enough to adopt.
Mark Lawrie
Partner

Summary

This report presents a clear analysis on the business relevance of four main strands of technology – Mobile and wireless, Security, Infrastructure and Architecture. We have used the terminology ‘flowering’ to indicate where technologies should be approached with caution and ‘ripe fruit’ where they are mature enough to adopt now. The table below summarises each of the technologies featured in the report.

Anytime, anywhere – Mobile and wireless

Technology

Verdict

Wireless

Flowering

Location aware

Ripe fruit

RFID

Ripe fruit

Knowing me, knowing you – Security

Technology

Verdict

Smartcards

Ripe fruit

Biometrics

Flowering

Sound foundations – Infrastructure

Technology

Verdict

Broadband

Ripe fruit

Opensource

Flowering

Joining IT all up – Architecture

Technology

Verdict

Service Oriented Architecture

Flowering

Middleware

Ripe fruit

Thin-clients and Data Centralisation

Ripe fruit

Anytime, anywhere – Mobile and wireless

Mobile and wireless technologies promise much in terms of efficiency and work flexibility. These will be increasingly hard for councils to ignore as they can widen user access to council services, transform the way property is used and improve business processes, particularly in areas where mobile working is required.

Surprisingly, local government has been slow to take on mobile and wireless technologies. A recent survey by SOCITM, the professional association for ICT managers working in local government, notes that the change in the use of mobile devices has been evolutionary not revolutionary2. We believe this will change.

Many different technologies come together to support mobile working through wireless networks. Location aware systems, wireless networks and radio frequency identification devices are seen as three key enabling technologies.

Wireless

Background
Wireless technology has evolved quickly through several iterations and wireless connectivity is already widely available. Although the wireless protocols are evolving rapidly, the range of devices and applications that can utilise them is also evolving to meet increasing demand for mobility. Email, PDAs and phone technologies are converging with new gadgets providing a combination of functions in ever smaller packages. ICT analyst Richard Holway recently predicted that mobile phones will soon be the only item people will carry with them – replacing keys, identity cards, passports, credit cards and, eventually, even medical information. For council‘s, these developments open up more flexibility in the way in which employees work, and increase the ways in which citizens can access services.

Currently the whole range of wireless technologies – from simple 2G and 2.5G mobile phones based on the GSM network standard, through to GPRS-based 3G and 4G or WiFi – offer escalating levels of service and functionality. The later generation mobile phones (2.5G and 3G) can support data services in addition to voice – offering the potential for ‘real time‘ information services and even Web and email access. We must also not forget the impact of Voice over IP (VoIP) technologies discussed later.

But 4G WiFi technology, with its high bandwidth and functionality, is likely to be the most pervasive. So-called WiFi ‘hotspots‘ are springing up in many places and offer full connectivity through laptop or personal digital assistants (PDA). The evolution of WiMAX is extending this vision even further through faster speeds and greater ranges.

According to researcher In-Stat Marketing, sales of WiFi-enabled devices grew by 67 per cent in 2005, and now the majority of laptops are WiFi enabled.

Value to local government
Access to services is one of the main challenges facing local government and wireless devices are an obvious solution. In the UK there are more mobile phones than people and a growing number are buying portable computers, suggesting that wireless will become a widely used means of connectivity.

Local government can leverage this phenomenon to give access to up-to date information such as ‘live‘ railway timetables and traffic news. Mobile devices can also be used to make payments such as admission charges to museums or public transport fares. Wireless technology is also breaking down boundaries – not only are public WiFi links opening up council services but they are beginning to help re-write democratic rules, allowing better access to decision makers. Portable devices are generally cheaper than expensive home PCs, and with more services available to more people, this could be an important step to empowering more people.

Within local government, wireless technology enables more flexibility in mobile and remote working. Staff can connect to operational systems when off site, and many council‘s are using such technology to make savings through the transformation of business processes. Case notes for example can be entered into a handheld device and a query returned instantaneously, reducing the time spent on a particular case and preventing the need to translate written notes into electronic data. Allowing staff to work more easily at remote locations not only makes the management of cases more flexible and effective, but it also enables savings through hotdesking and allowing staff to work at home.

Barriers
The rapid evolution of wireless technology has created a wide variety of products with different standards and functionality which makes the choice of a ‘future proof‘ technology difficult. As the market expands and the technology matures over the next two years, this will, of course, change. Meanwhile, caution is recommended.

Over time, advances in technology will allay current concerns about performance and reliability and remove reservations about wireless communication compared with traditional ‘wired‘ systems. The barrier to implementing wireless networks in particular has been security – many authorities do not currently have the infrastructure capable of integrating secure WiFi.

Other barriers to acceptance could be less easy to overcome. Issues of civil liberties and privacy will need debate. And wireless networks are also prone to security threats which could be difficult to trap. There also needs to be some caution in viewing wireless technologies as a panacea in reducing the digital divide – if people can‘t afford the technology, then quite simply the effort may be in vain.

Examples
Bridgend County Borough Council (BCBC) in South Wales recently installed a public WiFi access system over a multiservice provider network. The council says the system, from WiFi supplier The Cloud, puts Bridgend in a good position to achieve the Government‘s ambition for councils to provide universal on-line access to public services by 2008.

Westminster Council are pioneering a wireless network – originally designed to benefit Council employees on the move, but now extending to serve both residents and local businesses. The service, currently in a pilot stage will provide CCTV coverage, remote working and public WiFi hotspots when fully operational.

The London Borough of Islington has signed a deal with Handheld PCs to provide a wireless mobile computing network to deliver email on the move and provide full PC synchronisation. More than 500 Islington Council staff, including managers, technical staff and social workers, will have full wireless access to email, diaries and some back office systems.

Three London Borough‘s along with other UK authorities are creating city centre WiFi zones. These are making a step change from traditional ‘hot-spots‘ in terms of availability and usability. The London boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, Camden and Islington will all go live this summer. The Cloud is also currently rolling out a hotzone for the City of London.

Verdict – flowering
The wide take-up of mobile devices in the mass market is an opportunity local government can use to deliver information services at relatively low cost. The network and the ‘terminal‘ device are ‘free‘ – all the local authority needs to invest in is the end service. The current lack of technical standards and relatively immature technology, coupled with privacy and security problems, will delay local government‘s use of wireless – if only for a short time. A number of authorities however are already ahead of the game, and are working with providers to offer public WiFi networks both increasing access to services and breaking down boundaries.

Location Aware

Background
Location aware technologies enable mobile workers to know where they are and, more importantly, to be located easily by central control. Emergency services vehicles en route to an incident, for example, can use location aware technology to find their destination quickly. Controllers can use it to deploy resources by locating the nearest vehicles to the incident. Controversially, wireless technology can also be used for tracking – either to limit movements of criminals on parole or to help with the protection of children.

Two main, but different technologies are currently available – one based on mobile telephones and one which uses the Global Positioning System (GPS). The choice depends upon three factors: cost, geographical coverage and the level of accuracy. In broad terms, mobile telephone-based location systems are less expensive than GPS – but they are less accurate and tend to be limited to urban areas. GPS is best suited to rural areas where cell phone coverage is limited – but it is more expensive. There are also emerging, but less developed public WiFi and RFID networks on the way.

Value to local government
Many local government services are ‘mobile‘ by their very nature. Management of mobile resources demands good communications whether they are mission-critical emergency services or less critical, day-to-day services such as refuse collection. The ability to track staff and assets through location aware technologies, therefore, has enormous potential to make better use of resources and save on costs.

Location aware technology can also be used to track council staff in potentially dangerous situations. A social worker visiting a difficult client, for example, can be tracked automatically and monitored to ensure their safety.

Barriers
While location aware technology is evolving quickly, there are still some technical barriers. The accuracy is variable especially when based on mobile phone systems. Crossing cell boundaries, for example, can lead to loss of signal and an inaccurate location reading. In rural areas, cell phone coverage is currently limited and significant investment in mobile networks by suppliers is still needed to increase coverage. Integration is also proving difficult across different application providers.

Examples
The Commission for Rural Communities (to replace the Countryside Agency) found a pilot study on mobile work, which used a range of portable devices, saved individual employees between four and twelve hours a week. (Computer Weekly, November 2005)

Croydon Council is running a pilot called Airtext which uses SMS to send air quality information to residents‘ mobile phones. (Computer Weekly, November 2005)

Verdict – ripe fruit
Location aware technology has wide application in local government both to track people and resources and to help emergency services locate incident sites. GPS and cell phone-based location technologies are advancing rapidly and, after a slow start, it seems likely that the technology will spread quickly in local government.

RFID

Background
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) devices are machine-readable ‘tags‘ which can be used to locate and identify items and individuals. The applications range from identification of people and animals through to transport payments and asset tracking.

The tag consists of a tiny microchip and an antenna enclosed in a thin plastic casing. Although the technology has been around for some time, it is only recently that demand has accelerated. Gartner estimates that worldwide spending on RFID rose 39 percent in 2005 to reach $504 million. Gartner predicts a market worth $3 billion by 20103.

RFID looks likely to replace bar codes and other machine-readable codes in some applications such as asset tracking and library books. Unlike bar codes, RFID tags do not need line of sight to be read and multiple tags can be read quickly. RFID tags are also rugged, have a long life and can be reused.

Value to local government
RFID tags can be scanned automatically out of sight of the reader which makes them ideally suited to applications where line of sight is difficult or fast processing is required. Current RFID technology can scan up to 50 tags per second. RFID tags are also difficult to copy and, thus, more secure than other methods of identification. Potential applications of RFID include payment applications such as road toll access, parking enforcement and meter reading. The most promising applications, however, are those where RFID tags are used to locate and identify items or individuals. Many libraries, for example, use RFID to tag loan items. The tags fulfil a dual function removing the need for a librarian to record loans manually and as a security device to prevent theft. Scanners located at library exits can detect items which have not been checked out properly. The same principle can be applied to any physical object. SUN Microsystems, for example, recently announced a system which uses RFID to track ICT equipment. Although some authorities have already begun to use RFID in libraries for example, their use has often been to replace the functionality of previous bar code systems. The next leap is going to be in using RFID to help locate items such as books, making a step change in the value that this technology can provide.

RFID tags can also be used for tracking people – such as children attending leisure events or daycare facilities to ensure they do not get lost.

Barriers
The main barriers to use of RFID have traditionally been lack of standards and the cost of readers and tags. Increased standardisation and technical advances are expected to bring costs down, however.

Currently several different RFID technologies compete for space in the market – although some rationalisation is inevitable as the technology matures.

There are also concerns over privacy and data protection issues. Potentially RFID tags could be used covertly to monitor human behaviour.

Examples

Sutton Library Service is using RFID tags in a project to widen access to library services. It says the benefits have been significant both releasing staff to spend more time with visitors and extending opening hours. On the administrative side, the library is able to display books in new ways and track and record usage more flexibly.

RFID based cards can be adapted to provide access to local authority leisure facilities, libraries, health centres and other public services. When combined with charging facilities it is possible to top up a card and use it to purchase services. At least one London local authority is reported to be looking at the possibility of extending the Oyster RFID-based travel card for use as a library and leisure centre card.

Verdict – ripe fruit
Use of RFID in libraries and for tracking assets is now well advanced and, with prices falling quickly, the technology shows promise in many areas. It is also worth noting that the UK telecoms regulator Ofcom gave RFID a boost at the end of 2005 by setting aside a radio frequency band range exclusively for RFID signals.

Wireless and Mobile – the Deloitte bottom line
Although wireless technology has not yet been taken up widely by local government, this looks set to change quickly. The many benefits that flow from wireless technology – easier access to services, greater flexibility from mobile working and cost savings – will be difficult to ignore.

The lack of standards and the relative immaturity of some wireless technologies are causes for concern and may slow adoption. But the main barriers are likely to be worries over privacy, data protection and civil liberties.

Knowing me. Knowing you – Security

Local government is in the front line of the drive to give citizens increased access to the services which affect their daily lives. New technologies are making access easier by the day, but this comes with a price.

Breaking down access barriers is a major part of local government‘s mission, but providing easy access to services raises significant security issues. Local authorities must ensure that their access strategy does not expose systems and data. Effective security is also essential to prevent fraud.

Identification and authentication technologies can be used to verify known facts about an individual and enable secure access. Two technologies currently under consideration are ‘smart‘ cards and biometric identification.

Smart cards

Background
A smart card is a standard plastic card with a machine-readable storage chip embedded in its surface. Smart cards can store any kind of digital data and are commonly used with a personal identification number (PIN). This is called two-factor identification and authentication – ‘something you have (the card) and something you know (the PIN)‘.

For local government, there are many obvious business processes where such identification and authentication is required. Typical examples would include the payment of benefits, transport and leisure services. Smart cards can also store biometric data to provide alternative ways to identify and authenticate a user – passports for example are moving in this direction.

Various forms of smart card have existed since the 1970s, although the first widespread applications only surfaced in the 1990s in the French banking sector. More recently UK banks have replaced magnetic stripe payment cards with ‘chip and pin‘ cards based on smart card technology.

Value to local government
The success of smart cards in the banking sector and the emerging evidence that chip and pin is decreasing fraud, suggests that they could be of significant value to local government. Smart cards enable reasonably secure access to multiple services with a single token which increases convenience for citizens who only need to remember one PIN.

Smart cards also offer the potential to customise services and personalise them for individual citizens. The card can, for example, carry data with language preferences or help for the visually impaired so services can be tailored accordingly.

In addition, local government departments can use smart cards to gather management information on usage. This can inform decision making about changes to services and support infrastructure that directly or indirectly affect the citizen.

Examples
The Oyster Card is a contactless smart card used in the Greater London area for season ticket and ‘pay as you go‘ travel. The reduced long-term costs of the scheme are allowing greater discounts to be offered against cash purposes – savings which can be reinvested or passed on to users. The system looks likely to have an exciting future with e-money capabilities being added to allow quick payments at newsagents for example.

The Connexions Card scheme provides a secure smart card, designed for 16-19 year olds. It enables them to collect reward points for learning, work-based training and voluntary activities. The points can be exchanged for discounted or free goods and services and other rewards. The Card can also be used as proof of age and holds a photograph.

Occupational Health Smart Cards (OHSCs) enable most doctors to confirm their fitness to practice, in terms of clinical competence and continuing professional development, health clearance, CRB assurances etc. The scheme aims to reduce the reliance on paper procedures. Smart cards also enable ‘hot desking‘ and interoffice roaming, allowing users to connect back to their data from different places.

Barriers
Smart cards sound a great idea – but can we apply them in local government? While smart card technology is mature, there are still barriers to its use in local government applications. The card readers and the cards themselves are expensive and there are still competing technologies and multiple standards, making the choice of technology difficult and integration a complex business.

The barriers are not just technological. The use of smart cards raises the perennial issues of privacy, data protection and political concerns about the threat to civil liberties. There are also potential problems in sharing data across government departments and in some cases data protection is preventing services from being delivered. The actual registration process is also proving difficult to implement – authenticating users via multiple access channels for multiple service requests is a real challenge that has to be overcome.

Verdict – ripe fruit
Smart card technology is now sufficiently well advanced to provide secure delivery of local government services to citizens. The rapid spread and success of chip and pin smart cards in reducing fraud in banking and retail will help to accelerate acceptance. When coupled with central government‘s consideration of national ID cards, it seems likely that smart card technology will have an important role to play in identifying citizens and giving them access to services. A national ID card scheme will likely to be a catalyst for change and improve current registration and authentication issues.

Biometrics

Background
Biometrics is the automated recognition of a person based on human characteristics. Many council services ranging from elections to benefits depend on ensuring the person is who they claim to be. Fraud can be dramatically reduced if you can be sure you know who you‘re dealing with. Fingerprinting, iris and face recognition are now well advanced and offer the greatest potential. Other biometrics methods such as voice-print recognition and signature analysis are less mature.

Implementations of biometrics work in two ways. Data can be stored in a portable token such as a smart card or radio frequency identification device (RFID), read with a special-purpose reader and compared to ‘real world‘ data from a local scanner. Alternatively, the scanned data can be compared to biometric data stored in a central database.

Value to local government
Biometric methods are acknowledged to be more secure than a password or a PIN. This improves overall system security when used to access services. The international shift towards biometrics, mainly promoted by the US government, will stimulate development and commoditisation of biometric technologies. Not only will this bring costs down, it will also promote wider acceptance of biometrics as a method of identification and authentication.

The Local Government Association (LGA) are particularly enthusiastic about the need for a well managed citizen reference scheme – they have recognised the role biometrics could play in the development of e-democracy, the Census and identifying children4.

Barriers
Fingerprinting and iris recognition are the most promising biometric technologies and significant progress has been made in their development. Costs are still high – but likely to fall quickly as applications proliferate and usage increases. Questions of who will pay for these technologies are also quite rightly raised by the LGA. Like all security-related technologies, biometrics is seen as a potential enemy of traditional civil liberties. Concerns over misuse of biometric data and the possibilities of fooling biometric readers with artificial fingerprints or iris images are also a barrier. Legal implications and any liability involved needs to be clarified.

Examples
The Ohio Board of Pharmacy uses fingerprinting for authorising prescription orders. It has installed 800 workstations that can check that the prescriber is allowed to issue an order for a prescription. Biometric technology is used in the UK‘s asylum system.

Asylum seekers are fingerprinted and checked against UK and EU databases. Over 150,000 applicants have been issued with a high-tech ID card which provides a more secure and fraud resistant way of tracking people through the system. As a result of this investment 53 people have been prosecuted in the last year for making fraudulent asylum applications.

Verdict – flowering
The use of biometrics is accelerating – especially in light of growing international demand for biometric passports. Several countries – including Hong Kong and Malaysia – are already using biometric identity cards.

In the UK, proposals to use biometrics in passports and other forms of identification mean that it is only a matter of time before it is included in local government plans. The cost savings that could accrue to local government from use of a single card encoded with biometric data will be significant. In addition, many countries have included a digital signature in the smart chip which can provide secure access to on-line services and applications.

Security – the Deloitte bottom line
The pressure on local government to deliver electronic services to citizens must be supported by the best possible security. Biometrics and smart card technology can fill this gap and give citizens secure, but simple, access to the services they need.

It seems inevitable in the long term that a combination of biometrics and smart cards will become the dominant method of personal identification and verification. Local government should monitor both social and technological developments closely and take account of how national ID cards could figure in their plans. There is still considerable effort required to integrate access channels, standardise security processes and solving problems around security roles, authentication and levels of access. A national ID card scheme would no doubt prove a catalyst to overcoming these obstacles.

Sound foundations – Infrastructure

After some four decades of evolution in delivering services, many councils have inherited complex and expensive ICT infrastructures. ICT departments have helped provide key hardware infrastructure such as telephones and PCs, along with line of business software like revenues, benefits and finance applications. More latterly, they have been tasked with the e-Government agenda, providing web access and transforming business processes driven by technologies such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM).

As a result, most have converged networks which have grown from several waves of technology – mainframes, minicomputers, PCs, the Web and, increasingly, voice-over-IP (VoIP) digital telephony and audio-visual systems. The emerging trend of the convergence of data networks and voice networks promises many benefits – but it also demands a coherent, integrated infrastructure to realise them.

Two emerging infrastructure technologies – broadband communications and Open Source software – offer an effective way to build such an infrastructure and enable local government to deliver services at low cost. Broadband provides the foundation for delivering flexible interactive services and Open Source software cuts application costs and removes dependency on vendors.

Broadband

Background
Broadband is a communications technology which enables rapid transmission of large volumes of digital data in both directions. In the last two years broadband communications has caused a minor revolution in home communications, and it is the most likely catalyst in the e-Government agenda, opening up council services to those with internet access, enabling on-line payments, and access to council information. This however, is only the beginning with video communications becoming more widespread and telecommunications becoming cheaper and more flexible.

Currently in the UK, ADSL broadband operates mainly in the 1-2 megabit range – although faster/higher bandwidth services are being rolled out including SDSL. ADSL-based broadband services use standard telephone lines to provide high-speed digital communications at a fraction of the cost of earlier technologies such as ISDN. The result is that at the end of 2006, nearly 80% of connections were broadband – opening the door to many new applications5.

Three key emergent broadband applications – VoIP, digital TV and high-speed data networking – all offer the potential to reduce communications costs and create flexible, converged applications. VoIP, for example, enables unlimited voice telephony through the Internet for no more than the broadband connection cost.

Broadband digital TV can handle streamed ‘live‘ video and two-way interaction.

Value to local government
Broadband communications infrastructure offers much to local government. Not only can broadband reduce communications costs – it also provides greater flexibility through integration of voice and data and interactivity.

The low cost of telephone calls made through VoIP (home VoIP users would recognise this as products such as Skype), enables local councils to cut their internal telephone bills and support remote and home working – therefore allowing more flexible working and reducing property costs. VoIP can also support integrated voice and data applications for use in contact centres – even virtual ones.

Broadband ‘always-on‘ data networking can deliver similar cost reductions and greater flexibility to support remote working for council employees. Broadband digital TV enables local government to deliver interactive information services via broadband.

Barriers
While broadband has achieved a level of maturity, there are still gaps and the potential for security breaches.

VoIP technology still has some way to go – although usage is increasing rapidly and suppliers now claim quality and reliability comparable to traditional voice systems. A standard for VoIP has still to emerge and there are several competing – and incompatible – technologies.

Ebay‘s recent purchase of Skype – the best known VoIP product – will doubtless increase home VoIP usage, but this is currently not suitable for enterprise use because conversations cannot be recorded/archived. Other more suitable providers for commercial use include Mitel, Cisco, Siemens and Nortel.

Digital TV also suffers from several competing technologies – some based on broadband and others based on earlier TV broadcast technologies. This could act as a brake on take up of broadband digital TV.

The cultural change associated with increased home and remote working could also be a limiting factor on the use of broadband technologies.

Examples
The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames was the first UK local authority to convert to VoIP. It aims to use the technology to improve services at call centres and cut phone bills. It also expects to use the VoIP network to increase remote working and hot desking.

Cheshire County Council is working with Memorex Telex to design and implement a countywide broadband solution to connect schools, libraries and Council offices throughout the region.

The ‘Eastserve‘ initiative, set up by Manchester City Council is the largest UK scheme to transform one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the city. Eastserve has enabled over 3,500 local residents to gain access to information and communications technology (ICT) and on-line services, backed up by training and community-based support services. Eastserve is now claimed to be the largest all-wireless community-based network in Europe.

Verdict – ripe fruit
The popularity of broadband Internet in the UK makes it a technology local government cannot ignore. The cost savings from VoIP and the flexibility of converged broadband networks are two potential benefits. While a move to broadband infrastructure is likely in the long term, councils will be looking to include broadband in their general network upgrade plans.

Open Source

Background
Open Source is essentially the software equivalent of sharing a recipe – rather than keeping the source code a corporate secret, the code behind the software is fully available and can be distributed freely. The Open Source software movement has therefore grown out of two clear principles – first, that source code should be open and available and, second, that innovation is shared and enhanced.

It enables developers and users to obtain software at little or no cost and improve it for everyone‘s benefit. This can really benefit local government, not only in reducing the costs of software development, but the open nature can give greater control to councils, taking power away from vendors and other suppliers. In addition to cost savings, Open Source has also gained support because it is less likely to be subject to hacking or disrupted with rogue programs. Open Source software needs to be more robust than proprietary software and is, therefore, less easy to break.

Furthermore, the open development model for Open Source software such as Linux, Open Office and Apache has made it a continued source of innovation.

Value to local government
The main value of Open Source software as an infrastructural component lies in its cost model. A lot of it is free or very low cost. While it still needs support and a coherent upgrade strategy, Open Source in some situations can offer a lower cost of ownership than proprietary alternatives.

Use of Open Source removes dependence on vendors and their development strategies. Users can follow their own development path and customise Open Source software to suit their requirements within a standard framework. Standardisation is, in effect, the oxygen of Open Source. It provides a solid direction and more flexibility to ‘plug in‘ new components than closed source solutions. Finally, the open development model could potentially produce better quality code because it is subject to wide scrutiny and testing.

Open Source uses an iterative development model which enables rapid feedback between developers and testers in the user community. However, it could be argued that test and release cycles are not as comprehensive as in commercial software, revealing why hybrid Open Source and Proprietary solutions are often favoured.

Most major manufacturers and leading software developers have committed significant resources to supporting Open Source software. Sun, IBM and HP, for example, are strongly behind the movement. Companies like BEA and Oracle are using Open Source to underpin aspects of their proprietary products.

Barriers
Open Source still faces some barriers to acceptance – although they are crumbling fast. Historically, support for Open Source has been a problem but with big players such as Sun and IBM backing it strongly and newcomers such as Spikesource offering professional support services, this is no longer a problem.

There are concerns over the quality of some Open Source code and that it comes with no guarantees. But as the Open Source model evolves and more organisations take it on, this will be less of an issue. Could Darwinian-based evolution result in the survival of the fittest?

Use of Open Source could possibly cause problems of liability for infringing code copyright and patents. The current legal dispute between Unix owner SCO and the Linux development community is an example. Interoperability has also proven an issue for applications such as Microsoft Office and some Open Source applications are not enterprise ready, suffering from scalability and resilience issues. such as Microsoft Office and some Open Source applications are not enterprise ready, suffering from scalability and resilience issues.

Examples
The Swiss government recently announced it was moving all its systems to Novell SUSE Linux.

Birmingham City Council has started a trial of Open Source software on desktops and servers, intended to determine whether Open Source really delivers benefits. The Council will move 1,500 desktops and the associated back-end servers in its library service to Linux and other Open Source software including OpenOffice and Firefox. The year-long trial will be backed by government money, and include a final, neutral assessment of the value of the move. Public terminals in libraries will be shifted to Linux, as well as office systems in the library service.

Dundee City Council evaluated a range of proprietary UNIX systems, but were able to achieve greater cost savings and more consolidation with an Open Source solution. Leveraging existing in-house Open Source skills, the Council selected SUSE Linux Enterprise Server – users were not affected and the software has been more reliable. Having highly available systems is proving to help the Council increase the number of services it can offer to residents.

Verdict – flowering
Open source software looks likely to become an important component of local government ICT infrastructure in the next two to five years. The collaborative nature of local government ICT suits the open development model and offers the opportunity to produce reliable, high quality applications at low cost.

Infrastructure – the Deloitte bottom line
The move to a converged infrastructure demands new strategies from local government. Councils need to create a robust and flexible foundation to deliver a wide range of integrated services bridging voice and data. Broadband communications, now well advanced in consumer markets, can bring the same cost benefits to local government services.

In some cases, Open Source software can contribute further to reducing the cost of infrastructure

Joining IT all up – Architecture

Council‘s have to provide a wide range of services, so it‘s inevitable that over the years they have built up a wide range of different systems. The architecture of ICT infrastructure has also evolved over four decades from central mainframes, through distributed minicomputers to PC networks and today‘s ‘internetworking‘ Web systems, which has also added complexity.

Many organisations have all of these technologies operating side by side and want to bring them together. Providing front to back office integration brings many benefits to improving access and making savings through the transformation of business processes.

Authorities are also under pressure to work more collaboratively and share services, so having technology that can ‘talk‘ to each other is fundamental to the future of local government ICT, both within and outside each council. National systems are increasingly being rolled out with legal obligations for local government in the areas of health, policing and children‘s services – council‘s therefore cannot afford to operate in silos where these areas are concerned.

A services-based model of computing is seen as the next step in the development of systems architecture and the solution to the challenge of enterprise network integration. The architecture needed to support a service model of computing is in the early stages of development with manufacturers such as IBM and HP investing significant amounts to make it a reality. But it is a complex (and expensive) change and depends upon the successful development of at least three key technologies – service oriented architecture, middleware and thin-client systems.

Service Oriented Architecture

Background
Service oriented architecture (SOA) concepts allow for business functionality to be separated into granular modules and offered as services which can be delivered through the Internet – rather than traditional applications. The processing of credit cards by many council‘s already follows this model, preventing the need for each council to have their own system whereas instead they simply subscribe to a payment-taking service. Researcher Forrester expected that 77 percent of large enterprises, 51 percent of medium enterprises, and 46 percent of small enterprises to be actively implementing SOA by the end of 2005.

SOA relies on a widely-accepted standards base to work. SOAP for example is a messaging protocol which is used to encode XML-based messages over the Internet. SOAP also adds and defines security procedures. SOA-based systems rely on SOAP to handle all interservice communication and transportation, routing and interim processing of XML messages. Each council therefore doesn‘t have to reinvent the wheel with this type of architectural approach, and it can be sure that the system at the other end understands the message.

Value to local government
Middleware is a tried and tested technology for connecting applications which need to share data, regardless of operating platform. Local government can use it to link applications across departments and to external partners – the most obvious example being the Government Connects initiative which is a range of secure communication initiatives, designed to allow local authorities to ‘join-up‘ with other bodies. It offers for example, the ability to authenticate the people and organisations with whom the authorities need to communicate.

More extensive implementations of middleware are transforming councils by enabling the introduction of CRM systems and portals which can talk to back-office systems. Citizens can potentially make one phone call or log-on to a portal to deal with multiple queries. Creating a more effective front-office makes the back-office more efficient and allows experts to have greater focus on their core activities.

Mature GUI-based, business process modelling tools have helped refine the development of middleware-based integration. They allow human interaction to complete and progress end-to-end processing in a consistent manner. Used in conjunction with Business Process Execution Language (BPEL), these tools can be used to automate business processes with workflow ‘engines‘ and orchestration – although this is still in its infancy as a development technology within government circles.

GC Exchange is a government sponsored middleware solution which enables ICT systems to exchange information by translating data from one format into another. It incorporates LGOL-Net, (originally Govnet) part of a Pathfinder project designed by Sunderland City Council. It was further developed under the Local Authority Websites National Project. As part of the enhancement of LGOL-Net for Government Connect scheme, GC Exchange will include guidance and pre-loaded applications for local authorities.

Barriers
The main problems with middleware are the upfront costs and the upheaval associated with implementing it. Significant design effort and analysis of data structures is required before any middleware technology is deployed. It can be hard to justify the business case for single integration projects. Multiple integration projects over the long term, however, can yield a return on investment. Integration strategies are often poor and need to be of a higher standard to ensure success.

The technology – including infrastructure cost and modelling tools – is relatively expensive. The lack of standards across vendors‘ middleware products could be a barrier to interoperability. And the need for ICT support staff to understand a wide range of vendor tool sets could increase staff costs.

Examples
Sefton Council has installed Mayrise‘s XML-based middleware to improve services for its 300,000 residents with a new contact centre that connects electronically to the council‘s computer databases. The council is linking its Mayrise management systems to its contact centre which handles up to 2000 calls per day. The first phase sees integration of refuse collection and street cleaning systems with the council‘s CRM, Northgate Front Office and will enable contact centre staff to access live records while taking calls. The second phase will provide access to street lighting and highways information.

Verdict – ripe fruit
While middleware is a proven method of integrating applications, it is complex and expensive technology to implement. More importantly, much of the space where middleware has proved successful is under siege from more advanced, service-based approaches such as SOA.

Thin-clients and Data centralisation

Background
Thin-client computing is a return to an earlier model of computing – the central mainframe and the terminal network. It offers cost savings to local government by centralising infrastructure costs and creates better services through the central management of data. Important case files for example cannot be left on one person‘s hard-drive, and data processes are forced to be more effectively managed and controlled.

The processing load and data storage are centralised on a single server complex – with only the presentation technology or GUI resident on thin-client terminal. Centralised processing and data storage makes it easier to manage and control IT. Generally only the server software needs to be changed when an upgrade or enhancement is made. Thin-client technology such as Citrix have helped to spread the concept and provide secure, remote access to enterprise applications.

Value to local government
Thin-client technology and data centralisation bring infrastructure management under stricter control. Deployment of and upgrades to systems are, therefore, easier to control and less expensive than with distributed systems. Similarly, centralising data enables tighter control and more robust back-up and recovery.

Barriers
Thin-client technology relies entirely on the central server complex to carry out processing. Not only does this mean network failure leads to no IT being provided, it also increases the administrative burden for central IT functions. Thin-client technology, therefore, demands robust networks and resilient central systems. Failover systems, load balancing and server clustering can provide the right level of resilience.

Good performance relies on high bandwidth. Coverage is still patchy across the UK, but improving.

The biggest barrier to thin-client computing is not technical, however. PC users may resist attempts to take power away from the desktop and resent new ways of working which take their data away from them.

Examples
The London Borough of Greenwich has implemented a ‘Thinclient Initiative‘ to standardise IT and improve the quality and security of vital data, reducing the potential for corruption. It allows users to log on via terminals to network services and provides a standardised desktop.

The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham replaced its personal computers and green-screen terminals with thin-client technology. The Council supports about 100 office locations and uses several Microsoft applications, which run on servers using Microsoft‘s Windows Terminal Services and Citrix MetaFrame. The new thin-client system integrates current Windows-based and legacy operating systems, the Internet, email and desktop applications.

Hampshire County Council‘s Hantsnet service uses thin-client technology to cut support and upgrade costs. Local government departments across Hampshire now have access to cost-effective modern applications aimed at delivering better services to citizens. The council says it expects to make annual savings of at least £4 million each year. Hantsnet was joint winner of the 2005 e-Government Efficiency award.

Thin-client technology also makes networks more secure by removing responsibility for access from the terminal to the server. It is harder for rogue software to penetrate the system and data is more difficult to steal. The terminals themselves are also more future proof, and can be used for longer periods, reducing the refresh cycle and therefore the cost.

Councils can gain benefit from the increased flexibility thin-client technology brings to support hotdesking, access-anywhere, mobile and remote working.

Verdict – ripe fruit
The simple model of a centralised processing and a terminal network is a well-proven method of distributing computer power. It is relatively easy and low cost to manage and provides a more secure environment than open PC networks. When combined with convergent technologies such as VoIP telephony, thin-client technology and data centralisation could solve many of the security management and data integrity challenges.

Architecture – the Deloitte bottom line
The infrastructure technologies needed to build a service model of computing are moving forward quickly. SOA provides a standardsbased framework to deliver processes packaged as services and middleware enables high-level business process modelling to create reusable service packages. Both are long-term technologies and demanding to implement – but they have substantial backing by vendors and are expected to dominate. Thin-client technology offers a relatively low-cost, low-effort method of centralising control of enterprise networks and data stores – a useful step towards the service model.

Conclusion

The UK government has laid out a clear vision of how technology can cut costs, improve efficiency and deliver better services to citizens. The Transformational Government strategy notes: "The specific opportunities lie in improving transactional services (eg. tax and benefits), in helping front-line public servants to be more effective (eg. doctors, nurses, police and teachers), in supporting effective policy outcomes (eg. in joined-up, multiagency approaches to offender management and domestic violence), in reforming the corporate services and infrastructure which government uses behind the scenes, and in taking swifter advantage of the latest technologies developed for the wider market."

There are numerous examples of local authorities grasping the nettle and deploying the technologies described above successfully. Continued future development will depend on greater collaboration across government departments – both technologically and financially – to gain from the economies of scale and the spread of best practice.

Individual authorities will need to frame the development and deployment of new technologies in the context of local demands. But at the same time, they must take account of the wider context and look for opportunities to apply working technology solutions from other areas such as national government and the private sector.

The evidence suggests that, while there is still a long journey ahead to reach the ideal ICT environment to support local government, the first steps have been taken and the benefits are quantifiable.

Footnotes

1. IDC, Western Europe, Government Sector IT Spending Forecast Update, 2005-2009.

2. SOCITM IT Trends in Local Government 2006/7.

3. Gartner December 2005 – Market Share and Forecast: Radio Frequency Identification, Worldwide, 2004-2010.

4. Memorandum submitted by the Local Government Association, House of Commons Home Affairs Written Evidence, July 2004.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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