Last October’s Comprehensive Spending Review has affected virtually all areas of the public sector, with the Government’s annual technology budget of £16bn being no exception. Today, IT departments across the public sector – from local councils to the largest government departments – are being asked to make efficiency savings.
As John McClelland’s Scottish Government Review of the ICT Infrastructure in Scotland report identifies, if the public sector were to strategise its ICT implementations, it could stand to save £1bn over five years. And with Westminster cutting Scottish budgets by £1.3bn this year, all avenues of cost saving must be actively pursued.
There are three ways in which I believe public sector organisations can make significant cost savings through the smart implementation of technology:
Server virtualization and creation of shared cloud
One of the simplest ways – and one singled out by the Government as a recommended strategy for cost savings – is through straightforward server virtualisation.
This is where IT infrastructure, primarily servers and data centres, are optimised so applications require 90 per cent fewer physical machines to run. This method can dramatically cut capital and operational expenditure through lower hardware, maintenance and energy costs. Organisations that have virtualized their server estates have seen costs reduced by up to 70 per cent and benefitted from the ability to deploy and manage servers much more rapidly – creating considerable time savings.
While many public sector organisations will already have virtualized some parts of their infrastructure, not all take full advantage of what the technology can offer. One organisation that certainly does is Camden Council. When it needed to drastically decrease ongoing investment in new hardware, as well as negate the need to invest a significant amount of capital in a new data centre facility, it turned to virtualising its server infrastructure, and saved an estimated £600,000 – a quarter of this on power alone. The council is also currently working towards the goal of reducing its IT budget by 25 per cent by 2014, and virtualization is playing a crucial part in helping deliver this.
Some of the most advanced public sector organisations are using VMware to revolutionise server estates by creating local cloud computing facilities, which can be accessed and rented out across local institutions effectively as an outsourced service. Not only does this help drive revenues for the cloud host organisation, but it also helps reduce IT costs for the organisations consuming the cloud shared service – in much the same way as they would from any commercial supplier.
Build, scale and run applications in the cloud
As an infrastructure is ultimately there to support applications, it is important for companies to consider the way they approach applications as after all, this can affect both OpEx (operational expenditure) and Agility costs. With many organisations looking to the cloud era as an opportunity to modernise many existing applications and enhance their capabilities to provide more value to the business, they need to be able to develop and roll out applications much more quickly.
Therefore, public sector organisations have to start considering cloud services which will enable their applications to be ready for a hybrid cloud world, and to take advantage of the new applications that are emerging in the consumer world – such as social networks or online collaboration.
Cloud application layers, and technologies such as VMware’s vFabric can speed up development by 50 per cent and enable organisations to deploy applications to a runtime environment that is ideally suited for virtual infrastructures and appropriate for the needs of modern applications.
Simplifying end-user computing
The way users interact with tools and technology has a big impact on the way they carry out their work. At the moment, end user computing within the public sector is complex, costly and not meeting requirements. Organisations might be regularly refreshing their hardware and software, but they aren’t making changes significant enough to make their workers more productive.
With the consumerisation of IT, users are now more sophisticated and have better devices at home than those they are given to use at work and, in fact, if an organisation gives an employee an older piece of equipment to work on, it’s likely that they’ll find a way to use their newer, better device instead, regardless of whether or not it’s set up to comply with the company’s security measures.
Of course, if public sector organisations were to virtualise their IT estates, then they can enable their workers to access their desktop through any device – no matter where they are. Organisations can therefore let employees collaborate across applications and data from any device, safe in the knowledge that the environment is fully managed, safe and secure.
The key message from the above three examples is: Don’t be afraid of innovation. The potential scale of public sector ICT transformation is clearly an enormous undertaking. Cost reduction is key, but in addition, the highly virtualised and automated infrastructure platforms will deliver agility in application provision, to enable IT to respond to global incidents and the fiscal benefits of a cost model based on OpEx.
There are, however, some challenges to overcome on the journey to the cloud. Competing commercial models, concerns over information assurance and general cultural resistance all need to be addressed. Yet, as we have seen in the examples above and in the successes of the many other public sector organisations who have already started on this journey, these challenges are being faced, attacked and ultimately resolved, allowing for easier and more widespread adoption of the cloud approach in the future.
Andy Tait is Head of UK Public Service Strategy at VMWare and Former Deputy Director, G-Cloud, Apps Store and Data Centre Consolidation at the Cabinet Office