The journey to digital
“Our goal is to digitise the council and get rid of the old-fashioned paper methods and processes that hold us back and take extra time when we're providing services to our residents,"
says Ami Goulter. Ami is the ICT business support and relationship manager at Rochford District Council, one of the smallest local authorities in Essex, with 170 staff and 39 councillors serving about 80,000 people.
However, when Rochford parted company with its previous IT provider in 2016, it faced a number of issues with legacy infrastructure, which was putting the brakes on its ambitious digital transformation plans.
“We had a lot of on-premises services. We had a presence in a data centre, which was incurring large running costs. We had a very convoluted network. We had lots of different contracts with vendors that we didn't really know about or understand. We had a very clunky internet connection, plus a lot of legacy switches and hardware, which were very much end-of-life."
Fortunately, Ami and her small in-house team were clear about where they wanted to go and the roadmap was very much digital, with an eye on improved security.
“When we started the journey with Jisc, we knew what we wanted to do but also that there was a lot of work to be done. It was not going to happen overnight. Every day we faced operational issues due to our network, which impacted staff and residents. We weren't able to deliver the services to our residents as we hoped to,”
Moving to Azure, Microsoft 365 and superfast connectivity
Working in partnership with Jisc, Ami and her team set about migrating servers to Azure, bringing the total number down to 70 from 200 and reducing operational costs at the same time. Everything moved to the cloud and all staff were moved to Microsoft 365, which paid dividends when the pandemic struck and staff needed to work from home, collaborating over Teams.
The existing remote desktop services (RDS) portal wasn’t fit for purpose and Jisc worked with Rochford to create a much more stable and secure new Azure Virtual Desktop environment, also addressing problems with load balancing so that the servers were not overloaded.
“Jisc did a lot of that work free of charge, which was absolutely fantastic, because they understood the pressures on us as a local authority to meet the needs of staff and residents, so they worked quickly with us in realigning those services,”
Lockdown also gave the team a chance to look at the estate and how to work going forward, based on the council’s ‘Connect’ digital and cultural transformation project.
“Jisc have been very helpful in giving us advice and offering solutions there as well. For instance, they knew that we had a very old internet connection, which was very slow, and so during lockdown we processed the new Janet one gig fibre connection, which has really strengthened and provided a very robust backbone for us in connectivity.”
‘A huge win for a small council’
“We've gained so much in the last year and really moved our services forward. We're working more efficiently, able to collaborate better with staff and with residents. We have a faster internet connection and a simplified network plus a more stable Azure Virtual Desktop environment which means we operate better. We no longer face network or system outages because our infrastructure is now solid.”
Rochford left its data centre at the start of 2021, saving more than £40,000 a year – “a huge win for a small council”, recalls Ami.
Performance generally has increased thanks to the superfast Janet Network, avoiding the latency issues and disconnects Rochford suffered previously and enjoying a quicker route through to Azure. A new telephone network, which runs via Janet, has also speeded things up, reducing the need for mobile phones within the estate and helping everyone to work in a more agile way. It’s all served to increase staff confidence in the infrastructure.
“It's now streamlined, we work better, we understand our network, it's quicker, it's more efficient. We would never have got to where we currently are without Jisc's help,”
Rochford is also more secure, which is ever more important given the increasing number of public sector organisations being hacked and compromised. The council is working towards Cyber Essentials and runs an annual penetration test with Jisc.
For Ami, the partnership and relationship with Jisc has been key to Rochford’s successful digital transformation, which has been recognised by senior management, councillors and residents alike.
“The staff at Jisc are really highly skilled. It has given us huge confidence in getting to where we are now. Also, they're just so approachable! If we have any queries or questions, we know that we can go to them and they will offer us that expert knowledge and advice, which for us is key to running the day-to-day operations. It's been a really positive experience. The impact for us is that we can now do more than we ever thought we possibly could,”
“During our network transition we worked with Jisc’s network security specialist and now we understand more about the network topology and principles that you apply to an organisation’s structure. We also receive monthly recommendations about our Azure estate and we are proactively thinking about what resources we could optimise better to reap the rewards of cost savings.
“Jisc really understands Rochford, the journey of where we've come from and where we're heading – and it's been a very exciting journey. We would very much recommend Jisc as a leading partner to any other local authority or organisation.”
This is a customer story
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