IT&D Team leverages technology to respond to COVID-19

The Information, Technology & Digital Services (IT&D) team played a crucial role in how Birmingham City Council responded to the COVID 19 pandemic. 

As COVID 19 cases started to spread around the world, IT&D started preparations to mobilise the council’s entire workforce to work from home. Following the COVID 19 government lockdown, IT&D leveraged technology to seamlessly transition up to 11,500 staff to work remotely from home with access to all IT support, enabling continuation of critical services to Birmingham citizens.

Service areas across the IT&D team worked at full speed, with some teams working day and night to ensure critical council services were maintained during the pandemic.

The Infrastructure Team were able to successfully scale up many of our technologies, with commencement of Windows 10/Office 365 roll out prior to the COVID 19, deployment was speeded up to have 96% of council staff deployed with Office 365 so were able to utilise Office 365 features such as Microsoft Teams and Yammer.

As home working increased, we reviewed our Netmotion Mobility Client infrastructure and user licences. At the time we had 1,200 active users working from home and licensed up to 3000 users for peaks but with approx. 10,000 council staff we needed more licences and quickly. We engaged the commercial department and obtained a price to increase Netmotion licences to 9000 users at a fair price a day before lockdown started. To support the increased user base working from home, we increased the Virtual Server infrastructure for Netmotion by 600% and crossed our fingers that the infrastructure could cope with the increased demand. Two days later, we hit 7,500 users which has now flatlined at approximated 6800 users. The infrastructure backend held up and with the infrastructure in place and stable we focussed our attention back onto the supporting the client front end.

Having the right equipment is a big part of working from home, in preparation we had placed an order in January for 400 laptops and 700 Smart mobile phones. As staff started to work remotely, requests for laptops increased rapidly and the Infrastructure Team was working around the clock to build 400 laptops. As it was become apparent that a ‘lockdown’ was being planned, a further 200 laptops were ordered to support remote working.

As the lockdown commenced and the message remained ‘stay at home’, we needed to develop a solution to support staff with broken laptops. A safe location and a process to support staff with IT issues was developed – the BCP IT Hub was created in one of the main council office sites. The BCP IT Hub initially started with a couple of requests per week, we are now servicing 40 requests a day by appointment only and have reached a staggering 1,000 appointments. To date, we have distributed over 1,500 laptops, over 1000 mobile devices, over a thousand headsets, installed over 20 local printers for the registers. We also started a home delivery service for anybody within 10 miles of the city centre and as such have now completed over 400 pickups and drop-offs in total. Sporadic DSE drop offs have occurred and will undoubtedly grow!

Amongst all of this we had a new Chief Executive, we managed to courier his laptop to London and set him up on Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)*. With more staff working remotely across devices it’s important to support BYOD, enabling staff to use their own devices for work and now have over 600 BOYD users which is incredible as we only went live in January. 

We also had to consider council meetings** and the Projects and TSA Teams were tasked with developing a technical solution that would not only allow council meetings to be organised online but also to be streamed live with voting capability for councillors.

Online meetings have enabled Birmingham City Council to maintain its business operations throughout the pandemic.

Remote working has become the new normal and brings with it challenges, not just technological but in maintaining a healthy work culture that is socially engaged. The Communications Team, we have been using a number of O365 tools to ensure to our workforce remains engaged, social platforms like Yammer, Teams chat, and Teams Live Events have been key communication channels between colleagues and making leadership visible in the new normal.

All IT&D colleagues have stepped up to the challenge during these difficult times by collaborating and supporting each other through common social platforms like MS Teams and Yammer, sharing ideas and ensuring critical services are maintained for our communities. IT&D have also been quick to share good practice with our partners across local government and been praised by council staff/end users across social media platforms for providing an outstanding IT service during these unprecedented times.

*Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has been introduced to enable employees to access the council’s Office 365 applications including email, Yammer and Teams via their own personal mobile devices.

**Birmingham City Council has since delivered several online meetings, including its first online Full Council Meeting, Cabinet Meeting, Planning Committee and multi-agency Birmingham Health & Wellbeing Board Meetings via a bespoke Microsoft Teams solution, streamed over the internet using Teams Live Event.

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