SANDWELL Council is planning to spend millions on “enhanced” security updates for its entire IT system.

The authority is set to award a £4.7 million three-year contract to IT consultants Phoenix Software to carry out the upgrade for the “enhanced” security offered by Microsoft. 

A further £459,000 would be spent on servers and ‘cloud’ storage and another £266,000 on artificial intelligence (AI) software. 

Sandwell Council said not upgrading its IT system could leave the authority open to months of disruption, “excessive” clean-up costs and “destroy” its reputation. 

Most councils across the Black Country and the West Midlands, including the West Midlands Combined Authority, are in the process of upgrading or have already upgraded to Microsoft Enterprise 5 (E5).

The council’s current contract ends in March.

Sandwell Council’s cabinet will discuss the contract at a meeting today (Wednesday February 7).

“Cyber security resilience is a de-facto necessity for any organisation reliant on ICT business applications and electronic data,” the latest cabinet papers explained.

“The council is now wholly dependent on technology for the provision of its front-line services.  The council said the threat of a successful cyber attack had risen “dramatically.”

“The failure of the council to protect itself from a successful cyber attack would be widespread,” the report continued. 

“There is now a nationwide feeling of not if an attack will occur but when. The consequences are multiple and evidenced by successful attacks which have previously occurred in Hackney, Gloucester, and Copeland. 

“All resulted in significant business disruption and expensive recovery and clean-up costs.”

The council also said it would be signing up for Microsoft’s artificial intelligence (AI) software Copilot at a cost of £266,000 across the three years. 

“The award for 300 licenses is the minimal quantity able to be purchased and allows for us to trial, evaluate and understand the capability and use cases,” the council said.

“It is recognised that not every employee requires Copilot and will never be licensed for everyone. 

“By taking the minimum quantity of 300 will allow us targeted deployment and understand where it can assist with the council’s transformation programme including customer journey and business intelligence.”