notes from JK technology

City Council pleads with staff to surrender their Blackberries

Belts are tightening as we get ever closer to the date when the 2011/12 budget has to be set for Brighton & Hove City Council. With £30 million of front-loaded Coalition government cuts to find, council officers are quite reasonably reviewing and challenging every expenditure.

A recent email sent around by the Council’s IT department asks staff to consider whether they really, really need their Blackberry. If not, could they give it up and perhaps live without a mobile phone at all? Perfectly sensible, there may be people who don’t really need their Blackberries but still have one in a drawer somewhere.

What’s interesting are the costs the Council apparently incurs per Blackberry: A device on a two year contract costs £432/year before call charges plus £105 in setup and licence charges. (The monthly breakdown is £19 for Vodafone tariff and £17 for Blackberry & ICT support charges)

So before a single call is made or text is sent, a Blackberry will cost tax payers £969 over its two year contract period. That much of this goes to Vodafone is particularly galling given their tax avoider status.

This is another symptom of the Council’s gold plated approach to ICT. No criticism of the current Head of ICT, this predates him by some time. The Blackberries came in under the Labour administration and carried on under the Tories. As did the huge all-encompassing Microsoft licensing deal. Rather than find good-enough solutions, the approach has been to dive for the big name brands as soon as they offer a hint of a discount from their pre-inflated prices. Then we’re locked in.

A small number of decent Linux servers and any smartphone would meet the messaging needs of the Council perfectly adequately at a fraction of the cost. Why are we paying license fees for Exchange servers and Blackberry servers?

Yes, let’s cut down on the unnecessary issuing of mobile devices and excessive use of costly services (they’re also cracking down on football scores and directory enquiries via mobiles). But let’s reconsider whether the whole architecture makes financial sense too. Almost a grand for mobile access to email just doesn’t seem reasonable to me.

[Note: Most councillors from most parties use Blackberries. As far as I’m aware this is the first time we’ve been made aware of the cost they incur. This is no criticism of councillors for whom Blackberries are a lifeline to keeping on top of Council work whilst juggling their other responsibilities. I personally don’t have a Council Blackberry because I just don’t really like them, having tried an iPhone I couldn’t face going back!]

2 replies on “City Council pleads with staff to surrender their Blackberries”

Blackberries hold all email data on specially encrypted servers, that’s why the council would use them. I’m sure they have to deal with sensitive personal information over email, so criticism of their choice of mobile platform is unjust.
I’m surprised you did not consider this factor in your argument as you claim to have an interest in technology.
I am now considering voting for the Lib Dems.

I’m aware of the security features Blackberries purport to offer, however Microsoft Exchange, even Google Apps, now offer similar ‘remote wipe’ and such features as well as encrypted connections to the email server.

To my knowledge Blackberry server is not the only way to securely provide email on the move. If it was then I would absolutely reconsider my criticisms.

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