Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council
Local authority public services – including social care, housing, and environmental services
Approximately 4,500 ICT enabled staff supporting more than 238,000 citizens
Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council (RCTCBC) is a local authority county borough in the south-east of Wales. They provide the local population of 237,700 people with a wide range of public services, including social care, housing, and environmental services.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a seismic effect on RCTCBC. Almost overnight, the Council were forced to switch most staff to home working to ensure public services were not disrupted. They had been using approximately 300 laptops for remote working, but the Council quickly expanded that capability to deploy around 3,000 remotely connected devices.
At the time, RCTCBC were relying on an incumbent supplier platform to manage and secure network traffic. However, the networking system was not without its problems, as Gareth Pearce, Head of Technology at Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council explains. "It was overly complex and not especially intuitive," he says. "There were also growing security risks as home network devices and data switched back into the data centre." As IT is not the primary job role of many of the Council’s network users, ease of use was a key requirement for the remote connectivity solution.
The pandemic also sparked another catalyst for change. The Welsh Government has recently published a policy document titled “Smarter working, a remote working strategy for Wales.” It encourages people and organisations across Wales to adopt a flexible working strategy, enabling them to work not only in the office but also at home, at a local hub, or in other locations. The Welsh Government aims to get 30% of the Welsh workforce working from or near home during the current Parliament (Senedd) term.
"Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council has sought to adopt this approach," says Gareth. "For years, staff have commuted – sometimes long distances – every day, creating congestion and pollution and diminishing the work-life balance. While certain services do require office-bound work, our own Hybrid Working policy focuses on helping staff stay productive, stay local, and use local services whilst making it a sustainable model for future generations."
RCTCBC identified that they required a secure network connectivity strategy to:
After an exhaustive evaluation, RCTCBC decided on Palo Alto Networks Prisma Access to provide 3,000 staff with secure, easy access to applications and data – whether working from the Council offices, their homes, or remotely from other locations.
With the superior security of Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) 2.0, Prisma Access protects hybrid workforces while providing exceptional user experiences with a simple, unified security product. Purpose-built in the cloud to secure at cloud scale, only Prisma Access ZTNA 2.0 protects all application traffic with best-in-class capabilities while securing both access and data to dramatically reduce the risk of a data breach. Unlike a virtual private network (VPN), which grants complete access to a local area network (LAN), the ZTNA 2.0 capabilities delivered from Prisma Access only allow access to services the user has been explicitly granted. All of this is managed through the unified Panorama management console.
Most recently, RCTCBC has introduced Autonomous Digital Experience Management (ADEM) to gain extra visibility and insights across network traffic and autonomous remediation. With the ADEM add-on for Prisma Access, RCTCBC now gains native visibility into mobile user and remote network application and network performance. ADEM provides segment-wise insights across the entire service delivery path, with real and synthetic traffic analysis – to enable the ability to drive autonomous remediation – including new remote user self-service remediation with ADEM Self-Serve – of digital experience problems when they arise.
"In certain parts of Wales, connectivity can be weak – and ADEM allows us to quickly pinpoint network problems," explains Gareth. "For example, if someone struggles to connect at home, we can see whether the problem lies with their Wi-Fi network, router, or the ISP. Sometimes, it’s just a case of asking their kids to stop using the PS5!"
Palo Alto Networks Prisma Access benefits RCTCBC in many ways. For example, it:
Optimises public services security: Council staff frequently deal with highly sensitive data, such as data about vulnerable people. Prisma Access helps protect this and all other data, providing least-privileged access while reducing risk with continuous trust and threat verification.
"Government is sometimes seen as a soft target for attacks. Prisma Access provides secure, automated access to our applications in the cloud. ADEM augments this protection, providing actionable intelligence about all activity within the Council network," says Gareth.
Drives agile, responsive citizen services delivery: Staff can connect safely from anywhere. During the pandemic, for example, 3,000+ RCTCBC staff switched to secure home working within days. This ability to pivot at pace helped ensure the uninterrupted delivery of social care, housing, schools, and other vital services.
Ensures exceptional user experience: Council staff can connect quickly and securely to the RCTCBC network, accessing Office 365 and any other permitted applications in a rewarding hybrid environment. Gareth explains: "Prisma Access strips away the complexity from secure remote working. Our staff simply click on the icon and they are online."
Increases efficiency: Using a unified product with single pane of glass visibility and management, consistent policy, and shared data for all users and apps dramatically reduces the total cost of ownership and the risk of a data breach.
RCTCBC is now deploying ML-Powered Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFW) to monitor and inspect traffic moving laterally within the network. This east-west security will identify and block known and unknown threats as well as unauthorised access attempts. "Make no mistake, we are keen to leverage the power of the Palo Alto Networks portfolio," says Gareth.