V3 Enterprise Mobility Summit: Shropshire Council is embracing the use of cloud tools and mobility services to reduce its real estate requirements and let staff work where they wish.
The shift in technology use at the council is indicative of the way that trends such as mobile and cloud are changing the way organisations can work.
The IT manager for Shropshire Council, Barry Wilkinson (pictured), explained to V3 that, since coming on board 18 months ago, he has overseen a radical overhaul of the organisation’s IT use and working methods.
This has included moving from the use of BlackBerry smartphones and Apple iPads to Microsoft Lumia and Surface Pro 3 devices, and turning to cloud services so that staff can access services from any location.
Wilkinson said that he looked at each of the major operating systems when signing a new mobile contract with Vodafone, and eventually plumped for Windows Phone over Android and iOS owing to the corporate functions on offer.
“We like the Lumias as they gave us the usability of BlackBerrys but with better editing and other functions for documents in Word or Excel, while the Microsoft InTune management system has replaced Sophos as our mobile device management tool, which is fully managed from the cloud.”
There are now 800 Lumia smartphones in use among staff that are managed by the council. Furthemore, the use of iPads in the council is slowly being phased out in favour of the Surface Pro 3 (pictured below):
“As the iPads become poorly and have to come to hospital we will try and repair them when we can, but if not we issue a new Surface Pro 3,” explained Wilkinson.
There are about 35 Surface Pro devices now in use and around 400 iPads still in circulation, although this balance is expected to shift throughout the year.
Wilkinson explained that moving to a bring your own device (BYOD) set-up was not feasible when first considering the council’s mobility strategy owing to government restrictions.
“Eighteen months ago BYOD wasn’t an option for us. The Public Sector Network requirements for local government are quite tight about what you can put on your device,” he said.
One problem was that if a user wanted to use their device on the network it had to be fitted with tools to delete data. “It was a bit more like donate your own device,” said Wilkinson. “Would you want to lose your family photos or video?”
Wilkinson admits that it is frustrating having to carry two devices and that he hopes the major manufacturers move towards the idea of containers within devices to split work and personal information.
In spite of this, the use of mobile devices at the council for work purposes has radically altered the way the organisation operates. Home and remote working is now commonplace, something the council is making a top priority.
“We have a zero accommodation strategy in place, so we have to create a flexible workforce that can do real mobile working. We already offer flexible hours so why not flexible locations?” he said.
Using the cloud has been central to this and Office 365 has “led the way”, according to Wilkinson.
“Office 365 saves me a fortune. There's no more Exchange hosted on premise any more or new storage purchases. It’s all about OneDrive and SharePoint.”
Putting the tools most commonly used by staff in the cloud also means that they are always accessible from mobile devices.
“We have managed to shut down three buildings so far,” he said, noting that reducing datacentre ownership remains a challenge, but one that must be addressed.
“We like to go to the datacentre and check the lights are flashing but we don’t need to do that anymore," said Wilkinson.
“I can’t deliver the services I need to deliver and maintain from the datacentre. IT needs investment and it is pointless me spending millions on hardware and storage area networks when no-one will be here in two years' time.”
Wilkinson admits that for some staff the idea of moving to an ‘office-less future’ is something of a “culture shock” as they enjoy the “canteen or watercooler” moments, but this is something he believes will change in time.
“Council buildings are not that exciting,” he added.
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