Computers don’t respect boundaries so why does council IT?
One of the under-appreciated parts of any local authority is its IT department. Unseen by members of the public and bemoaned by council staff people only care about IT when their computer stops working and even then it is assumed that it is just some stupid IT tech who has got something wrong.
This is, of course, silly and local authorities are becoming increasingly reliant on all sorts of IT networks, applications and systems. In today’s guest post, a ‘techy’ (which is a technical term!) discusses how savings can be made, even within the increasingly complex information technology world.
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It has been obvious to me for some time that many public sector budget items have been unnecessarily duplicated time and time again for no apparent reason other than territorial integrity. Centralised procurement of goods and services has been highlighted as one area where huge savings can be made.
Imagine, for example, a hugely efficient private sector operation like McDonalds allowing each branch to negotiate and buy its own supplies of buns and burgers etc from different suppliers. It’s total nonsense since there is no way that the best deals on price and quality could be negotiated other than by one or two central buyers speaking for the whole McDonalds empire with its massive buying power.
Yet, for reasons of history and cultural difference this is just how vast chunks of the public sector have been operating with the inevitable result that individual departments have been spending far more than they needed to on everything from paperclips to computers.
The trend towards using the public sector’s huge buying power to drive down costs by aggregating purchases has clearly been gaining momentum since the Coalition’s ambitious cuts have been announced and most local authorities have been busy investigating every line of budget looking for savings, any savings.
Nor is it just the area of everyday office supplies, and hamburger buns, that can generate substantial savings. Increasingly, there is a recognition that vital ICT services can be aggregated so that a disparate collection of local government agencies can share expensive items like networks.
And here comes the technical bit (apologies for those not involved in IT!!!):
Socitm is the professional association for ICT managers working in and for the public sector network and, as many as 60 % of the organisations represented by Socitm members reported in 2009 that they already had some form of shared networking.
Expect this number to increase very quickly and for the 60% to be expanding their sharing very quickly.
Socitm Consulting have examined benchmarking data for the provision of voice and data services in various types of local authority and concluded that where voice and data services share a common network, savings of around 25% on contracted service costs can typically be achieved. That’s thousands of pounds that won’t have to be found from the frontline.
They also conclude that this figure can be raised still higher where IT services and applications are provided by one partner via a shared network to other partner agencies on the same network. This achieves significant additional visible savings such as reduced staff and accommodation costs.
A prime example of this is www.kentconnects.gov.uk , an “ aggregated community “ which won a 2010 E-government excellence award in the shared services category. Linked to the Government Connect Secure eXtranet (GCSX). It’s believed that this saved £1 million for the county in savings and efficiencies which is no small beer.
One very useful by-product of such large capacity networks is that they can provide the platform for the inclusion of rural “not spots” where the digital highway presently peters out to the detriment of new business growth. It seems there is no limit to the number of winners in the race to aggregate services via network sharing.
And for the non-techies; you’re back in the game:
In conclusion, local authorities are already looking at their IT contracts and asking where the savings can be found. This is not enough; councils need to be looking to their neighbours, forgetting about their administrative boundaries and looking for solutions that not only save money but can add value for their frontline services and local residents. IT moves on so quickly this might just be possible.