Sunderland City Council represents a population of approximately 285.000 in the north-east of England. The city has a proud heritage of ship-building and coal-mining, but these industries declined towards the end of the 20th century. Luckily, the council was particularly far-sighted and recognised that the city’s regeneration would rest on its ability to attract new industries such as digital.
Over the past 10 to 15 years, the council has worked to create a city attractive to modern businesses. Sunderland has invested heavily in building an IT infrastructure that provides cloud-computing services, not just to public sector organisations but to local businesses as well. The city also saw the emerging importance of digital skills as life skills and has provided community-led training and open access computing facilities in libraries and community centres across its area. As a result of this investment in the future, Sunderland has won two prestigious Beacon Awards (established to recognise excellence in UK local government).
Sunderland recognised that simply building infrastructure was not enough. To drive real change across the city, the council needed to lead by example: reinventing what it did and how it worked.
Like most local government bodies, Sunderland City Council faced the challenges of reducing budgets and finding new, more-effective ways of working. One part of the solution was to provide more of its services in digital form, enabling residents to help themselves and building upon the council’s investments in digital access. Sunderland also recognised that its employee environment needed to be as effective as possible. As the city added more digital services, it could not expect employees to be tied to physical desks. If it could deliver greater flexibility through its IT platform, then staff could work wherever they required – in the office, at home or out in the city with residents – and have the necessary information always available to them.
Sunderland also anticipated working more closely with partner organisations in the future. As Assistant Chief Executive Sarah Reed puts it, “Our priority has been to get core staff online and mobile, but as we develop more partnership arrangements, our level of connection will become increasingly important. In local government, we are dealing with real people and real issues. We have a lot of sensitive personal and financial information and we are starting to connect families and neighbourhoods with appropriate crime and health data, so we’ve got to keep it absolutely secure.”
Sunderland took the ambitious decision to virtualise its IT infrastructure. It selected Citrix technology for its ability to provide secure but flexible access to applications and data while reducing costs. The council worked with Citrix Gold Solution Advisor Cetus and Citrix Systems Integrator IBM to create a new platform built on virtualised servers, with Citrix® NetScaler MPX™ for optimum load balancing. The team is delivering a virtualised desktop across 3.000 desktop devices (using Citrix XenDesktop® on Wyse thin client terminals) and 600 laptops. Citrix XenApp® is used for application delivery across all devices. The solution supports over 300 different applications, and the council’s IT team is using Citrix monitoring tools to rationalise the range of available applications. The council also recently deployed a mobile device and app management solution using Citrix XenMobile® to provide senior executives and elected councillors with even greater flexibility.
As part of the programme, Sunderland has introduced hot-desking and enabled staff to work from home. As a result, the council has been able to reduce the amount of office space it needs, yielding significant savings. Employees and citizens have embraced this greater flexibility, as Sarah explains: “The new system has enabled us to work smarter, to be more fast-footed and to be out more, working with partners and really selling the city. We’ve had great feedback from residents as well: we look smarter, we react faster and we’re more responsive to local issues.”
City staff have become visible exemplars of a new way of working that is starting to become available to businesses across Sunderland.
The city’s elected councillors have been early adopters of the XenMobile solution. They come from a wide range of backgrounds and many have more than one job. Their role as councillors requires them to be out in their wards, meeting with residents and attending to their concerns. With XenMobile, the city can provide councillors a choice of smartphone and tablet solutions that give them secure access to information wherever they need it, from a consistent and easy-to-use interface.
The council is moving towards a system of “Integrated Locality Working” where it connects teams from different council departments and partner organisations at a local level on a common IT platform. Sarah explains the council’s vision, “As we evolve to be less of a direct provider and more of an enabler of services, technology, accessibility and flexibility will be key. It’s been important to get that right at this stage, to protect our future.”
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