DCLG, the UK government’s Department for Communities and Local Government, is responsible for “creating great places to live and work” and giving more power to local people to shape what happens in their areas, such as enabling neighbourhoods to solve their own problems. It has 2,600 employees in 20 sites across England and Wales. Seventy-five percent are based at one of two campuses: Central London and Bristol.
Darren Scates is CIO and Technology Leader for DCLG. His team of 30 IT support staff provides the IT systems and information access that employees need to perform their roles. “We need to provide services in a way that users can consume easily,” he explains. “Almost everybody works from home, at least some of the time, and most people work on the move. The flexibility to move between different offices, buildings or settings is a key component of any technology offering these days.”
Darren was aware that users’ working patterns were changing. However, DCLG’s old model did not meet their requirements for greater flexibility. “We had a very traditional PC based environment,” he explains. “Whenever people moved round the building and logged onto a different machine, they would drag their profile with them. As user profiles grew larger and more complex with time, the process became very clunky.” The challenge was greater for people working outside of a DCLG office. While those who spent a majority of time on the road had a DCLG-issued laptop, workers who were mobile less frequently, or those who wanted to work from home occasionally, had no cost effective way to access the department’s resources from outside a DCLG office.
Any new solution that allowed people to access DCLG resources from outside the office – whether working from home, travelling or visiting other organisations or government departments – would have to meet government security requirements, including encryption of any personal data. DCLG is part of the Public Services Network (PSN), which requires each user’s access to be secure. Simply providing access to DCLG emails on a user’s unsecured mobile device would not provide an adequate level of security. “There is always a balance between security and utility,” explains Darren. “I could create a really secure IT system, but nobody would use it. Our approach seeks to strike the right balance”
At the same time, like many CIOs, Darren was being tasked to save money.
Darren and his team started by developing a deep understanding of users’ needs and their current and desired working patterns. They found that around half of their users were office based and had fairly simple desktop requirements including access to an office automation suite and web browsing capability. The rest were a mixture of mobile workers, who already had department-issued laptops, and users with specialist, or occasional home working, needs. To provide maximum value as quickly as possible, Darren and his team decided to focus first on the relatively straightforward requirements of the first half.
Working with Citrix Systems Integrator Fujitsu, the team decided on a virtual desktop solution based on XenApp and Fujitsu thin-client terminals in office spaces. This system allows users to log in to their standard desktop from any terminal in the building quickly and easily. Once logged in, users have immediate access to their regular productivity apps and could pick up their working session exactly as they had left it on another terminal.
To meet growing demand to work from home, the team added a NetScaler Gateway, which provides secure remote access to XenApp desktops across a range of devices. Using the Citrix Receiver client, people can now connect from home or another location on their PCs, tablets or smartphones. Users are given a secure key fob that supports two-factor authentication to the DCLG network.
As the project progressed, the team took advantage of the broad Citrix portfolio to address further needs and requests from users. To enable remote, offline working on personal devices, DCLG deployed XenMobile with its suite of Worx mobile apps, which allow users to work even when they have no network connection. As users have embraced their new technology, Darren has seen an evolution in working patterns. “Two years ago, quite a number of our people only worked in their own office. That’s much less common now. We’re getting a more mobile workforce with almost everyone working away from the office for some of the week,” he says.
The Citrix infrastructure created to support flexible working has enabled DCLG to offer a bring your own device (BYOD) service. New starters now select the IT services they wish to use. Many opt to use their personal smartphones, tablets and PCs for work tasks. BYOD is the fastest and least-expensive way to provision a new user (requiring only a user profile and authentication key fob).
DCLG staff have embraced the new technology and the mobile workstyles it supports. As Darren explains, “Our user satisfaction scores have increased by 50 percentage points since we implemented the new Citrix solution. In our last IT pulse survey, over 80 per cent of our users told us that their technology enables them to work flexibly and efficiently, 59 per cent said that their work technology is as good as they have at home and 78 per cent said that overall, their IT has improved in the last 12 months.”
Each thin-client terminal, running an open source operating system, is cost effective to operate, and also frees DCLG from the traditional and expensive PC upgrade cycle. “Operating a thin-client desktop is cheaper per year, and it will also last longer,” explains Darren. “And, if I want to deploy new software, it is much easier and faster to do on the central Citrix servers rather than on every individual desktop.”
He adds, “We have saved around 40 per cent on our desktop and infrastructure budget. We used to spend around £7 million a year providing desktop services, and we now spend £4 million per year on a better service that users prefer.”
The virtual desktop solution has also enabled DCLG to become more agile. Its offices have moved to a desk-to-staff ratio of 70 per cent, with the possibility of decreasing this further in the future. Staff can sit wherever is best for their day’s work, grouping together easily to form virtual project teams or simply sitting closer to the facilities they need. DCLG’s headquarters has project tables with some thin-client terminals to support collaboration and team working. Wherever users choose to sit, they can log in to a thin-client terminal and XenApp serves up their familiar desktop. As a result, DCLG is supporting government rationalization of real estate, further lowering costs while providing a modern working environment that encourages cross-team collaboration.
The virtualization solution also provides better support of specialist users. Fee-paid staff, who only work with DCLG occasionally, can be issued an authentication key fob and credentials so that they can securely access DCLG resources without a department-owned laptop.
The DCLG virtual desktop solution has attracted interest from other government departments, which are exploring how it might be applied to their particular scenarios.
“We’re not finished,” says Darren. “We get really good user feedback, but if we do nothing for the next 18 months, users will say ‘It’s old now—what are you doing next?’” The team are currently looking at ways to increase internal mobility still further with mobile thin-client devices. With Citrix and Fujitsu, they are exploring the use of Google Chromebooks, which could be carried from a desk to a meeting, as a supplement to the desktop thin-client terminals.
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