Public Services > Local Government

Tower Hamlets asks Quadnet to help improve its IT efficiency

David Bicknell Published 15 December 2016

Slow-running council systems are typical, with causes put down variously to slow legacy applications, ineffective change-control, poor systems architecture and inadequate configuration of virtual environments

 

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets has commissioned an independent IT specialist, Quadnet, to help improve the council’s customer service and increase efficiency.

Quadnet is providing tools to measure the effectiveness of the council’s outsourced IT functions, and isolating opportunities to improve the council’s effectiveness when engaging with residents. The council anticipates this will increasingly improve the experience residents get from council services.   

Reflecting on the purpose of the work with Quadnet, Zena Cooke, corporate director, resources at Tower Hamlets, said: “IT can be something of a ‘dark art’, making measurement and management seem complex and opaque, and it is often shrouded in mystery.

“Quadnet’s simple dashboards of independent performance indicators will show when and how many of our staff are being impacted by slow business systems, and will transform our ability to maintain service levels despite spending less on IT.

“Improvements to our operational efficiency will support our staff and ultimately benefit residents and businesses across the borough.”

Quadnet’s managing director Zubair Aleem added, “Any organisation applying our approach and our tools quickly sees the benefits of measuring and managing IT performance and how by doing this they can make best use of their valuable resources.  Across the 15 systems at Tower Hamlets, the visibility into application performance that we’ll provide, reported in a way that suits managers of the business will promote significant productivity savings, and ensure the best possible experience for residents using less costly, digital channels in their dealings with the council”.

The slow-running of systems has been reported by several councils. Typically it could be put down to the use of older systems or even badly designed applications.  However, it is more likely that more and more ‘stuff’ gets bolted on to apps by different IT professionals, all working in many different ‘silos’ in an organisation. For example, the network team, the database team, the app dev team, the SANs team etc. They don’t always liaise with each other, each has their own agenda, and so change-control systems either aren’t deployed or aren’t used properly, meaning no-one is looking at a system holistically.

Council IT leaders argue that many ‘slow IT applications’ are the result of having large legacy applications that may have source code hailing from the 1990’s. They also blame having to cope with poor systems architecture in which the code base is 20 years old and built on programming languages and design principles that are far removed from a service-oriented architecture (SOA) blueprint.  Systems are often monolithic, complex and difficult to change.

Other areas of blame include poorly designed networks or having a reporting system running on the back of a live system which, when complex enquiries are run, only leads to table and database locking which then causes performance issues.

In some datacentres, the problem is simply to do with poor configuration of virtual environments and netscaler technologies. Usually virtual machine problems can be identified through system administration and management but they need proactive management.

Often, there is no single cause but, in the words of one local government CIO, a “creeping death of increasingly poor performance.”

One said, “Wholesale infrastructural and desktop changes wiped out the majority (of issues), but the pace we did this didn’t afford the one at a time change and test approach to identify all the culprits.  There were specific application coding changes that decreased performance, particularly social care forms in AIS that were too large and complex with each data item doing a database lookup (suicide!). But for the most part, coding wasn’t the issue - it was infrastructure and connectivity for us and a recognition that as an environment matures it gets bigger and hungrier and needs more resources.”








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