New Forest District Council is a local government district in Hampshire. It was created in April 1974 following the merger of the New Forest, Ringwood and Fordingbridge Rural Districts, and the Lymington Borough Councils.
The council employs more than 850 staff, the majority of which are based at Appletree Court, a building that was built in the early part of the 19th century as a private residence. Since then, the house has been sold on to various individuals and organisations and it was purchased by the New Forest Rural District Council in 1948, where all its offices are now based under one roof with the council chamber added to the building in 1950 and subsequent wings from 1967 to 1986.
Stone won the contract and suggested the council implement a Cisco Meraki cloud-based solution. The system itself is exceptionally cost effective compared to other solutions. It offers a powerful and intuitive multi-site management via the cloud, while eliminating the cost and complexity of traditional on-site wireless controllers.
The scope of the infrastructure project included:
- Latest 802.11ac wireless Access Points (APs)
- Design and implementation of a cloud managed wireless service
- Multi-site implementation
- Full site survey
- IT staff training and certification
- Active Directory integration to support staff, guest access and BYOD
- Optimised wireless design based upon predicted usage patterns
- Pre-and confirmatory post installation wireless site surveys
- Full project management
- 3-year support and maintenance agreement
To begin the planning and implementation of the Meraki solution, the designated project manager from Stone sat down with the NFDC project team to start scoping the project and coming up with a plan of action. Mark explains: “At the beginning, there were a few things we needed to rethink and Stone were really patient with us when we changed our minds.”
The main challenge for both teams was Appletree Court itself. The old country house had very thick walls which made it difficult to get the cables in and the wireless signal to pass through. In addition, the work had to be carried out during office hours and so the project managers from Stone and New Forest had to make sure they planned their work accordingly. For example, working within the customer contact centre during less busy periods. A final point that needed to be considered was that New Forest District Council is part of the Hampshire wide network of councils and so the project managers had to liaise with them and their network provider to ensure that all the communication tasks were lined up in a timely manner.
It was a nail biting moment for the team but the system passed with flying colours. Mark’s team were especially pleased as it meant that council members and staff outside of the IT department could see for themselves that the system had been thoroughly tested before it went live.
The work began in November and we had originally anticipated the project being completed within 6 months. However, the big wireless switch on at Appletree Court was completed in January and at Marsh Lane it was all finalised by February – which meant the team smashed their original completion deadline.
Now the system is up and running all the staff are now asking how on earth they managed with the old one for so long? Employees and members of the council can now pick up their laptop to go to a meeting and all of their information is readily available. There is no need to disconnect, reconnect and wait for things to load up. Another part of the solution was to allow councillors to have their own private internet access and connection which the council hopes will go some way to helping them become a paperless office.
The NFDC team have had excellent feedback and better still, the project came in under budget. Ultimately, the solution is allowing staff to work smarter which saves staff time. And that includes the IT staff too. The solution is all looked after in-house and as a cloud-based system, there is no hardware to manage. All they have to do is log into a web browser and configure their settings. It couldn’t be easier.