Oxford County Council CIO describes how government IT leaders co-operate and achieve

The first CIO meeting with Stephan Conaway, head of ICT for Oxfordshire County Council was delayed due to the heavy snow falls the UK experienced this winter. That same snow demonstrated the value of Oxford’s 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.

One 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.  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’ laptops. For Stephan Conaway and his peers, making these two projects work in tandem has been just the sort of challenge a CIO enjoys.

At the core of this challenge is identity management as parents, pupils and teachers interact with e-learning and institutions via email and learning zones. “There are lots of logins to control, so we wanted a single login for a school to all the systems, for example,” Conaway says. Schools and local authorities are mandatory expected to provide parent access to primary school e-learning platforms by 2012. “The platform is a vehicle for parental engagement,” he explains.

Oxfordshire 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. “It is not easier for schools to work alone. We offered a service for a tiny cost to their independence,” Conaway says of how his department has matured into an IT service provider.

With specifications and collaboration agreed, Conaway’s 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’s 300 individual databases. This simplifies access control for administrators and improves access to parents keen to see how their children are progressing with curriculum.

“The biggest challenge came from the variety of vendors used by schools, so the vendors needed to refigure how to be within the new framework,” Conaway says.

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