At Socitm’s East Midlands meeting in Loughborough last week, our former Vice Chair of the East Midlands region, Warwick Andrew, delivered a session covering observations he’s made of our Improve service.
Improve – a bespoke programme which gives local government and public sector organisations the real picture of their ICT services – covers five modules: Estate, Performance, Cost, Digital, and User Satisfaction.
Over the summer, Warwick was one of two consultants that visited Socitm’s Improve customers as far apart as Cornwall and Shetland, on the hunt for excellence. But what does ‘Good’ look like?
‘Good’ can look different to different people: very low costs can be a major achievement, or a sign of underinvestment; relatively few service desk calls can mean a very robust service, or it could mean users avoid using it; very low costs of acquiring equipment can mean excellent procurement practice, or it could suggest a failure to procure the right equipment for user needs. And so on.
So, what did Warwick notice on his far-flung travels? Around dreaded austerity, many of the visited councils have seen dramatic reductions in spend over the last five years, but this is by no means consistent; some IT departments having lost near 30% of their numbers and budget, others hardly any.
One council was just starting the process of reducing its staff numbers, indicating that in 2018 its service desk would levels would drop from of 21 to 17 people; which, as the council in question only had about 2,500 users, struck Warwick as long overdue. Overall, the local authority still had about one member of IT staff for every 25 users – 45 to 60 would be more normal.
Three of the council’s visited had recently taken services back in house, which appears to be part of a trend. Certainly, the inability of outsource partners to have business models that shrink as well as expand are a factor, as cost bases decrease, Warwick noted. However, the failure to respond to business changes and meet user satisfaction levels was also quoted. None of the services he visited have a predominately outsourced provision anymore.
Meanwhile, no organisation fully supports schools any longer, with most having no relationship beyond either network connections to a corporate core or application maintenance for a schools package.
Having worked on a number of sites undergoing desktop virtualisation projects, Warwick was surprised by the number of sites he visited that have either never embarked on such a thin client/desktop virtualisation project or have rolled back implementations. For two clients, the whole experience of attempting a desktop virtualisation has been regarded as a disaster. Warwick highlighted that the common factor appears to be the reliability issues having a centralised system causes, with resilience measures not being sufficient to cope with Citrix issues (none of the sites surveyed had used VMWare).
According to Warwick, one council has instigated the removal of all desk phones and replaced them all with smartphones; something Warwick thinks may be worth investigating as business case for others.
Finally, flexible working. Warwick said that, whilst IT departments are supplying lots of tablets and laptops for others to work flexibly, the number of IT staff working from home appears not to have changed much in recent times, with presence on site still valued.
So, plenty of observations so far! If you’d like to know more about our Improve service, please visit the website.