Infrastructure > Hardware

Cheshire councils tidy up the desktop loose ends

Tracey Caldwell Published 05 December 2011

Cheshire councils tidy up the desktop loose ends

How Cheshire East borough council and Cheshire West and Chester council exploited existing data to use their IT estate more efficiently, writes Tracey Caldwell

An important element of the efficient allocation of IT resources is to know exactly what you have and who is using it.

A shared service between Cheshire East borough council and Cheshire West and Chester council, set up in 2009 after seven local authorities in the county merged, has provided an example of how many loose ends can appear, and how the relevant data can be exploited to manage the desktop estate more efficiently.

City of Chester and Cheshire West replaced Chester, Vale Royal and Ellesmere Port and Neston councils, while Congleton, Macclesfield, and Crewe and Nantwich councils were merged into Cheshire East. Following the merger the councils realised they did not know which staff they had where in many cases. So they decided to take a user focused approach, first to locate all their staff and find out what IT everyone was using in detail, before planning a user-centric desktop redesign across the councils.

"There was a fairly big programme of voluntary redundancy, and if we are honest we dropped the ball somewhat in terms of who we had got, where they were, what they were doing and who they belonged to at times. It was making sense of that and also having the opportunity to say 'If we are going to do that we know that we need to transform the desktop too'," says Alan Myatt, ICT programme manager for Cheshire East.

Cheshire East's move away from thinking about IT changes in terms of infrastructure represented a significant culture change. "It has been a big change for us, a real change in emphasis, and one of the things that has driven it is this desire to understand our user base," Myatt says.

The councils used software and consultancy from Centrix to exploit data, which was already being collected but not used, from existing asset tools such as Vector and ActiveDirectory.

"We started with the most fundamental thing how many users we have and that generated an interesting fact. The disaggregation of county staff was based on relative populations of the two boroughs and notionally we are the bigger county on a 51:49 split. But when we got the feedback Cheshire West has far more IT users than we do, it is something like 4,500 to 4000, and that was a surprise to everybody," Myatt says.

The other surprise was the asset register saying the council should have about 6,000 devices when there were only 4,000 people. "There was a big question about do we really have 2,000 instances of cupboardware, or in the hurly burly of reorganisation has stuff been disposed of, not accounted for?"

The analytics exercise was supported by more engagement with users. An example was to ask, when unauthorised software had been discovered, why it had been implemented. This flagged up the need for some software not provided by the council.

Drilling down into the data revealed that 3,000 out of 4,500 staff in one location are logging on at any one time. "We now have the user statistics that support a drive to hotdesking but also identifies those task based users who still need that one to one relationship with a desk. It becomes far less a 'one size fits all' policy to a more tailored policy to how people work," Myatt says.

He adds: "Traditionally pre-reorganisation, the county council's view was that transformation moves at the pace of the slowest person, so if there is somebody with a business critical app that needs a legacy operating system or a legacy plug-in to something, unless that was resolved we never moved.

"We recognise now that we need to turn that on its head, and at the risk of sounding like Spock, it is the needs of the many over the needs of the few. It is that forward looking platform for the bulk of our users, and then we manage the casualties. Service continuity remains the number one priority, but we can make that change and we can get on the front foot."

Getting a detailed picture of user activity, down to who is logging in using what and where, is also allowing the council to negotiate vendor and licensing agreements. For example, its Microsoft enterprise agreement was based on 4,900 users, but it found there are only 4,000 so it has renegotiated the deal.

This approach has been of huge value in smoothing the transition to shared services, according to Myatt: "It has put us in a very good position with respect to our colleagues in the west. Lots of stuff we are looking to do in terms of the desktop has to be a joint commission and it is good to know 100% that we are on the same page. We now have that shared base of information to be clear that what we are doing is in the best interests of both."

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