It is, perhaps, no understatement to say that IT departments within local government today face a raft of challenges like never before. As the public sector now braces itself for swingeing budget cuts, when the comprehensive spending review is announced by the Government on 20th October there are some uncertain times ahead and tough decisions to be made.

Against this backdrop, CIOs within local government must also continue to ensure that they can deliver effective and efficient IT services to the many individuals and departments that they serve, all at a reduced cost.

The evolution of the workplace also means that technology has moved well beyond simply a ‘utility’ service in place to keep the wheels turning, and must function as a business ‘enabler’ to address specific requirements such as transformational changes in working practices, facilitating flexible working , greater mobility for the workforce and, above all, driving efficiency gains.

Delivering More with Less 

Viewed in the light of these changes and the age-old pressures of ‘delivering more with less’ what options are available for the CIO tasked with fulfilling these multiple objectives? The introduction of new work methods and more flexible work patterns in local government now means that a more fluid IT structure is required and has signalled a move away from the traditional one PC per person, per desk, per work place. The traditional client – server infrastructures are becoming expensive to support and do not provide the flexibility and mobility needed by today’s users.

Here we consider how application and desktop virtualisation technologies can be used to meet these challenges whilst containing costs and why these technologies are now poised for take-off in the public sector.

The twin demands of flexibility and efficiency 

As part of the drive towards getting more from existing assets, a number of local authorities have followed the approach of private sector business and moved towards a ‘hot desking’ environment, which in order to free up office space, means that one PC is used by many users, across many sessions, to create greater flexibility.

As far back as 2000, this was identified by the Audit Commission as a cost saving solution for those staff not based solely in the office, for example, social workers, building surveyors, education welfare officers and advisers, inspectors and internal audit staff. The cost benefits of such an approach have been widely documented and consultants* recently predicted that flexible work practices could cut the £6bn public sector property costs by up to a fifth.

One solution for enabling greater flexibility lies in the introduction of Application Virtualisation (Server Based Computing) or Desktop Virtualisation technologies (VDI). With this approach, not only are the applications hosted by the servers within a single datacentre, but also the whole desktop, including the operating system that is usually installed on a physical workstation.

As the operating systems and applications are not directly installed on user desktops but on servers, IT managers can significantly reduce the administration burden of managing individual desktops. Introducing these technologies means that a true hot-desking environment can be introduced enabling the user to have flexible access at the desktop, as well as remote access when travelling or home working.

Application and Desktop Virtualisation: Driving Down Costs and Improving Services 

Desktop and application virtualisation are good examples of how IT can become a positive force for enabling organisational flexibility and reducing annual IT budgets. With desktop virtualisation, operations such as maintenance and security, back-ups of data and updating applications are centralised and this can help organisations to make significant savings on their operational and management costs.

In fact, Gartner estimates in an independent study that organisations will be able to save between 40% and 70% on overall operating costs per user, per month by implementing an application or desktop virtualisation solution, while the Butler Group states that organisations can save around 50% on energy costs by switching to thin clients instead of operating personal computers.

Whilst the cost reduction figures make for a compelling reason to move to either application or desktop virtualisation, the benefits don’t stop there. Introducing application and virtualisation technologies brings additional gains associated with a centralised infrastructure; from improved license compliance and management as well as the introduction of additional cost saving technologies – such as Voice over IP (VoIP) and Thin Clients.

Application virtualisation and VDI can also improve business continuity arrangements including remote/home working – a key consideration following the harsh winter in the UK last year which left many workers unable to reach their offices.

From a data security perspective, centralising application and data resources at the data centre, plays a part in providing secure access to an organisations data. As instances of data loss in the public sector continue to hit the headlines – and the costs associated with loss of data rise – any technologies which help to mitigate security risks make for a sound investment.

With more attention now focussed on green initiatives, embodied by the introduction of the Carbon Reduction Commitment, application or desktop virtualisation is also an enabling technology for the deployment of thin clients which will dramatically reduce power consumption at the desktop with savings up to ten times that of traditional PCs. This in itself represents a substantial reduction in an organisation’s carbon footprint.

The bottom line 

Finding new and innovative ways of delivering effective and efficient IT services whilst reducing costs looks set to dominate the agenda for CIO’s in local authorities. With application and desktop virtualisation, organisations can drive direct efficiency gains and cost savings on many levels. That is why, in these cost conscious times, it’s a technology that looks set for even wider adoption.