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Fco ict strategy: 2011 – 2015

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FCO ICT STRATEGY: 2011 – 2015

Department Information and Technology Directorate

Date 22 June 2016

Version 2.0

My vision is of a distinctive British Foreign Policy promoting Britain’s enlightened national interest. It should extend our global reach and influence [and] be agile and energetic in a networked world”
Foreign Secretary, FCO Departmental Business Plan, November 2010

Diplomatic Excellence will be our programme for reform and modernisation of the FCO over the next four years. It will be my core agenda for our culture and organisation during my time as PUS”

Simon Fraser, December 2010


  1. Our strategy for the next four years is to support our foreign policy priorities and Diplomatic Excellence by providing Information and Communication Technology which is easy to use, flexible, fast and reliable; which does all we and our Whitehall partners need at lower cost and with a smaller carbon footprint; and improves our Knowledge Management so we can access the information we want when we want it and use it better.


  1. This strategy sets out how I&TD will support the delivery of Diplomatic Excellence. The Directorate has a key role to play in the delivery of this initiative, particularly by supporting the FCO in providing first class diplomacy and foreign policy and contributing to a strong global network by providing the right ICT.

  1. Over the next four years, I&TD’s priorities will be to:

  • Deliver a secure and reliable IT platform, an improved technical network and better ICT services. We will improve support to our Partners Across Government (PAGs) who use the FCO’s IT platform overseas.

  • Improve the availability of information to all staff when and where they need it.

  • Give staff the skills, knowledge and tools they need to do their jobs effectively.

  • Deliver savings from the IT budget, freeing funding for further investment in the network.

while becoming smarter, cheaper and greener.

The Broader Context

  1. The FCO’s overseas network is developing in response to the new requirements placed upon it, with different types of representation; co-location with PAGs; increasing localisation; and a smaller back office. In line with the Coalition Government’s priorities we will focus greater attention and ICT resources on the emerging powers of Brazil, India, China and other parts of Asia, and to increasingly significant economies such as Turkey and Indonesia, working closely with ESD to deliver an integrated approach to the management of our overseas estate.

  1. Like other public sector bodies the FCO must reduce ICT costs and the associated ICT carbon footprint. The Coalition Government requires the FCO to be at the heart of decision making within Whitehall, particularly around the delivery of its Foreign Policy Priorities.

  1. The Coalition Government requires greater emphasis on sharing services across Government. We will support the Government’s policy of consolidating corporate services overseas. Where possible we will buy our ICT services in partnership with PAGs.

  1. In line with the Coalition Government’s new targets for sustainability, we will reduce the carbon footprint of our IT operations by at least 25% by 2015 (compared to 2009/10), and cut paper use by 10% in 2011/12.

The Story So Far

  1. In the past four years, I&TD has delivered significant upgrades to the FCO’s core IT platform, Firecrest, and supported improvements to its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, Prism. We have also supported the FCO’s high-level change plan by improving how staff use IT to do their jobs. This has established a base-line on which we need to build over the next four years, and presents an opportunity to start more significant developments in order to satisfy the increasing expectations of staff of the ICT platform.

  1. Some work is already underway: we are deploying a major upgrade to our telephony and data networks, and delivering new unclassified video conferencing to a significant number of Posts through the Echo programme. We are also planning replacement contracts for the delivery and support of Firecrest and Prism, both of which must be in place in 2012. Together, these three programmes create opportunities to drive costs from our existing IT spend, as well as to improve the reliability of our core IT systems.

  1. As resources become tighter and users’ expectations are raised I&TD will set out in increasing detail how it will respond to the challenge.


  1. By 2015, our IT will be easy to use and reliable. It will provide all the major IT functions staff require to do their jobs. Information will be available to staff when and where they need it – and key information will be easy to find, and to store. It will be easier for PAGs to use our IT overseas. Operating our IT will be increasingly efficient when measured against benchmarks within the public sector and within comparable organisations in the pricate sector.

  1. We will do this by:

  • Reducing the costs of our IT by between 30 and 40%, primarily through the deployment of Echo and the replacement contracts for the delivery and support of Firecrest and Prism.

  • Providing alternatives to email, including deploying Instant Messaging and Presence and eTeams (Sharepoint), and through development of collaborative technologies which will be available on the Firecrest platform.

  • Implementing a strategy to create an organisation confident in its use of IT, working closely with HR and Change Unit to ensure staff are encouraged to develop their IT skills, and to exploit the technology provided to them.

  • Improving the way FCO uses and manages its information across all tiers including high classification, through training staff how to manage their information effectively, and developing simpler information management tools.

  • Improving the reliability and performance of our IT, particularly overseas, through the deployment of Echo to increase bandwidth, and also by exploring options to improve the IT architecture so it supports our global presence, and our regional networks, more effectively.

  • Reducing the carbon footprint of our IT by at least 25%, by ensuring our suppliers actively support our sustainability targets, and by improving management of our data centres and printing needs.

  • Engaging staff, including those with different or specific requirements, on how we develop our ICT to ensure it is appropriate for their needs – in terms of helping them deliver the Coalition Government’s FPPs, and in terms of useability – and which encourages them to use it effectively.

  • Adopting a more risk-management approach to security, working with ESD to simplify and improve our approach to security where it is appropriate to do so, and sustaining our existing procedures where necessary.

What Success Will Look Like

  1. I&TD will manage fewer supplier contracts, and increasingly act as an intelligent client. New or replacement contracts will allow us to flex to improve delivery and to provide for change during their lifetime. Contracts will deliver the expected cash and carbon savings, and we will progressively seek further savings for reinvestment in the network.

  1. Within the constraints of clearer and better understood security policies, staff will be able to access information where and when they want including, towards the end of the period, on their own choice of devices. The corporate IT they use will help them do their jobs well, with time spent on delivering the foreign policy priorities, not on dealing with complex or poorly performing IT systems. The ICT people use will be developed with all our users’ needs in mind, particularly those with different requirements, such as officers with disability. They will have much easier access to integrated telephony, data and desk-based video conferencing systems to improve their productivity.

  1. The FCO will be less reliant on email as a means of communicating, and staff will be less tied to their inboxes in consequence. We will encourage ministers and staff to use less paper. We will adopt new ways to share knowledge that is easy to register, store and retrieve. Staff will be increasingly confident in how to make best use of our IT, and in its reliability and ease of use.

  1. The FCO will seek to lead greater cross-Whitehall cooperation and integration of IT systems (particularly with DFID; MOD; UKBA) to improve sharing of information and working together to deliver the Coalition Government’s foreign policy priorities.

  1. Our IT will be greener. The hardware staff use will be energy efficient. Where appropriate, we will implement a policy of each user having just one FCO-owned device. Responsibility for FCO-owned devices will lie with the individual, not directorates or posts, in order to promote flexibility and accountability. We will have less FCO-owned ICT infrastructure. Where infrastructure cannot be outsourced we will use technology to limit its carbon footprint.

  1. I&TD will be a professional organisation, with a balance of career diplomats and IT specialists working together, and with reduced dependence on consultants and contractors. When judged against recognised best practice we will manage programmes and projects well. We will manage suppliers effectively, and develop partnership relationships with those that are most significant to us. Business change will focus on enabling staff to get the most from our IT investments.

Specifics: Turning The Vision Into Reality

  1. Firecrest. Following roll-out, Firecrest generally provides a reliable service to users across the network. It remains somewhat flaky in posts with telecommunications connections that are less than robust, although this situation will be improved through better telecoms under Project Echo. Further improvements between February 2012 and the end of the CSR period will improve: reliability; ease of access; flexibility (including better mobile access); and will progressively reduce the cost per user. As a general principle we intend to provide staff with access to all the facilities and applications they require to do their jobs on Firecrest, unless there are compelling reasons for using alternate systems such as ‘dirty networks’. We will improve interoperability with other government departments, and particularly with our most important partners.

  1. Project Echo. Echo replaces a 10 year-old contract for the provision of telephony and wide area network services. The new contract is with Cable and Wireless Worldwide (CWW) and started in January 2011 with rollout to pilot sites in Dublin, Accra and Freetown. Experience on the pilot sites is likely to result in a delay to the start of Tranche 1 roll out, by a matter of a few weeks. The delay will allow us and CWW to resolve issues around logistics, security and the site planning process. The impact of this delay is being assessed and will be reported in due course. Meantime, and notwithstanding the short delay, Echo remains on track to deliver the substantial savings it promised.

  1. High Classification Communications. A plan to revamp High Classification services at post, reducing the footprint where possible, has recently been agreed. Implementation will start shortly, following consultation with posts which is underway. The High Classification project will replace existing equipment at posts, which is old and unreliable, with modern systems which are currently in use with PAGs. We will share services with PAGs where this is appropriate and technically feasible. In the UK, we are investigating the replacement of Fortress terminals with the UK equivalent of the system that will be provided at posts.

  1. Video Conferencing (VC). The FCO currently operates a range of VC systems at varying levels of protective marking and with limited or no compatibility with other FCO systems, or those of PAGs. Project Echo will improve this situation somewhat at the Unclassified level. In addition, we will develop a strategy that lays out a clear road map for future VC investment at all levels of protective marking. The strategy will establish VC compatibility between UK and all posts, and with PAGs where this is technically feasible.

  1. Telephony. As part of Project Echo telephony services will be improved in UK and at post. Echo telephony will provide improved access to facilities such as call-forwarding, voice mail and ‘hot-desking’. In the CSR period we will aim to improve integration of telephony with the Firecrest platform.

  1. Knowledge and Information Management (KIM). The FCO clearly recognises the importance of information as a core resource, but has had limited success in becoming a knowledge-based organisation. Information sharing and the registration/retention of key information are generally less than adequate, as is our ability to find information as key staff move on and the contents of their inbox and private file stores are lost. Improvements in information management are essential if the FCO is to become a leader in the field of Knowledge Management, as it should. Technology can help us improve, and can make the use of applications such as iRecords easier and more intuitive. Improvement will also require the engagement of staff across the office. We will develop a strategy to make significant improvements in this area, and will report on progress in due course.


  1. This strategy is focussed on delivering as much benefit as possible from our existing ICT estate, reducing our carbon footprint and driving down the cost of services. This will enable FCO front line staff to do their jobs more efficiently and allow us to invest more in the FCO’s core business. By the end of 2015 we will have:

  • More efficient IT: the cost of running our IT will reduce by at least 33% by 2015 (compared to the 2010/11 baseline).

  • IT systems that are reliable and which help staff to do their jobs well wherever they are: help desk calls are reduced; reliance on IT support staff overseas reduces; the number of standalone IT systems overseas reduces (as does spend).

  • Information management tools and practices that support decision-making will be more effective, evidence-based and quicker: quality of advice to Ministers will be improved; we will take steps towards becoming leaders in knowledge management.

  • Staff who are confident in using IT to deliver foreign policy: rely less on email; and systems that allow staff to collaborate with PAGs.

  • IT that is used as first choice by PAGs overseas.

  • Greener IT contributing towards the Government’s targets for sustainability.

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