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London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham benefits from virtualised approach

David Bicknell Published 18 June 2013

Council benefits from Agilisys joint venture as Triborough plans develop

The recent advertisement for a single chief information officer to carry out a unified role across the London Tri-borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster City Council has demonstrated that the three councils' shared services journey is well underway.

The Tri-borough is a joint project whose vision is to combine services across specific areas in order to improve lives and make public funds go further.

In a report published in February 2011, the chief executives of the three local authorities published a report entitled, 'Bold Ideas for Challenging Times'. This set out the plan to share services, combine back office and management costs, and save £33.4m in the process, although one of the key points in the proposals was the guarantee that each council would retain its sovereignty to shape shared services to local needs.

In total, Tri-borough was reported to have saved £1m by October 2011 and is on track to achieve target savings of £33.4m by the financial year 2014/15. Additional savings of £7m are also expected to be made by 2015/16.

When it comes to IT services, all three councils have different services with differing timelines. Westminster has a contract with Serco (previously Vertex) which runs until 2014; Hammersmith and Fulham's IT is provided by a joint venture with Agilisys and the Hammersmith & Fulham Bridge partnership (HFBP) while Kensington and Chelsea has an in-house infrastructure management team coupled with a line of business support team using procured solutions. So the three boroughs have quite different models of service delivery.

"The chief information officer's role will be a single role across the three boroughs with the direction of travel being to bring the three ICT services together under one CIO," says Jackie Hudson, Director for Procurement and ICT strategy and Tri-borough ICT lead advisor at Hammersmith and Fulham. "Members are expecting proposals for that by January next year with implementation starting from April. So the expectation is that those three organisations would come together from that time, and the CIO we would expect to start around October time."


One of the key areas that Hammersmith & Fulham has succeeded in driving savings is in desktop virtualisation.

Howell Huws, Head of Business Technology at Hammersmith & Fulham, has been responsible for driving through the Web based strategy and implementing the virtual desktop over the last year of so.

"We've had a number of reasons for doing it. The cost saving is one of the key drivers. We're coming to the end of an ageing Citrix server, and so we had to do something anyway.

"We've had thin client since 1999. And because of the limitations with that, we were only able to get to 50% of our clients being thin client. We had aspirations to make that up to 80% and in fact we got beyond that to nearer 90%. Most applications now can either be delivered packaged or streamed. And what that really does is to maximise the flexibility of where people can sit. And that enables us to reduce office space. We've already converted between 80 and 85% of the devices so there are very few thick-client devices out there, though there will be some people who need to use thicker devices because there are some applications that are so memory-heavy."

Flexible working

Hudson says a major motivation for virtualisation was allowing people to work from anywhere. which generated significant cost savings.

"That means working at home, remotely or being able to be with customers, or anywhere across the office estate. It has definitely yielded savings. You're always talking big numbers in the millions when you release buildings.

"You also get significant savings in terms of the devices themselves, which are lower cost than the PCs people were using before. And equally importantly, they last a lot longer. You're talking about a ten year life typically, rather than five years for most PCs."

"There's also the fundamental question of reduced support requirements because it's being handled in the Cloud," says Huws. "And on top of that you then get two additional benefits: you can also use them for voice, so we can have all communications to the device, whereas before we couldn't. And then you can use them as soft phones. So if people want to be able to use the device from home, they can use it as a phone. That means we can have call-centre staff working with the headsets whereas previously we had to give them mobile phones. The second key area is around USB, enabling us to secure the USB drives. You get security benefits through that too."

For the last 18 months, the project has been the major one within his remit for Adam Evans, Business Delivery Partner for Agilisys, Hammersmith & Fulham's strategic partner for over ten years. It is a relationship, says Hudson, that has grown from early beginnings.

"Back in 2001 we went out to OJEU for a strategic partner to help the council transform. What we were saying in the OJEU was that we were looking at a joint venture company but we were also looking for ideas about incremental partnering. And at that point the Hammersmith & Fulham Bridge Partnership was born.

"It's a company owned by Agilisys and Hammersmith and Fulham jointly, effectively set up to provide IT services to the council and really to help with the whole transformation agenda. Agilisys helped us to pre-configure our housing benefits service to make it much better performing and transformed the whole service both with IT and also with a change in the way that we deliver the service by having the right people at the front."

Reducing the property portfolio

Adopting a virtualised desktop has enabled Hammersmith & Fulham to make significant savings through its property portfolio, says Hudson.

"We've released some major buildings across the council. One of them is in the next year and the other is in a two year timeframe. We'd expect to be able to rationalise further beyond that. But there will be conversations taking place across the Triborough about how accommodation might look in the future. We're in the early stages at this point."

Perhaps surprisingly, Hammersmith and Fulham's Triborough partners are not currently doing virtualisation, though rationalising the property estate for Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster is equally as important as it is for Hammersmith and Fulham.

"People have been at different stages of the same journey. We started ours in 2008/2009, using things like Openscape to allow you to divert telephones to wherever you happen to be working rather than relying on fixed extensions," says Huws.

"It's also a question of where people have come from," says Hudson. "Each of the boroughs has a different history. One of the boroughs when we looked at the coherence of services in terms of applications was that we'd all made our own choices and they were quite different. There are only a couple of applications that we found we had in common. Security was a concern. We have had relatively good security in place and laptops were locked down in any event. But we can move to a much more stringent regime through this."

Savings and security

According to Huws, the new regime offers better control of devices from a security perspective.

"The previous thin client device you couldn't read or write - it was so locked down. With this one, because we're able to control it on an individual device basis, we're able to provide a more nuanced approach which meets the business need. There were some increased licence costs that we hadn't anticipated. It only made a small dent in the savings that we're making."

The savings have been significant. 25-30% from the device perspective, and significantly more for the power savings, says Huws.

"The benefits for the desktop devices are around a third. Then the real savings we're finding are in relation to the laptops because we're now deploying thin client laptops rather than full laptops. The savings for those are more like half the current cost of providing a new laptop, and the devices consume a fifth of the amount of the power and give us a much better control in terms of being able to turn them off at night.

"We measured it recently and the powering up to logging on was taking 40 seconds including putting in user ID and password and the security intervention that you have to click Ok to. On a normal PC that was three and a half minutes. And because it was that amount of time, we had people complaining about the length of time and so we had to keep the computers on overnight."

Although Hammersmith & Fulham chose to force power off at night, it then had to switch devices back on early the following morning so that they were ready for people to use when they arrived at work.

Now, the council's infrastructure and set up allows it to offer an approach to bring your own device (BYOD) enabling employees to connect their iPads and other devices to connect to the council WiFi to access data in a secure way.

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