Cass Business School centralises IT infrastructure to save £500,000

City University London's Cass Business School is moving its IT services and infrastructure to the university's centralised...

City University London's Cass Business School is moving its IT services and infrastructure to the university's centralised IT function to save more than £500,000 in a cost-cutting exercise.

Around £300,000 will be saved on staff costs with a saving of £200,000 in hardware and software costs through centralising infrastructure. The project is part of a university-wide programme, aimed at making annual savings of £1.9m.

Peter Swingewood, deputy head of information services at Cass Business School, said: "The public sector and higher education organisations are going through a lot of cost-reduction and efficiency plans. Historically, Cass has had its own IT but we're moving a lot more to a centralised model, with value-add services on the edges."

The business school will retain its IT helpdesk function but back-end systems, infrastructure and all services support will be migrated to centralised university services, including the management of the network and virtual environments.

"Effectively, there will be some duplication in terms of services if you have local provision in addition to centrally supplied services," added Peter Swingewood.

Swingewood added that the project required a phased approach to ensure a smooth transition for staff and users.

"Change is more successful when done in an evolutionary way. It's easier to review projects in that way as they go along," said Swingewood.

"We have a four category approach: either transferring ownership, migration of our service and moving it into a central service, decommissioning - where our service isn't justified - and some value-add services to keep here," Swingewood said.

One of the services being decommissioned is a cluster computing pilot designed to support academics using economic and mathematical modelling via virtual front-ends. The business school is now considering using a hosted cloud service in the future to provide the high-performance computer power needed.

Swingewood said: "Cost-savings come from migrations and transfers. In terms of it being a transformation project, trying to do too much in one go will lead to failure. We've agreed to do it in phases. The first phase will complete in August so a lot of services will be transferred and some migrated."

The business school is working to a tight deadline to accommodate the start of the academic year in September, when thousands of new students will try to log onto the university network.

He said: "The retail sector run projects of a maximum nine months because they can't run projects at Christmas. We're similar as September is a freeze month as 2,500 people turn up trying to log on."

The business school is currently a week behind in its five-month project.

"In terms of project management, it makes it more stressful. It's nice to have a bit of run off but with such a hard deadline you have to get everything right."

Swingewood won the Computer Weekly Step-Up Scholarship in March 2011 to study for City's Master of Information Leadership (MIL) course for free.

Swingewood said completing the first module of the course has helped his decision-making for the centralisation project when considering the adoption of new ways of working and new technologies.

"Some of the projects we've run, we found we got good take-up from early adopters but never got into the early majority. I was concentrating on getting the technology right and the right level of service to get people to adopt it, but now I'm thinking about how the message about a new way of accessing services spreads to the maximum majority," said Swingewood.

He believes communication is key. "You need to be concrete on what's going to happen and explain the end-game for customers as well as the staff. IT is about people as well as technology," he added.

The business school is also considering new customer relationship management (CRM) software for its corporate contacts. It already uses Simplicity software-as-a-service (SaaS) CRM software for its careers service.

"It makes sense to use a cloud-based service. There were some data protection issues to be resolved related to the type of data we were recording. But it's been very successful and has been running for a year. It took six months to introduce it. That's not something we could do in-house."

However, Swingewood is sceptical about larger deployments of cloud-based services within the organisation.

"Wholesale moves to the cloud I will be reticent for," he said.

Cass is also looking at desktop virtualisation and considering how to avoid its internet links being flooded by perhaps using a private cloud desktop virtualisation service.

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