Camden Council is outsourcing its processes to IT services company Northgate Information Solutions, admitting that outside support is necessary to cope with next year's changes to the benefit system.
The five-year deal will see the service provider host and manage Camden's Open Revenue Benefits System from software vendor IBS, which currently deals with about 29,000 claims.
Hardware, servers and back up will sit at Northgate's Solutions Management Centre in Hemel Hempstead.
Jeff Lattimore, principal benefits support officer at Camden Council, explained that, although the benefits department at Camden has never suffered from backlogs, the outsourcing was needed to address the changes to be introduced next year.
"The decision to outsource is to meet future demand that will increase as a result of changes to be made to housing and council tax benefit in April and October next year," he said.
"We would be hard pressed to make the changes for October 2003 without outsourcing IT."
He added that the council has been gradually moving away from managing its own IT infrastructure.
"We believe it is better to bring the skills in rather than using internal resources," explained Lattimore. "This leaves more staff free to deal with front line interactions with customers."
Northgate is providing complete support and hosting for Camden's new benefits system which will be manned 24 hours a day.
The services company provides IT support to local authorities throughout the UK, including borough councils at Halton, Wandsworth and Reading.
Dave Meaden, public sector managing director at Northgate, explained that the outsourcing of IT gives local authorities the opportunity to concentrate on their core skills.
"More and more authorities are focusing on their key objectives with their resources and employing outsourcers to invest in the expertise to save them the hassle," he said.
Lattimore added that a strict tender had to be in place to ensure that the right company won the contract, and that security was a key factor.
"We had to be sure that the people that were given the contract could do the job, and security was important because they are dealing with personal details," he said.
Meaden explained that outsourcers must work hard to become trusted partners. "Because we have many public sector customers the local authorities trust us," he said.
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