The first CIO meeting with Stephan Conaway, head of ICT for Oxfordshire County Council was delayed due to the heavy snow fallsthe UK experienced this winter. That same snow demonstrated the value of Oxford\u2019s recent strategy of delivering e-learning and secure service management to the 85,000 pupils and 15,000 education staff across the county. Conaway, a quietly spoken American, described how he got the entire county to work with the County Council IT division to ensure pupils, schools and parents received county-wide e-learning.\nOne of the challenges for government CIOs in recent years has been connecting together the wide variety of e-government initiatives that have been launched over the last decade.\u00a0 Government Connect was an initiative to get the 375 local authorities connected to central government on a trusted network. Alongside this, various education ministers have been driving e-learning into schools and pupils\u2019 laptops. For Stephan Conaway and his peers, making these two projects work in tandem has been just the sort of challenge a CIO enjoys.\nAt the core of this challenge is identity management as parents, pupils and teachers interact with e-learning and institutions via email and learning zones. \u201cThere are lots of logins to control, so we wanted a single login for a school to all the systems, for example,\u201d Conaway says. Schools and local authorities are mandatory expected to provide parent access to primary school e-learning platforms by 2012. \u201cThe platform is a vehicle for parental engagement,\u201d he explains.\nOxfordshire decided to approach the schools in its beautiful county with the vision of working more efficiently as a single unit, rather than each school meeting its e-learning and identity management targets individually. A specification was created for providing access to the virtual learning environment (VLE), information management system for pupil data, learning resources and timetable; email and single sign-on ID management was developed in a consultative approach with the schools and with the supplier vendors. \u201cIt is not easier for schools to work alone. We offered a service for a tiny cost to their independence,\u201d Conaway says of how his department has matured into an IT service provider.\nWith specifications and collaboration agreed, Conaway\u2019s next challenge was integrating all this with the IBM Tivoli the council used. Like many CIOs, Conaway looked to the technology partners he already used to see if they could meet his new challenge. Pirean, a systems integrator with a heritage in financial services systems management framework stepped in with its Compliance One system, providing identity, access and auditing systems with single sign-on to the council\u2019s 300 individual databases. This simplifies access control for administrators and improves access to parents keen to see how their children are progressing with curriculum.\n\u201cThe biggest challenge came from the variety of vendors used by schools, so the vendors needed to refigure how to be within the new framework,\u201d Conaway says.\n\n\u201cThe worlds of education and banking may appear to be quite different. However, the needs of managers and staff actually mirror the relationship between teachers and pupils when it comes to providing access to applications, whether that\u2019s a brokerage system or e-learning platform,\u201d says Mike Cartright, CTO for Pirean.\nHeavy snow in December and January proved to be testing conditions for the system, which was finalising its roll out as CIO visited the ICT offices on Oxford\u2019s famed Cornmarket Street. \u201cThe snow certainly justified it. The school used the platform to update parents and keep the pupils learning,\u201d Conaway says, recounting one school telling him: \u201cThings are very different from 30 years ago, we can maintain contact, and it is a great level of reassurance for parent.\u201d\nSnow may be a visible example of how schools, parents and pupils can connect and share information securely, but Conaway explains that modern education makes a secure e-learning platform vital for a county. In recent years certain schools have become specialists in subjects, whether its music, languages, arts or sport. As a result pupils no longer remain on one secondary school site for the entire week of lessons, but instead may move around the county to gain access to better resources at other facilities. Conaway explains that one of the drivers of the e-learning and Government Connect agenda was to ensure parents can see how their kids are doing in multiple schools. \u201cFor a parent, we want them to go to the one place for all the information they need.\u201d For pupils it also means essentially their school is where they are, for example pupils have been able to remain in contact with the curriculum whilst in hospital if they require treatment.\nConaway has been with Oxford County Council for eight years following a career largely in media and publishing. Under his leadership IT at the council has become a service provider not only to the council, but also has assisted the county's schools in meeting their educational agenda with support from broadband and a selection of shared ICT services. \u201cIt is good for us as it gives both a large footprint and it improves the county.\u201d This belief has enabled him to motivate his IT team of 155. \u201cThe staff get involved and enjoy it as everyone is a stakeholder as they have children at the schools.\u201d\nConaway describes being a local authority CIO as differing from the private sector in that the changes you make in IT have to be considered more in the light of \u201cchanges to human behaviour\u201d more. \u201cA lot of people in the IT and financial world don\u2019t take that into effect.\u201d He cites an example at Oxford, a Microsoft desktop applications user where open-source suite OpenOffice was considered as a replacement as it could deliver savings close to quarter of a million pounds, \u201cbut take into account the training for such a transformation we end up making a loss\u201d.\n\u201cI was looking around for something and a vendor knew Oxford were looking for a CIO,\u201d he says of how he came to lead IT in the city of dreaming spires. He joined the council in 2002 following two years at consumer magazine publisher Emap where he was CTO as the company digitised before \u201cthe new FD decided there was no future in electronic publishing, so he shut us down.\u201d He left a year later when the company realised they had lost their place in web publishing. He had joined Emap from the Financial Times, where he had been IT Director, his second newspaper after having been Director of Operations for the recently sold Independent. Conaway was with The Independent for eight years including the paper\u2019s birth. He describes his media career as specialising in using IT to improve production and distribution of newsprint products.\nFamily led him to stay at Oxford, a job he originally anticipated would cover a two-year stint, and remains in. Having delivered secure e-learning and connectivity, like all public sector CIOs he knows the challenge now will be about efficiencies in government operations. The CIO\u2019s role, he says, will be about, \u201casking what is really possible\u201d from IT.