Paul Doe, Regional Director, MLL Telecom, discusses how public sector connectivity means so much more to local councils than increased bandwidth, looking at how local government can tailor the procurement process to make the most of connectivity contracts to benefit local citizens
Traditionally, local authorities have been limited by poor broadband connectivity. The limitations of their legacy infrastructure has ultimately impacted their digital maturity. Today in a world dominated by digital services, local authorities can no longer afford to offer their citizens subpar connectivity options.
For some local authorities, the value of connectivity today simply equates to delivering good, continuous internet speeds, allowing staff members to access an intranet, or use online portals. But connectivity should deliver so much more than this. It should act as a significant enabler, underpin region-wide digital transformation efforts and make way for smart city initiatives. Effective connectivity should help to digitise many services offered or managed by a council; traffic management for example, or waste collection, and be pivotal in boosting local employment, social and digital inclusion.
Put simply, connectivity should be so much more than just network speeds. But tackling connectivity infrastructure can be a minefield for local authorities, and with so many willing providers and solutions available, it can be easier for public sector organisations to take a laissez-faire approach to enhancing their existing networks.
Research, research, research
There’s no doubt that local authorities across the UK have a lot on their plates – budget cuts, growing populations and increasing strain on resources mean the task of upgrading network infrastructure is often deprioritized. Yet, enhanced connectivity may just be organisations’ saving grace.
As the UK becomes increasingly connected and more emphasis is placed on offering new digital services or upgrading those already in existence, more pressure will be placed on existing network infrastructure. Many of the Wide Area Networks (WANs) used by local authorities today are no longer fit for purpose; they are saturated, slow and difficult to upgrade or enhance. These WANs are based on legacy hardware that can no longer support the volumes of data today.
As a result, WANs up and down the country are letting local government organisations down – staff are unable to log in to intranets, while citizens cannot access basic public sector services. While these issues may seem minor on a case-by-case basis, on a wider scale, these issues could become costly to address and solve, and worst yet, come to significantly hamper the UK’s digital progress.
But with so many priorities, how should public sector organisations wanting to upgrade existing network infrastructure go about things? The answer lies in choosing the right provider. There are many connectivity providers on the market, but choosing the one that best understands organisations’ individual needs can often be the difference between success and failure.
At the beginning of the procurement process, organisations must think carefully about the solution they need – is it more bandwidth or increased speeds, or both? What problem is said solution looking to solve – is it needing to connect multiple sites to one network, for example? Organisations must also think about any additional requirements they need to see from prospective providers; is security a big concern for the organisation? Would they like to work with a provider that has local or regional knowledge? Ultimately, if organisations go into the procurement process without a clear vision of what they want and what they’d like their new network to enable, they’ll likely find themselves with the wrong provider, delivering the wrong solution.
It’s not just about the solution, however. Organisations must also think carefully about the provider they choose to partner with – do they share a similar company culture? Mutual objectives and goals? What is the chemistry like between both teams? And quite simply, can they work together? While these factors may seem like an afterthought during a procurement process, they can play a huge part in ensuring public sector organisations get what they need from their chosen provider.
Reap what you sow
Organisations who are successful in choosing the right partner will stand to benefit greatly from enhanced connectivity. Going beyond network speeds, bandwidth and latency, the right provider, with the right solution can significantly impact the daily lives of local citizens. From a societal standpoint, enhanced connectivity can enable the creation of digital academies to train local citizens in digital skills, arming them with the tools they’ll need to succeed in a digital world.
Better connectivity can also significantly enhance local schooling, enabling remote learning, access to online services such as videos and documentaries and the delivery of better IT services in schools. What’s more, providers and public sector organisations may drive initiatives to recruit local talent to complete the WAN upgrade, replacement or extension – this will see the upskilling of local citizens and the creation of new local employment.
From a technological perspective, enhanced connectivity can play an important role in the creation and delivery of new services. These can range from simple services such as access to online citizen portals, allowing local residents to pay their council tax online, or perhaps book bulky item collections, all the way to wider services such as smart city initiatives or 5G services by enabling efficient and fast connectivity to public sector sites and equipment, such as traffic lights or street lights.
As cities, towns and regions become more connected throughout the UK, ensuring robust network infrastructure will become critical for public sector organisations up and down the country. Failing to address the connectivity conundrum could come to significantly hamper economic growth by impacting all aspects of society, from housing all the way through to employment. This could see organisations, and the citizens they serve, on the backbench of social and digital development and innovation.