Meeting discussing IT issues beset with technical glitches

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The Council’s head of IT was cut off in mid sentence by technical issues as he outlined plans to replace its current remote video conferencing system.

In a moment of pure comedy the official said he had ‘jinxed’ them as he had just reported their current system was working fairly reliably.

Mid Ulster District Council is set to trial Zoom for its virtual meetings with the decision taken during a meeting in which its current video conferencing system, Cisco WebEx, crashed twice.

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At present, Council deploys a mix of Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx and Zoom to run its services.

Mid Ulster Council officesMid Ulster Council offices
Mid Ulster Council offices

Council uses Microsoft Teams as part of its Office 365 subscription for all staff with an email address. A paper on the matter complied by Council’s IT department describes it as “invaluable tool that works well internally for staff at home and in the office”.

Council purchased Zoom last autumn to facilitate its art and culture events at a cost of £599 for five licences but noted that a subscription to cover all services required by Council would require a licence for 10 users at a cost of £1,599.

It uses Cisco WebEx to facilitate Council meetings at a cost of £1,451 for eight licences and while there were numerous problems at the beginning of virtual proceedings, these have decreased in frequency as time has gone on.

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However, in rather comical fashion, as Council’s head of IT, Barry O’Hagan was taking members of the committee through the report the system crashed, disconnecting the majority of participants.

“We obviously know and have been become acquainted with WebEx for remote working,” Mr O’Hagan told committee members.

“We have been doing that since last year and that has facilitated the fairly reliable now, and I’ll touch wood when I’m saying that, service that has allowed us to stream….”

Just as Mr O’Hagan finished the word “stream”, the service kicked out all but two participants – Councillors Darren Totten and Catherine Elattar.

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The service was restored approximately thirty seconds later with the Chair of the committee, Councillor Malachy Quinn joking, “You sort of asked for that one Barry to be fair.”

Noting that he seemed to have “jinxed the whole thing”, Mr O’Hagan started his report again to ensure all members could hear what had been said.

While not recommending members pick one system over another, Mr O’Hagan told the chamber “anecdotally, members have expressed a preference for Zoom, given that it is a simple one touch user experience”.

“We have three systems that will probably fit all of our requirements and perform equally well , given that it does not matter which solution…,” said Mr O’Hagan just as the system disconnected all but eight participants of the meeting.

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The meeting resumed, with members reconnected, approximately thirty seconds later with the head of IT advising that any choice could be implemented quickly.

Councillor Dominic Molloy said even with fibre to the premises, he still suffers from issues but asked if confidential business could be facilitated on other platforms.

“In terms of confidential business, can that be facilitated on the other platforms as well as broadcasting?”

He was advised that in the paid for options of the three products mentioned there is “sufficient controls” to manage the security of the meetings.

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Councillor Derek McKinney said he is happy with WebEx and noted it has “worked fairly well in the last few months”.

The committee Chair, Cllr Quinn said he would be minded to agree with Councillor McKinney and would be wary of end user problems should Council change systems at this point though said he would not rule out a trial of other systems.

Councillor Phelim Gildernew proposed a trial take place with Zoom noting that he has no problems with Zoom but has with WebEx.

This proposal was seconded by Councillor Dominic Molloy.

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