Nottinghamshire Councils IT

Disaster Recovery Partnership

The explosion in the demands on local authority IT systems over the past decade, fuelled by the implementation of e-government strategies, was one of the key drivers leading to a model partnership between four district councils in Nottinghamshire.

 

The first task of the partnership between Mansfield District Council, Broxtowe Borough Council, Newark and Sherwood District Council and Gedling Borough Council was to procure and put in place a comprehensive, rapid-reaction disaster recovery service. This had to ensure that the impact of IT failure amongst any of the four local authorities was minimised and that the services they provided were not compromised.

 

WWHA was founded in 1965 and is one of the largest housing associations in Wales, providing housing to customers throughout the length and breadth of the country. With over 300 staff, WWHA are committed to providing quality services to their residents and other customers. As part of their commitment to providing a quality service, WWHA have always considered disaster recovery an integral element of their IT facilities.

 

Together, the four Nottinghamshire councils are responsible for the full range of local authority services to around 180,000 households comprising a population of over 400,000 people. Reliable IT systems are the cornerstone of providing efficient services and information to the population. A robust disaster recovery strategy and service is the foundation supporting it. That foundation is now ADAM Continuity. In 2001 the Government issued a directive for all local authorities to develop an Implementing Electronic Government Statement. This was part of the process in which councils had to reach the target of 100 per cent of services being accessible electronically if possible by 2005.

 

According to Christine Marsh, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Manager at Mansfield council, this increased enormously the reliance on IT systems and the size of her council’s main server population had to double to accommodate these developments.

 

At this stage, early in 2007, Christine started looking around at what was available on the market in terms of disaster recovery and continuity packages. It seemed obvious that neighbouring local authorities, having gone through a similar process with e-government, might be in the same boat as Mansfield. Initially Mansfield, Broxtowe and Gedling councils worked together to identify their needs and developed a brief, Newark and Sherwood council joined soon after.

 

"Not only has the size increased, but it has become increasingly more complex,” says Christine. “Everything has become linked together with applications linking to other servers. I was aware that what we had in place in terms of disaster recovery was now totally inadequate. It could have taken up to six months to get up and running again if a disaster had happened."

 

"ADAM’s outstanding growth in the public sector in recent years has been due to us appreciating fully that, unlike commercial organisations, councils are more concerned over losing the ability to provide valuable services to the community than measuring loss

of productivity or income. It is important that we understand completely each local authority’s needs and that’s why we place

so much emphasis on early-stage briefings and Q&A sessions."

"ADAM Continuity is on the ball all of the time and keen to keep up a good relationship. They do not just win your contract and run away."

“We first invited some of the major players in disaster recovery and continuity, including ADAM Continuity, to meet with us as we moved to understanding fully what was available and to identifying our priorities,” says Christine. “These meetings helped us develop a tender document. Due to our authorities’ shared experiences, it was not as difficult as we had imagined developing a brief which met all our needs.”

 

Christine drafted the tender document and passed it around her colleagues in the partnering local authorities for approval. All four councils’ procurement and legal departments then became involved. This was time-consuming but, according to Christine, very worthwhile as they now have in place the legal basis for any future joint contracts or tendering between all four councils.

 

ADAM Continuity’s Head of New Business, Peter Rotherham was involved with the Nottinghamshire partnership from early on in the briefing process and headed the team preparing their bid.

 

“From the start we recognised that, although it was one contract we were bidding for, essentially we had to provide services which met the needs of all four councils,” explains Peter.

 

ADAM Continuity, along with around 30 other companies received the Information to Tender (ITT) documentation from the Nottinghamshire partnership in May 2007. By mid June the company had been short listed down to the last two bidders, including one of the largest IT disaster recovery and business continuity providers in the world.

 

ADAM was awarded the contract. According to Christine Marsh this was because of the combination of ADAM’s ability to understand the partnership’s needs, flexibility and price. After terms and conditions were finalised, the contract was due to commence on 1 August 2007.

 

Massive Server Failure The Day Before Contract Start Date

 

As fate would have it, Newark and Sherwood council suffered from a massive server failure on 31st July which wiped out the entire email system. The council’s maintenance team tried to get it going again, but without success. ICT Manager at Newark and Sherwood, Sharon Parkinson, takes up the story...

 

“We started having problems with our email server the day before our contract with ADAM Continuity was due to come into effect. Our staff tried all they could do to mend it but it was an old server and couldn’t be fixed."

 

“We contacted ADAM on 1st August and told them about our problem. It was wonderful, they agreed to support us despite the fact that the problem had occurred before their contract start date. They arranged for an engineer and a replacement server to come to Newark. This arrived on the same day as we invoked. Then they brought additional engineers and in all we had three of ADAM’s staff working through the night for two nights to get the problem resolved. Throughout the whole process ADAM’s people were always very professional and friendly. It would have taken an awful lot longer to solve the problem without their support” says Sharon.

 

After hitting the ground running from day one, ADAM Continuity then carried out four solution design workshops for the four councils. This was to understand in more detail the councils’ IT infrastructure, backup methodologies and where and how, if needed, ADAM would deliver the mobile data centre which formed part of the contract and to explain how the client management

and invocation procedures work.

 

In addition, ADAM has run disaster recovery rehearsals, a service which has particularly impressed Kevin Powell Head of ICT and Corporate Services at Broxtowe Borough Council. "The rehearsal carried out at Broxtowe in September 2008 was very successful,” he says.

 

“ADAM provided highly competent technical staff who worked along with our own ICT employees and recovered a number of category A systems. These systems were fully tested by service areas to ensure quality of recovery was achieved. Working with our other partners and ADAM has resulted in a very effective partnership and places all four councils in a much better position moving forward in terms of disaster recovery.”

 

ADAM Continuity’s solution for the Nottinghamshire partnership is based on supporting all four councils' IT disaster recovery requirements via a central pool of equipment that includes 40 Intel servers, 22 tape drives and libraries, a mobile data centre and mobile office. In addition, each council can rehearse their solution on an annual basis.

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