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Software services stopped Bedfordshire Police running up huge phone bills

"IT and me don't get on very well. I use it to aid me in my job," says Nigel Green, Special Constabulary Co-ordinator for Bedfordshire Police. Like many people, he has more important things to do, including the co-ordination and scheduling of over 200 special constables.

These volunteer police officers give up their free time to help the regular force. The most common duties are at weekends where there are more alcohol-related offences. However, scheduling the specials was proving increasingly frustrating. He explained that until recently supervisors scheduled officers by telephoning them on their mobiles: a time-consuming and expensive process.

This is why he welcomed Roger Wilshaw's offer to develop a website that would help the process of co-ordination. Wilshaw's day job was in IT and he evaluated a number of different options before settling on Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services.

Fewer phone calls

The system, which went live in August 2005, allows the constabulary to post up duties (i.e. requirements for specials) on a secure website. The specials get an email to notify them of the job and they can log onto the site, see the duties on a calendar and volunteer with the click of a mouse. "The added beauty of SharePoint is that the supervisor will get an alert whenever someone adds themselves to a duty," says Wilshaw.

95 per cent of the specials in the area have access to computers, and the two or three who do not can use PCs at their police station while they are on duty.

Bulletin boards

However, the site is not just used as a public diary. There is an announcements section for the whole site and individual bulletin boards for each division. There's also an online forum for discussing issues, training information and access to computer based training tools.

Access is strictly controlled so that only special constables have access and leavers are removed from the system immediately. All connections with the site are encrypted using SSL - the same security standard that is used in ecommerce to protect credit card information.

We're policemen, not geeks

Quote�Let someone else deal with the setup, configuration, maintenance and technical support�End Quote

Letting Cobweb host and manage Windows SharePoint Services rather than installing and running their own server made a lot of sense to Green and Wilshaw. After all, they're volunteer policemen, not volunteer IT consultants. - let someone else deal with the setup, configuration, maintenance and technical support.

Many businesses face similar issues. They need to encourage interaction across business divisions, cut down on unnecessary paperwork, keep track of changes to important documents and ensure that everyone has access to the latest, correct information.

Many large companies do this with an intranet - essentially a private website - and this is exactly what SharePoint does. Accessing it as a software service (rather than installing it in on dedicated server in your own office) means that the technology is available to a far wider range of businesses.

What next?

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How to buy

If you've decided that hosted services are right for you, or just want information about a specific solution, contact one of these suppliers for more information:

- BT

- Cobweb

- Webfusion

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