By David Bicknell
The York-based Value Added Reseller Trustmarque Solutions recently hosted a roundtable on the current ICT issues faced by public sector organisations and the consequences of the budget cuts laid out in the Comprehensive Spending Review.
The Campaign4Change was one of participants, which also included Trustmarque’s public sector clients such as the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Hampshire Health Informatics Service, HQ Land Forces and South London & Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. Other participants included Digital Systems Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), Pink Elephant, Campaign4Change, Computer Weekly, The British Computer Society and First Base Technologies.
Some of the key questions debated and discussed focused on: How will investments be funded if a department has no additional ICT budget to invest? How will services be shared in departments that are operating to individual mandates? How will resources be shared if security levels change in a non-linear fashion? Technology topics under discussion included Cloud Computing and the idea of taking more services online, creating a modern IT infrastructure and the benefits of consolidation, virtualisation and hosted solutions, security and risk management and of course doing more with less and optimising the IT environment.
The fact that many public sector organisations have acquired a wide range of equipment and applications that have lengthy life spans and which continue to run today, 30 or 40 years after they were introduced continues to be a significant challenge.
Ian Osborne, Director Digital Systems KTN stated: “What we are finding is that while there is considerable appetite to consolidate, update, reduce costs and carbon emissions etc., for many migrating to a virtualised, commodity and modern infrastructure is simply not a practical option as there is limited budget available to invest in new technologies. This puts considerable stress on the need to update existing systems which will underpin the government programme to reduce the deficit.”
Ian Osborne went on to say: “Organisations want to deliver more services online to reduce cost and energy usage, with almost 70 percent of UK citizens online sharing resources and infrastructure that is required to achieve this. Most organisations only use about 10 percent of their server capability. Something has got to give. The only way we can move forward in the ‘Big Society’ vision is to change our server usage.”
David Hardy, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust said that his challenge was to sweat existing assets, finding software and systems with unnecessary functional duplication and realising the additional benefits that are frequently tucked away out of sight. Other cost cutting and efficiency measures undertaken include server virtualisation, migration to Voice over IP for internal telephony, migrating from legacy WAN technologies and consolidating comms suppliers. ICT are enabling the rest of the business to access savings via video conferencing, remote working and provisioning hot desk functionality via thin client and VoIP.
Lee McKenzie of HQ Land Forces commented: “It is all about making the most of reducing budgets and getting more out of the money that we have already spent by seeing how we can optimise our existing infrastructure. McKenzie went on to say that one of the key things stopping his organisation from moving to new platforms and technologies such as the Cloud is that it has hundreds of overlapping applications covering 27 different services, therefore he concluded: “We would need to consolidate before we can even think about moving to the Cloud.”
The conversation also discussed the state of Government IT with the recent departure of Government CIO John Suffolk in mind. The Campaign4Change’s view was that “although there has been much discussion about G-Cloud in the past year, there is no central Government ICT strategy in place. That is still under discussion and what public sector organisations need right now is greater certainty and strong leadership with a clear vision and strategy they can believe in. I certainly believe that there is an opportunity for smaller and medium-sized organisations to break the procurement mould. There are new reformers out there who should be rewarded for their innovation, not thwarted by some civil servants who prefer to keep the status quo.”
Other discussion topics included risk mitigation, data protection and security. Peter Wood from the British Computer Society and First Base Technologies felt that awareness of security in government had positively soared: “Nowadays there are fines for councils and public sector organisations if computers are found to be unencrypted. However public sector funding for security investment and infrastructure is still tied.” He added: “Where Cloud is concerned many councils have to use a UK data centre and there are some very sensitive areas such as Child Support and Social Services that would need robust security processes in place before outsourcing to the Cloud.”
Finally, Barry Goodall, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea summed up what he felt the road ahead for public sector organisations looked like: “Today and for the foreseeable future it is all about continual change. Change is the norm, so you had better get used to it – in fact to not only survive but thrive you need to embrace it. I can only describe it as a journey that we are all on, where the end destination is unknown.”
Summing up, Mark Penny of Trustmarque Solutions felt that the one of the primary challenges facing public sector procurement in the current economic climate is the perceived need to prioritise price ahead of value. “Rarely does price advantage equate to best overall value,” said Penny. “Whilst tendered frameworks enable customers to procure their project output requirement or shopping list at the lowest possible price, there is far greater value to be had by working closely with genuine value-added resellers such as Trustmarque to significantly reduce the output requirement itself! Engaging your reseller earlier in the process is the only reliable means of realising substantial cost savings.”
Trustmarque recently launched a Work Smart Cost Savings Campaign on 1st September 2010, which is designed to help public sector organisations squeeze out costs and stretch budgets further to deliver optimum value on their IT investments.