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Goverment IT News

UK Councils Save Millions With Smartphone Apps

Councils in the UK saved more than £200 million in 2009, through the use of innovative mobile apps and web services

Councils across Britain saved a total of £230 million last year by using cutting-edge location-based technology to manage and provide services.

According to the Local Government Association (LGA), mobile web-mapping and satellite technology was used to improve the efficiency of refuse collection, provide up-to-date information about public transport services and keep people informed about roadworks and planning applications.

Location-based services and apps

In South Tyneside, for example, the council has used location-based information to create the ‘My South Tyneside’ web facility. This includes a property search facility for finding schools, libraries and other local facilities, as well as email alerts about local news and events. It is estimated that up to £146,669 of savings were made using the online service, compared to the previous system of dealing with enquiries over the telephone or face-to-face.

Meanwhile, Derbyshire Dales, Telford and Wrekin and Huntingdonshire District and Merton councils have launched a free iPhone app which shows the hygiene rating of pubs and restaurants, as ruled by council environmental health officers. Lancashire County Council has also launched a free app for people to send in photographs of bus shelter vandalism, while Lewisham Council has a similar program relating to fly-tipping and vandalism for use on iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Phone and Android.

Back in May it was reported that waste management company Biffa was giving RIM BlackBerry smartphones to its staff, enabling them to relay information between the company’s 1,500 refuse collection trucks and the Biffa head office in High Wycombe. The company claimed this enabled it to capture information – including proof of collection – more efficiently and identify the location of its vehicles.

“Whether it’s bin men working smarter, fewer phone calls to inquiry centres, freeing up staff from time-consuming checks or reducing parking ticket machine maintenance costs, making the most of modern technology and data sharing has seen huge cash savings across the country,” said Councillor David Parsons, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Improvement Board.

“This is money which can be ploughed into vital frontline services on which millions of people rely each year, and is yet another example of councils striving to be more efficient to make their stretched budgets go as far as possible. As well as financial savings, tapping into gadgetry has led to better communication with all members of society, young and old, and raised awareness of the services councils offer and how to get the most from them,” he added.

Savings

LGA estimates that innovative location-based technologies and information sharing could potentially save councils up to £372 million by 2014/15. It claims that, as residents become more comfortable with accessing information online and via mobile phones, issues can be resolved more quickly and the need for extensive paperwork will be reduced.

This has been one of the principal aims of the government’s digital champion Martha Lane Fox, who earlier this year announced plans to deal with the digital divide, helping the government get poorer citizens online – and saving millions on paper-based access to government services.

“This issue isn’t just about fairness,” said Prime Minister David Cameron at the time. “As Martha’s work shows, promoting digital inclusion is essential for a dynamic modern economy and can help to make government more efficient and effective.”

Despite this, however, it emerged in August that Lane Fox has been given no budget to get the last remaining ten million Brits online – a project which she intended to complete before the end of 2012.

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Goverment IT News

UK Government Breaks Promise To Use SMEs

Despite promising to end the IT oligopoly of big businesses, government is ignoring SMEs

The UK government is doing less business with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) than a few months ago, despite promises by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude earlier this year to end the oligopoly of big business supplying government IT and open up the market to new providers.

At the first meeting of the ‘New Suppliers to Government’ working group, put together by the Cabinet Office, members highlighted that the government’s aspiration to place 25 percent of all its business with SMEs is in direct conflict with projects such as Sir Philip Green’s ‘Efficiency Review’,  which pushes for consolidation within the supply chain.

“There are two competing tensions inside the government,” said Mark Taylor, CEO of Sirius and lead for the New Suppliers to Government working group. “One of them is the Cabinet Office’s stated commitment to getting more SME involvement. However, the other drive within government is pushing things the other way.”

Two conflicting cost-cutting methods

The Efficiency Review, published in October 2010, said that the government can reduce its spending by acting as a single purchaser, consolidating its supply chain and squeezing its suppliers. “The implication of that programme is they will reduce the number of people they buy from to a very small amount of very large suppliers,” said Taylor.

While this can be an effective way to cut costs through economies of scale, it is not appropriate to every sector, added Taylor. In the case of IT in particular, a great deal of innovation is coming from smaller companies, which can help reduce government expenditure through agile processes and open source technologies.

Taylor cited the Ministry of Justice’s CIPHER project as an example of how SMEs are being elbowed out of contracts as a result of these conflicting objectives. Back in March the MoJ cancelled all freelance IT contractors supplied through SMEs and transferred them to outsourcing company Capita‘s £123 million Cipher contract.

“The solution that we are proposing is very simple,” said Taylor. “In the private sector, companies of whatever size will purchase from whichever entity makes the most sense. If it’s a commoditised service, buy it from a huge supermarket at commodity prices. If it’s a specialised service that is appropriate for the business, buy it from an SME.”

The news follows comments last week by Stephen Allott, the Cabinet Office’s crown representative for SMEs, who said that it will take up to two years for Whitehall to stop excluding small businesses from work they could do more effectively than larger rivals.

Allott was quoted in the Telegraph as saying that meaningful reforms were being rolled out, but that they would take time to be implemented. “There are a lot of things that need to be fixed,” he said.

Ending the rip-offs

Back in July, MPs on the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) released a report entitled  “A Recipe For Rip-Offs”: Time For A New Approach, which revealed “obscene” overspending on IT within government departments. According to some sources, the government often pays between seven and ten times more than the standard commercial rate for IT work, said Bernard Jenkin, chair of the PASC.

However, according to Intellect, the trade association that represents IT suppliers of all sizes, allegations of anti-competitive behaviour and the suggestion of an industry cartel were “completely unfounded,” as well as being “inaccurate and misleading”.

“The implication is that leaders of public sector businesses in our industry have been involved in criminal activity,” said Intellect in a statement at the time. “As the trade body for the ICT sector, we want to make it clear that this is not the case and cartels do not exist in our industry. On the contrary, this is a highly competitive market.”

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Goverment IT News

US Petition Demands Internet As Unalienable Right

US petitioners hope to vaquish SOPA by protecting Web access as a constitutional right

On  by Iris Cheerin 0

A US group has officially petitioned the US Government to amend the constitution and make Internet connectivity an unalienable right.

Using the White House’s We The People tool, more than 6,500 users have signed a petition to protect Americans from laws that may potentially censor the Internet.

We will not be silenced

Citing the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), E-PARASITE (Enforcing and Protecting American Rights Against Sites Intent on Theft and Exploitation) and PROTECT IP (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act) acts, petitioners claim that “The United States Government is actively attempting to pass legislation to censor Internet.”

While SOPA, reminiscent of the UK’s own Digital Economy Act (DEA), moves toward ratification, it has already been widely lambasted in the press for its lack of understanding of how the Internet works and the potential harm it may do. This, at a time when many countries, including Spain and Finland,  have joined public opinion by moving towards guarantees of Internet connectivity for their citizens. Even UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, recently acknowledged its importance.

Despite this trend, and the numerous campaigns against this Act, petitioners fear that if they do not do more than simply prevent this particular act from being passed, “Future Acts of similar nature will oppress our rights. By signing this petition, you are demanding the Obama Administration to add an amendment to the Constitution that limits the power of the Government from being able to censor the Internet.”

We the people allows users to start or join petitions and have their voices heard by law-makers. The site currently has 123 active petitions from the serious, to ones requesting cookies.

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Goverment IT Networking News

Virgin Launches Big Red Internet Business Package

Fill your boots, says Virgin, as 1Gbps and 100Mbps fibre links tumble in price

On  by Peter Judge 0

Virgin Media Business will today launch a flat rate business Ethernet-on-fibre service which offers “more bandwidth than you think you need,” with uncontended, symmetrical services at 100Mbps or 1Gbps.

The service uses the core network that Virgin has built on the assets of the former cable companies and will offer the services at a “small premium” to businesses currently on 10Mbps or 100Mbps leased lines, according to a Virgin executive. The service can be offered at a lower price than competing leased line services because the bandwidth that it uses would otherwise go to waste, as the amount of traffic on a consumer network drops dramatically during working hours.

“Fill your boots!”

“It’s dedicated fibre, symmetric and uncontended,” said Mark Heraghty, managing director of Virgin Media Business. “Fill your boots!”

The 100Mbps service costs £12,000 per year, or £13,000 for a managed service, while the 1Gbps service costs £22,000 or £25,000 for a managed service which includes router installation and proactive network management.

The service is for directly-connected users, and not for resellers, and can be installed within 60 days from order. Although this sounds a long time, the local loop connection to the user can involve digging up the road; being able to afford a higher speed to start with should mean that is a one-off cost and a one-off delay, Virgin Media spokespeople pointed out.

Virgin Media Business has a very strong fibre network, which was built up by NTL and TeleWest and is mostly used by consumers in the evening, explained chief operating officer Andrew Barron: “It’s bankrupted two companies – it’s our pride and joy!” Big Red Internet is able to offer an uncontended service on that during the day.

Long-term perspective

Since taking over the ntl and TeleWest brands, Virgin first sorted out its customer service, and then got its balance sheet under control, said Barron. “We can fund and finance projects, and take a long-term perspective.”

While Virgin Media has been rolling out 50Mbps, using the DOCSYS standard, to large parts of the country, and promising 100Mbps broadband using fibre-to the-cabinet, Virgin Media Business has launched Ethernet extension services up to 10Gbps. The Big Red Internet offering takes that service and simplifies it, said Barron.

“We are an asset-based carrier,” said Barron. “It effectively costs us nothing to offer this service.” The peak demand from Virgin consumers is around 10pm at night, and the network is largely empty during the day. “Our competitors build networks dimensioned around business-to-business, and buy access from BT,” he said.

The company has promised to divulge prices before customers are asked to start putting down real money for the service – the service will be available in managed and unmanaged versions.

Universal access and fast broadband

At the launch event, Barron claimed that Virgin’s broadband roll-out had now met the government’s original target for fast broadband in Stephen Carter’s Broadband Britain report, but providing universal access at 2Mbps would be trickier.  “Universal access means reaching areas which are not economical,” said Barron. “If the government lets us use unconventional methods such as using electricity poles, we will push ahead as fast as it is economic to do so.”