Bath and North East Somerset Council (BANES), led by Chief Executive Jo Farrar, serves a population of 180 000 including the historic City of Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the surrounding rural area of North East Somerset. The council has 2 500 IT users. Many of these employees need to be mobile as part of their job; for example, visiting local residents and businesses, working with partner organisations or simply moving between office buildings.
Imran Iqbal is Chief Technologist for Infrastructure, reporting to Leighton Ballard, Applications and Digital Capabilities Manager, and Angela Parratt, Head of IT.
The challenge: increasing flexibility while reducing energy costs
With employees and services spread across the region in over 90 separate offices, many in older buildings that were outdated and inefficient to run, BANES’ operating costs were too high. Teams were too scattered for effective communication and collaboration.
The council planned a programme of property rationalisation that would result in closure of a number of offices. Services would be centralised in a new civic centre to be located in the town of Keynsham. This building would also be at the centre of a £34 million regeneration project for Keynsham town centre. As Leighton describes it, “The council’s aspirations were really high. We wanted to build a world-class, energy-efficient and modern building. From the outset, we were aiming at the top-level Display Energy Certificate (DEC) rating of A for energy efficiency.”
The DEC A rating is held by less than 1 per cent of public buildings in the UK. BANES’ plan included a large increase in flexible working with hot desks in the new building and a much greater degree of working from home.
At the same time, BANES’ IT Services team knew that it needed to upgrade the council’s estate of PCs from the Microsoft Windows XP operating system. Leighton explains, “Having two large projects come along at the same time could have been a real problem for us, but actually it created an opportunity.”
The solution: delivering a virtual desktop to energy-efficient, thin-client devices
Leighton explains, “One consequence of the council’s plan for energy efficiency was that we couldn’t simply upgrade the operating system on the existing PCs or replace older PCs with new ones because they used too much power. We wanted to do things differently, and to make that new solution available to all other council buildings as well. We were completely new to desktop virtualisation at the time, but we could see the potential to kill two birds with one stone.”
Leighton, Imran and the team worked with Platinum Citrix Solution Advisor Cetus to design a solution that would meet their needs to replace the PC hardware, update the Windows XP operating system, support energy conservation and deliver a more flexible workstyle.
The solution was based on XenDesktop. Imran wanted to ensure BANES only had a single, “gold” image as a standard desktop for all council users. The team used XenApp and Microsoft Application Virtualisation (App-V) to virtualise a significant majority of the council’s applications so users could access a familiar desktop that contained the applications they required. The virtual desktop, running on BANES’ servers with Atlantis ILIO, is delivered using XenDesktop to IGEL thin-client terminals in the council’s offices.
The team decided to deliver a new home working solution at the beginning of the project to encourage take-up by users on a volunteer basis. NetScaler Unified Gateway provides secure and flexible access to the virtual desktop for users outside the council offices, whether they use personal PCs, tablets or smartphones. As Leighton explains, “Even though many applications were not yet virtualised, delivering the home working solution gave people an early taste of what was coming when we deployed in the offices. It meant that people working from home, or from the offices of a partner organisation, had access to a BANES desktop for the first time. It went down really well.”
As the project progressed, increasing numbers of applications were virtualised and made available to users, whether they were working flexibly or in the office on thin-client terminals.
The initial deployment resulted in fewer exceptions than anticipated. Leighton and his team had expected to find around 400 cases (from an estate of 2 500 users) where a virtual desktop solution was unsuitable. However, he explains, “It was a nice surprise. We found only 50 or 60 situations where we couldn’t provide a virtual desktop. These were situations where users had specific requirements, either a particular peripheral device or a very old piece of legacy software that we couldn’t virtualise.”
Transforming workstyles with improved mobility, flexibility and collaboration
BANES’ virtual desktop has been very successful. All main council offices, including the Keynsham Civic Centre, have a ratio of two desks to three people. Staff members can sit wherever they choose to support their day’s work, encouraging cross-functional collaboration and ad hoc teaming. The virtual desktop has now been rolled out to all council offices and operational buildings. As a result, the council has closed seven major offices and reduced total floor space by 40 per cent, enabling revenue savings of £3.5m per year.
Leighton said, “Previously, we had a situation where people were largely tied to particular desks. We’ve now got an environment where anybody can sit down at any desk and have access to all their applications and all of their data. That’s a massive change from where we were before. The Citrix solution has given us truly flexible working.”
Flexible working has proved popular. Over 1 500 of the council’s 2 500 employees have signed up to work from home on a regular basis. “We have never mandated home working, but we have seen really wide adoption, so there is never a shortage of desk space for those who would rather work in the office,” says Leighton. “We’ve also found that people working from home are working different hours, which has had a positive impact on service delivery. We have been able to increase the number of customer service hours we deliver to citizens. The effect on some teams has been transformational.”
Managers across BANES agree:
“The new technology has made a big difference to the way our social workers plan their day,” said Richard Baldwin, Divisional Director, Children & Young People Specialist Services. “They can schedule visits with their clients without having to worry about travelling to and from the office to pick up files or access information, because it’s all there online wherever they are.”
Tracey Long, Group Manager Strategy and Change, Customer Services, pointed out, “We can put our customer first by responding quickly, as we have the information to hand no matter where we are working – out and about, at home or in the office. We’ve reduced duplication of data, manual time-consuming processes and our storage by accessing information from a secure, central place. We’ve gained a ‘single version of the truth’ and much more efficient, modern ways of working.”
“Many of our staff are out of the office doing inspections for much of the time, and this technology has enabled them to work with complete flexibility. They can start on site, in an office or from home and have the all the documentation available. This makes for a far more effective use of time,” noted Sue Green, Group Manager, Public Protection and Health Improvement.
Across the council, remote working and the freedom to access applications and information have contributed to a reduction of around 400 000 business miles traveled per year.
Reducing desktop power consumption
The Keynsham Civic Centre has received a number of awards, including two from RIBA, the Royal Institute of British Architects: the RIBA South West Award 2015 and the RIBA Sustainability Award. It has been awarded an Energy Performance Certificate rating of 5, equivalent to producing almost zero CO2, and is on track to receive the coveted DEC A rating after completing the required two-year operational period.
The council anticipates annual energy savings of £250 000. The IT Services team’s decision to deploy thin-client terminals enterprise-wide contributes to low energy usage and cost savings. “Moving away from PCs and laptops to thin-client devices fitted perfectly with our vision for the new building. Instead of keeping conventional PCs using 365 watts, we installed very energy-efficient 11-watt thin-client devices. As a result of this change alone, we’ve seen hard, cashable savings of around £90 000 per year,” said Leighton.
Improving IT costs and administrative time
Energy is not the only area where BANES has seen savings from replacing its aging PC estate with thin-client devices. “We’ve reduced capital costs, and the devices will last longer, too. Instead of spending around £400 per new PC, plus the time needed to commission each one, we have cut the unit cost per device to around £200 by choosing thin clients. Also, these thin-client devices should last 10 years rather than just three or four,” explains Leighton. “Overall, our VDI architecture has saved 50 per cent over traditional solutions. It is more resilient and delivers higher performance.”
Desktop management, which is centralised in the data centre instead of being performed on each device, has become quicker and simpler too. “We can now upgrade an application like Microsoft Office overnight using Citrix Provisioning Services, rather than undergoing a traditional three-month roll-out programme,” Imran says. “We undertake fewer desktop visits and no longer need to base engineers at other sites. The virtual desktop is also a great benefit as part of our cyber security measures.”
Leighton and his team are currently looking to deploy ShareFile to make the mobile working offer easier for users and enable greater collaboration with partner organisations through secure sharing of sensitive information.
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