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Kingston and Sutton councils to merge IT departments

The councils hope shared services will move create a more resilient and flexible infrastructure

The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames and Sutton Council will be merging their IT departments next year, it has been revealed.

Kingston council's lead ICT business partner David Grasty said that the merger is driven by a need to cut costs, as well as a need to deliver a more resilient IT infrastructure to both London councils.

"We have got to take about 33 percent out of the budget over the next four years," he told a roundtable hosted by networking solutions provider Netgear in London.

"About 40 percent is coming from staff reductions, other [initiatives include] reviewing supplier contracts, and we will be merging our IT with Sutton."

Kingston and Sutton signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) last year to commit to working together more, and last month announced the merger of their environmental services functions.

Grasty said that the councils have signed off the business case for a merged IT function, and will soon be looking to recruit a joint executive head of ICT to take charge of it from April 2012.

The IT services being combined include the networks, application support, project management, desktop management and infrastructure.

"The shared services agenda is not based on cost reduction. The primary driver is resilience between our services because we have taken out so many costs of staff we have several points of failure," Grasty said.

"We are going to have to be very agile and as flexible as we can."

He added that the councils are now looking at collaborative technologies such as video-conferencing, to cut the costs of staff travelling between the boroughs sharing services.

"Video conferencing wasn't on our agenda six months ago because of the nature of our borough [the council sites were close together]. There was no business case for it."

Although the council has had to make severe reductions in staff, Grasty said that the IT staff costs were mainly taken from reducing the IT management. The merged IT department will employ around 80 staff, serving a total of around 300,000 residents in Kingston and Sutton.

"We haven't cut any hands-on staff - if anything we have taken more on," he said.

Although it does not apply directly to Kingston and Sutton because they will be hiring a joint executive head of ICT, Doug Maclean, consulting manager at Socitm, the council IT managers' association, warned that cutting IT management was a worrying trend.

He said that many of the association's members now hold more junior job titles than in previous years.

"In most cases there's no real manager. We have downgraded the IT so much that there is nobody left to make the key strategic decisions," he said.

In addition to merging the IT function, Kingston and Sutton are also part of a cloud project with Richmond and Wandsworth councils that aims to implement fibre links between the boroughs to enable them to share active directories and calendars.

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