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Moving to the cloud shouldn’t be daunting for Local Authorities

Local Authorities are under intense pressure to escalate Digital Transformation strategies while also dramatically reducing IT costs, achieving public sector sustainability goals and extending citizen self-service access to key services. With stretched in-house resources and a widely acknowledged skills shortage, the existing IT team is dedicated to keeping the lights on for as long as possible.

With many councils asking where they can find the time, resources or confidence to advance a cloud-first strategy, Don Valentine, Commercial Director, Absoft outlines five reasons for why embracing ERP in the cloud right now will actually solve many of the crisis facing public sector IT…

Unprecedented Challenge

Local Authority IT teams are facing incompatible goals. Is it possible to cut the IT budget by £millions per year over the next five years while also replacing an incredibly extensive legacy infrastructure with an up to the minute cloud based alternative? Or improve operational processes and ramp up citizen self-service while also ensuring stretched staff across departments have constant, uninterrupted access to the information and systems they need to be effective and productive?

With so many stakeholders to satisfy, the future looks daunting. But there are many reasons why Local Authorities should be confident to embrace a cloud-first strategy and the latest ERP solutions.

Reason 1: A Cloud Migration can be Tactical

With growing numbers of local authorities reducing building space to cut costs, IT teams are under intense pressure to accelerate cloud migration strategies. With tight deadlines to close on premise data centres, a tactical cloud migration offers tangible benefits, not least a chance to address the punitive cost base. At Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, building closure created a 12 week deadline to migrate its SAP estate, including 128 interfaces, to Microsoft Azure.

By taking a tactical approach, rather than a more complex cloud migration that includes an overview of operational processes, Local Authorities can very quickly achieve a cost effective, future proof IT infrastructure that can become the foundation for on-going innovation and change.

Reason 2: Budgetary Goals can be Achieved

Replacing expensive, dated on premise equipment with a secure, UK based cloud service immediately removes the heavy maintenance costs associated with keeping legacy solutions up and running. It eradicates the burden of perpetual license costs – often for solutions that are no longer required. Moving to a subscription based model also delivers a far more manageable, flexible and predictable annual IT budget. The tactical migration to the cloud undertaken by Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council led to an immediate saving of £125,000 in ongoing operational support fees and the enablement of the internal team.

Reason 3: Complexity is Reduced

Far too many Local Authorities have over-specified ERP deployments dating back to the pre-austerity era. Times have changed – and so has the core functionality of ERP solutions. There is no longer any need for expensive add-ons – from payroll to procurement, cloud-based ERP technology delivers the vast majority of operational functionality. This allows a significant rationalisation of the software solution set, minimising complexity and avoiding the expensive upgrade costs that can devastate IT budgets. One large local authority was able to achieve a 40% reduction of server hosts through landscape rationalisation, leading to a 50% cut in hosting costs once in the cloud.

Reason 4: Providing a Foundation for Operational Transformation

Rationalising IT systems also frees up talented staff from tedious and stressful maintenance and support activities to focus on innovation. With access to a state-of-the-art ERP solution, individuals can work to streamline processes and improve automation – especially in areas such as citizen self-service.

This, in turn, will release staff across the local authority from time consuming manual activities, ensuring they can use their experience to deliver the more complex services and provide support to vulnerable citizens. Furthermore, with better information councils can embark upon essential business modelling – a key requirement given the impact of inflation and the collapse in business rates – as well as exploring new areas to add revenue streams, such as expanding existing payroll services to schools and academies.

Reason 5: Achieving Sustainability Goals

Local authorities are also tasked with addressing their carbon footprint, along with the rest of the public sector. Moving away from dedicated on-premises data centres to the cloud will be more efficient and support the sustainability goals. Cloud-based data centres offer far more effective energy consumption: one study confirmed that using the Microsoft Azure cloud platform can be up to 93% more energy efficiency and up to 98% more carbon efficient than on-premises solutions. Plus with a commitment to using 100% renewable energy by 2025, to be water positive by 2030, achieve zero-waste certification by 2030 and to be net-zero on deforestation from new construction, the cloud provider’s investment in sustainability will help the council continually improve its position.

In addition, a fully integrated ERP system provides detailed insight to help understand the broader carbon footprint, from procurement to travel, allowing councils to monitor, report and provide transparency around CO2 emissions.

Conclusion

Any significant IT strategic change can appear daunting – especially for stretched IT teams under huge pressure to cut costs while managing out of date and unsuitable legacy systems. The shift to the cloud, however, is not just achievable; it can be made within a tight timeframe and deliver immediate benefits to both budget and resources. Plus, of course, it provides the foundation for on-going digital transformation and provide access to an array of innovative technologies.

Style over substance: Are the aesthetics of new office builds hampering conferencing options?

UK architects are recognised as being the best in the world – fact. The education of these talented individuals focuses on learning design and generally, from an early age, individuals attracted to architecture are those with a desire to be creative.

However, being creative can also present its own problems, as having an eye for aesthetics can sometimes mean the practical side of a project is forgotten somewhat. And, when it comes to conference spaces and having the right audio visual (AV) technology, this is often an issue.

New research by global audio technology specialist Shure has revealed that efficient AV within a conference space needs to be considered much sooner in the project timeline; in an ideal world, at the conceptual design and planning stages of the office itself.

A common trend over the past five years has been to create office design around natural lighting, maximising the amount of sunlight that enters the room through the use of glass and other reflective products. At the same time, natural materials are used to enhance the feeling of ‘bringing the outdoors inside’.

While this certainly adds a sense of well-being to an office space, when it comes to the business side of communicating with other offices around the world, it’s by no means the best solution for AV conferencing.

Shure polled a selection of leading specialist integrators about AV and networked audio challenges – and top of the agenda for creating strong AV was the actual space itself.

“The acoustic environment on some projects has been challenging,” agrees Paul Louden, Sales director at international audio-visual company Electrosonic. “We see it a lot with new builds – they consist of a lot of glass, and a lot of open plan spaces, which look great but have implications on achieving first class audio. Businesses invest a lot of money in video conferencing and the need to get it right is crucial for successful meetings to take place. AV technology can help to improve acoustics, but technology alone won’t solve the whole problem, all factors of the environment need to be considered.”

“Poor sound is a major concern in boardrooms and meeting spaces; the main culprit is usually bad room acoustics,” explains Nevil Bounds, Key Account Director at audio-visual integrators Feltech.  “Often an AV conferencing room is a lovely square room, usually glazed with lots of hard surfaces and has horrible reverberation times. The picture on the screen looks absolutely stunning, but the sound can be very poor. It almost doesn’t matter what audio digital signal processor (DSP) you have or the mics you are using – if your room has high reverb times or heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) noises, the sound will not be satisfactory.”

Stuart Davidson, Technical Director at global audio-visual integration company AVMI agrees. “It’s a fundamental architectural mistake. Current trends are towards glass buildings and reflective office furniture – none of which are good for audio.

“Usually, AVMI are involved towards the end of a project, once the building has been designed, and our challenge is having to deal with those issues, which can be really difficult sometimes.

“It would be beneficial to accept AV as an integral part of an office build and to have us in at an earlier stage to help guide and consult.”

Discussing the research, Shure UK Regional Sales Manager John Ellis offers: “Great audio for conferencing starts right back at the architectural stage of any office development.

“There are a lot of companies who are taking it seriously and employ proper acousticians, as well as architects, who work harmoniously together. However, there are still many companies that are interested in the style and the appearance of a conference space, rather than the actual function of the room.

“Under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), legality requires a building used by the public/employees* for an audio purpose to have an induction loop fitted, although there is nothing legal that states that the acoustics of a room must be to certain parameters. Having said that, when an architect is designing a school, parameters on new classrooms do include acoustic design as a legal requirement and are created as comfortable listening environments for the pupils.

“Education is key to the ongoing development of AV within the office space. We have a good relationship with the AV team at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) who are trying to influence architects and there are other initiatives developing which seek to assist architects to understand AV room acoustics within their ongoing professional development.

“Architects designing conference spaces within offices should consider non-parallel walls, carpeting and baffle any air conditioning in the ceiling to make it as quiet as possible, along with the minimum amount of hard reflective surfaces, including any furniture. Discreet baffles hanging from the ceiling and acoustic lanterns also help and can become an architectural feature in their own right, drapes and thick curtains help while acoustic treatments can be painted and brought into the design of a conference room.

“People sometimes assume directional microphones will solve all the problems. Whilst a good microphone with a fairly tight pickup pattern will help, it will still pick up room noise as well as the spoken word. So, Microphones and associated processing alone cannot solve bad acoustics.

“There’s also specifications available from Shure that we supply to acousticians, architects and AV consultants that offer ‘best practice’ information on designing rooms for optimum audio performance.”

Bayer turns its AV systems up to 11

Biotechnology and pharmaceutical company Bayer has unveiled new AV systems throughout its Green Park headquarters in Reading to create collaborative meeting spaces, meeting rooms and presentation suites.

The pharma giant hired Shure Distribution, MiX Consultancy and Focus 21 to handle the work.

“The convergence of IT and AV is not a new trend but something of increasing significance for new builds and refurbishment,” explained Glynn Seymour, IT project lead for Bayer.

“The Bayer UK headquarters move was part of a wider culture change to a more agile way of working and our new home had to reflect and support this, whilst adhering to corporate standards in many areas. We were challenged to create a variety of meeting spaces that were versatile but retained ease of use and bolstered the image of Bayer as an innovation-driven Life Science organisation.”

Shure Microflex products were chosen for the project as they are corporate network ready and can connect to networks and third-party control systems using standard protocols for remote management and campus-wide implementation, delivering versatile, flexible meeting spaces that had to be consistent, reliable and easy to use.

NHS

Misco UK inks new deal with NHS

Leading IT technology reseller Misco UK has been awarded a place on four Lots of the NHS Link 2 Framework for the supply of IT hardware and services.

The agreement will see Misco UK supplying desktops, tablets, Green IT, printers and scanners to the NHS and other public sector organisations over the next 24 months.

NHS Shared Business Service (SBS) Members and Associate Members will benefit from the availability of a wide portfolio of IT and hardware solutions for both office and clinical environments specifically tailored to their needs.

Set up in 2004, NHS SBS, a joint venture between the Department of Health and Sopra Steria, has already delivered audited savings of almost £400m to NHS clients.

In addition, the sharing of costs for programme management and procurement support, as well as a collaborative approach, means that public sector organisations will experience further cost-savings and reduced prices.

With no need to run their own tendering process, trusts will enjoy a flexible framework that allows for ‘spot-buying’ as well as longer term strategic purchases, with assurance of supply for all IT hardware being covered under the agreement and fully OJEU compliant.

Lee Dutton, executive sales director at Misco, said: “This award across four Lots is the first time Misco has been on the UK’s largest NHS framework and underlines our commitment to supplying tailored services and solutions to NHS institutions across the country. The framework is designed to allow those within the public sector to maximise their investment in IT whilst benefiting from the best deals available to them. We look forward to helping these organisations increase their operational efficiency and reduce costs as we guide them in planning for the future of their IT estate.”

www.misco.co.uk

Industry Spotlight – ide Systems: Powering the future of business…

A major topic of discussion this year has been around the topic of digital strategy. The development of IT infrastructure has culminated in businesses being expected to uphold a comprehensive digital strategy. However, this drives a pressing need for an electrical power supply that is continuous and reliable.

It isn’t unusual to be constantly barraged with IT buzzwords like big data and cloud computing, concepts that they are told offer a wealth of benefits if adopted. These trends, in addition to a shifting business landscape through globalisation and outsourcing, have made it necessary for facilities managers to invest in the right infrastructure to support digitisation.

However, beyond the software and hardware, facilities managers often overlook the power being supplied to IT systems. While it’s important that businesses choose the right IT system, so too is ensuring that these systems continue to operate in the event of a power failure or an emergency.

For example, there was an incident in 2015 where one of Google’s data centres experienced a power failure. This down time was a result of transient voltages caused by lightning striking the local power grid in Belgium. Unfortunately, several disks worth of data remained inaccessible after the incident.

This highlights the need for two things: first, facilities managers should ensure that power equipment is protected against lightning strikes and, secondly, that a building’s power supply is connected to an effective changeover system that can keep systems running in the case of an emergency. If a company the size of Google can fall foul of power failure on such a scale, so too can smaller businesses.

Changeover power

How can facilities managers keep IT systems operational? An important step is to invest in a changeover system that meets the needs of the application. These are designed to facilitate a power supply shift from mains electricity to a backup generator with minimal disruption to service, so they come with a multitude of configurations available.

For example, ide Systems was recently approached by a large London-based business to design a 400A manual changeover panel to ensure reliable power to the building’s IT systems. To maximise its effectiveness, our engineers designed the panel with a lightning protection unit and, interestingly, a multifunctional power meter that included text message functionality.

A powerful feature for remote monitoring, the text functionality offers an additional level of reliability to the system. The power meter’s text message facility works on the incoming mains supply so that, in the event of a mains failure, facilities managers receive a text instructing them to switch the supply over. This gives peace of mind that important IT systems will not lose power.

Innovations such as this can only be designed into electrical equipment if facilities managers give due consideration to emergency systems. While it is easy to think of IT systems as the sole responsibility of IT managers and technicians, facilities managers have a key role in ensuring the ongoing power required to sustain an effective digital business strategy.

 

Words by Matt Collins, business development manager at ide Systems

ide Systems is an integrated electrical engineering company and a recognised name in the design and manufacture of permanent and temporary power distribution equipment for events and onsite backup power. The company is committed to the quality electrical engineering of both core and bespoke products, distributed across the whole of the UK and Europe for sales and hire.

AUDE: Effective estate management ‘key to HE standards and student experience’…

In conclusion of a new study commissioned by the Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE), two-thirds of the 2,000 university students surveyed agree that an educational institution’s facilities is crucial to choosing a place of study; making it the third-year where libraries and IT hubs came out on top and beating facilities such as entertainment and social establishments.

Quality of accommodation also continues to remain a top priority, with 57 per cent affirming that living standards played a crucial role in their final university choice; as well as the actual course itself (79 per cent), location (69 per cent), and academic ranking (44 per cent).

AUDE chair and director of estates and facilities at the University of Surrey, Trevor Humphreys, said of the findings: “Effective estate management is key to ensuring that higher education institutions deliver the best possible student experience, both academically and socially, so it’s encouraging to know that despite many sector challenges a very high level of students feel their university offers clean and well-maintained buildings.”

NG Bailey further invests in specialist energy services…

According to reports, the independent facilities, engineering and IT services group, NG Bailey, has confirmed that it will continue to invest in its specialist energy services by introducing a dedicated ‘central operations’ centre.

The new centre, which claims to offer support to the company’s specialist team by merging the existing facilities management, IT and engineering expertise and abilities, provides services including: energy monitoring and alarming, data analysis, mobile operations management and dynamic scheduling to its client base.

NG Bailey’s head of energy, Chris Coath, commented: “Buildings are generating more data than ever before, and by accessing and then analysing that data we can use our design, engineering and building services capabilities to improve system efficiencies, increase building performance and reduce energy usage. This enables us to generate tangible outcomes for building owners and occupiers.

He continued: “The real opportunity is in the analysis of building data, which is what our operations centre is focused on. By being able to analyse and respond, in real time, to the data that is being collected within a building, we can help customers meet their financial and sustainability objectives.”

It is thought that NG Bailey has invested an estimated £1 million in its energy services offering during the last financial year.