Councils look for 'good enough' IT solutions

That'll do, pig

IT departments in local government are moving towards minimising their costs in response to the spending cuts, according to a new report from Socitm.

The annual IT Trends in Local Public Services report from the public sector IT organisation, published on 20 January, says that IT teams are having to cope with further reductions in their budgets, which have fallen by an average of 2.6 per cent on last year to total approximately £2.75bn in 2010-11. John Searle, the author of the report, said this follows a reduction of about 20 per cent since the financial crisis hit in 2007.

They now face further cuts in budgets and staff numbers, and skill shortages are developing in some areas. But some of the effects have been mitigated by increased competition between suppliers and falling prices for equipment and services.

One of the consequences is that IT departments are now looking to standardise their operations on "good enough" solutions rather than looking for highly bespoke but more expensive systems.

This is part of an effort to obtain better value for money from ICT, to which end councils are considering radical changes in three main areas: - deep service sharing with other authorities or outsourcing; - ditching expensive equipment, software and service contracts; - maximising self-service, the use of cloud computing and strict standardisation.

They are also focusing on process improvement, cost reduction and increasing the effectiveness of the workforce.

Spending cuts are also influencing the other developments identified in the report. Among these is increased take-up of virtualisation technologies, and an increase in mobile and flexible working to support the rationalisation of office space.

IT departments are also looking to replace old enterprise agreements and software licensing deals with centralised management of desktops and new server software. This can help to reduce the need for junior employees to fix PCs and untangle software problems.

While the report emphasises the problems, Searle said that IT departments have already begun to respond successfully to the challenges from the financial squeeze.

"It was a difficult 2009, but IT organisations have emerged stronger and fitter, with the ability to deliver the transformation needed by local government," said John Searle, the author of the report.

"IT costs are going down, the IT contribution is going up and IT is delivering," he added. "IT has shown that you can do more with less."

He also said that there has been resistance to shared services because of organisational politics, but that this is breaking down. "The financial pressures are so great now that people are saying we have to put these issues to one side," he said.

The report is based on a survey which drew responses from 520 organisations.

This article was originally published at Kable.

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