Essex County Council (ECC) plans to move its legacy and on-premise IT infrastructure to the cloud in a bid to capitalise on the success of its mobility strategy.
Will Fensom (pictured), head of architecture, security and configuration management at ECC, said at Interop 2015 that the council's IT team has ambitions to bypass the hybrid infrastructure other organisations encounter when undergoing a cloud migration.
The plans follow an overhaul of ECC's IT operations which has allowed council staff to work remotely and more flexibly.
"When we started the programme we were very much legacy and on-premise. The intention at the time was to use this 'prepare for cloud phase' as our next step, but life moves pretty fast and we're now reviewing our next step," he said.
"We are in the process of deciding whether we are going to jump directly to the cloud rather than using the individual on-premise approach as a stepping stone."
Fensom explained that the council will use Microsoft's Intune for cloud-based mobile device management, and a virtualised infrastructure delivered as a service through the cloud using hypervisors.
The council will use cloud-based Office 365 productivity tools, and also look at tapping into Microsoft's Azure public cloud platform.
Councils have often said that data security concerns have held them back from adopting the cloud, but Fensom noted that all ECC data is classified as 'Official', the lowest security grade for public sector data, meaning that it can be stored in a public cloud.
Migrating to the cloud will be the second part of ECC's IT transformation, which began in 2011 with a move to make its IT operations and systems more mobile.
"When ECC started the journey to a mobile workforce, we had a desktop and laptop estate, but these things were failing. We had Windows XP at a time when everyone was worried about the end of support," said Fensom.
"Most of our users were actually fixed desk workers. Everyone came in and sat at the same space on the same desk. Unfortunately, our average log-on time was two and a half minutes."
Fensom added that the log-in time at one location was regularly 25 minutes. The situation meant that the ECC's IT costs were out of control, and its approach to technology lacked performance indicators to measure its effectiveness.
The council's workers were not satisfied with the old IT systems, which Fensom said were "really bad". This prompted the IT department to change the way technology was delivered and used across the council.
"We wanted to drive a real fundamental change across the organisation and to transform the user experience, changing the perception of the IT department to a vast extent," said Fensom.
"We set about designing our systems and processes around our users and not the device or the technology. At the same time we were working to transform the culture of the organisation, enabling our teams to work virtually and effectively and to operate differently."
Analogue to digital
Fensom explained that the council offered its workers a choice of desktops, laptops and mobile devices running Windows 8 to achieve a user-centric mobility infrastructure.
The choose-your-own-device rather bring-your-own-device policy meant that the IT team could secure devices used by staff, and replace faulty ones easily without having to repair a worker's treasured personal device.
Fensom said that this allows the council to treat its workers' devices as "cattle not pets", as problems can be rapidly resolved without upsetting staff.
Mobility was also achieved by replacing 90 percent of the council's fixed physical phones with Microsoft Lync for unified communications at any location with an internet connection.
The instant messaging capabilities of Lync have reduced the email being sent across the council, and allowing workers to see when their colleagues are online means that queries and requests are less likely to go unanswered.
Fenton added that the council will migrate to Skype for Business, which Microsoft has described as the replacement for Lync in enterprises.
The council also uses Microsoft's OneNote cloud-based service to cut out the need for paper notebooks, thereby reducing cost and the council's carbon footprint.
Adding to the portfolio of Microsoft services is DirectAccess, which allows automatic connectivity to an organisation's network resources without the need for a virtual private network.
Fensom added that DirectAccess has been transformational for the council. "It's been a real winner for us. Staff can work wherever they are, on any network, as if they are sitting in their office," he said.
Virtualisation is often presented as a way for organisations to be more mobile, but Fensom said that this was not an option for ECC.
"Mobile technology and mobile working is only as good as the infrastructure that enables it. Many ECC employees and customers live in areas without access to superfast broadband, and some actually have no broadband at all," he said.
As such, the ECC had to take a two-pronged approach to this problem. The first was to provide devices and apps that were not dependent on network connectivity.
The second was a more complex undertaking that involved outsourcing the council's network services and requirements to a number of suppliers.
"We implemented a county-wide, next-generation network that includes a full outsourcing of all network coverage across the whole ECC estate," said Fensom. "This included the WAN, LAN, telephony, breakout of mobile handsets and our firewall."
He added that this approach took a lot of weight off the IT team's shoulders, allowing them to concentrate on reducing the complexity of the council's IT estate. It has resulted in £35m of gross savings a year, and £60m in savings across the wider council, according to Fensom.
ECC is not alone in its IT transformation and cloud ambitions. Peterborough Council is another local government body overhauling its IT with the cloud.
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