How Strategic Decisions Helped the Shared IT Service for Kingston and Sutton Councils Respond to the
On 16th March 2020, in response to the rising death toll and infection rate from Coronavirus, the UK Prime Minister advised against all non-essential travel and urged everyone who could work from home to do so.
For many organisations the shift was significant. Changing mostly centralised, office-based working to an almost fully decentralised model was an operational, HR, logistical and commercial challenge. In addition to radically new ways of working, additional devices, licenses, bandwidth and support were often required. And some items were suddenly in very short supply.
For two UK local authorities, the Royal Borough of Kingston and Sutton Council, things were slightly different. Jointly covering nearly 400,000 citizens and employing around 5,000 staff, the councils had set up a shared IT service in 2014. When the crisis hit in 2020 strategic decisions taken after a review of End User Computing in 2017 put them in an enviable position.
Following the review the councils had invested in a solution which replaced legacy Windows desktops and laptops with Acer Chromebooks and Chromeboxes accessing a virtual desktop.
Interviewed as part of the Deskflix series of webinars for Computing, David Grasty, Corporate Head of Digital Transformation, Kingston and Sutton Councils said the solution “enabled us to move seamlessly to more than 95% of our staff working remotely without any changes to our infrastructure which was fantastic We didn’t have any issues at all or worries about the majority of the staff. The only things we had to work out were edge use cases – people that were using CAD technologies etc. The majority of our staff just took kit home and worked from home, or worked at home on their own kit until we could provision out a Council Chromebook for them”.
David reported that the shared service strategy was to work towards having devices that could be used anywhere “We were looking for a thin client device because we didn’t need a full Windows implementation anymore because we weren’t installing anything locally. And we were looking for something that would work away from the office. The whole strategy behind our infrastructure for the past six years has been to enable our users to access all of their services from any device, anywhere.”
The Crisis Response
When Covid-19 struck the councils had to support a change in the percentage of people working from home from 10 to 20% up to 98%. Fortunately the combination of centrally-managed Chromebooks and virtual desktops was up to the task. David Grasty recognised the ability of the solution to adapt swiftly to the changes “the biggest kudos to us has been that it has just worked we haven’t had to do anything differently, we haven’t changed our infrastructure in any massive way at all, to support going from maybe 10 – 20% of people working remotely at any one point in time to 98%”.
“Being able to support Kingston & Sutton Borough Council back in 2017 and now through the Coronavirus has highlighted the importance of partnership and being able to evolve together. This has been a truly exciting partnership. Seeing how Acer devices have made an impact across the Borough through this challenging time and across all different user cases has been fantastic. The depth of the Acer Chromebook portfolio and our Chrome roadmap has enabled Acer to provide solutions at the start of the project and with a view on the future needs of the evolving user cases within the Borough.”
Nick Walter – Head Commercial Channel, ACER UK
In terms of the operational benefits, David noted that the change in device strategy had also simplified the on-boarding of new staff and reduced support costs “there’s no more patching or virus updates – the Chromebooks look after themselves and we look after the users”.
There was also a significant additional benefit. In June 2019 Kingston Council had declared a climate emergency, triggering a range of projects and initiatives with the aim of making the borough carbon neutral by 2038.
To look at this initiative from an IT perspective the Council worked with IT carbon footprint experts Px3 to undertake an audit of the power saved by moving from the old desktop devices to the new, more energy efficient Acer Chromebooks and VDI.
The study, conducted by Dr. Sutton-Parker (CEO, Px3 Ltd) also looked at the carbon emissions saved by the huge reduction in commuting and from the likely extended usage of the Chromebooks over an additional two years.
The last word on the solution goes to Jason Sam-Fat, Commercial Manager for the Shared Digital Service at Kingston and Sutton commented:
Read Dr. Sutton-Parker’s published research for this project at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877050922006433
See the case study video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkKr6N-xZuM&list=PL7wr6FY1YLYsyzbcrMhNpuxkwhWbjlBwI&index=3