Reducing the cost of the desktop
The cost of the desktop, when multiplied by the number of devices in use in a council, is a very significant expense. The variability shown from the Socitm Benchmarking data on desktop costs shows the extent of the savings that are possible - and these are only touching the surcface. Driving down the cost to 50% of its current value is certainly not out of the question.
To be clear about what the costs of the desktop consist of, the costs are made up of:
- Procurement - the cost of the procurement process itself (which in some cases can be out of proportion to the value of the goods purchased)
- The equipment and software - whether purchased, leased or bought as a service
- The configuration and delivery costs - much depends on how standardised the configurations are and how many variants are offered
- The training given to users (is it part of the same budget?)
- The support offered through the service desk
- Maintenancce costs (maintenance contracts, warranties, costs of spares)
- Software licence management
- Asset management tasks
- The network costs, and the server infrastructure to support the desktop
- Consumables - rationalisation can reduce costs
- Power - the power consumed by the desktop over its life - can be the largest single cost
- Cost of failure - the additional costs incurred when desktop systems are out of action
- Disposal - the cost of disposing of the equipment at end of life
There are opportunities for reducing costs in all of the above, but a few stand put as critical to making a real impact on the budget.
Virtualisation/centralisation/thin client - replacing the traditional networked PC with a thin client, or virtual desktop, or cloud-based desktop offers immense cost savings in many of the above categories. Much of the support is greatly simplified - being based on centralsied servers rather than on dispersed PCs, fault management is largely reduced to replacing the desktop device when necessary, cost of equipment is much reduced and frequency of procurement/replacement is markedly reduced - some ocuncils are now taling of replaicng only every 7 years or even more.
There are barriers to this however - it takes time to implement, so there needs to be a clear plan of action, with other mechanisms in place to minimise costs while the transition is taking place; there may be resistance from staff who may feel a loss of control, and from IT staff who feel less directly engaged with supporting the users.
Procurement - there are many horror stories of councils' financial regulations and procurement frameworks getting in the way of common sense approaches to procurement. As a result many counciuls are spending more on their desktop equipment than they need. When it comes to software licences, councils gererally are so confused by the licensing deals available that they err on the safe side and over-license - hence more cost. The key to reducing the procurement cost is first to procure less - see virtualisation above - which allows equipment to be used for a much longer period without replacement, and second to be inventive in getting the best deals - e-auctions, for example, seem to be doing it for some councils.
Operating systems - it is rare to find a council that has just one operating system in use throughout the whole organisation; most of course are using MIscrosoft, but a wide variety of Windows 2000, XP, Vista, Windows 7 and even some others; this all adds to the cost - so standardising on one can reduce the costs.
Open source - many councils are looking at the possibility of using open source software for the desktop - products such as Star Office - which are free to use, and which offer compatibilty with the Microsoft Office suite. But in reality, there are difficulties in making the change. Many of the line-of-business systems used by councils depend on integration with Microsoft products and there is little interest shown by suppliers to integrate with open source products. Equally, councils have to communicate with the outside world, where Microsoft products are so often the de facto standard. So making the change is not easy and may require support at a regional or national level to help make it happen.
Service desk management - many councils have already made great inroads into reducing the costs of desktop support, through implementing ITIL, using effective service desk systems, and empowering service desk staff to deliver an effective service. But for real savings, the answer seems to lie in better user training (reduce the demands on the service desk), virtualisation and centralisation (to reduce the diversity of the supported desktop base), and outsourcing the desktop completely (losing the service desk management issue at the same time).
So the ideal solution seems to be:
- a virtual desktop environment
- using client-end equipment through an extended lifecycle of 7 years or more
- perhaps buying the virtual desktop as a service from outside the organisation
- losing, or greatly reducing, the procurement costs
- losing, or greatly reducing, the support costs.
Residual problems seem to be:
- Home working - home workers consume more than average service desk time - because so much depends on their own web connectivity, the equipment in their own home, and their skill level
- Elected members - who often attract "VIP" status as service users, and whose demands on the service desk can be considerable.
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