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A plan for managing public-sector IT costs

The 2015 spending review is set to put further pressure on the public sector. Are there easy cuts public-sector CIOs can make?

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has already called on the public sector to draw up plans to run equivalent services with a 40% reduction in public funds, or as a plan B, with a 25% reduction in public funds.

One could argue that the Tories are attempting to get the business of government to be leaner (dare we say agile?) with how they plan to spend money.

Those on the opposing political divide see this as a means by which the private sector will be offered greater access to deliver services on behalf of the nation.

A cut of 40% presumes a sizeable amount of financial fat is there for the trimming; even 25% might be cause for a National Audit Office enquiry if the Chancellor believes public-sector departments are overspending by a quarter.

So what can public-sector IT departments do to help? Draconian moves, such as extracting yourself from Oracle agreements, could be viewed as one step forward but two steps back – enterprise-sized sectors of government do not just "turn off Oracle". A dedicated strategy to move from one platform to another is required, as well as retraining staff on using the new system, and finding a third party that can offer help and support on the new system – and all this while keeping the function of government running seamlessly. This requires eye-wateringly accurate project management to be successful. 

Of course, merely replacing Oracle with different software does not necessarily mean the alternative software will be any cheaper. Software systems that run enterprise-sized organisations are unlikely to be found as freeware on the web.

If a rock and a hard place seem to be the only options available, then working with what you have seems to be the only way forward to chip away at that 25% or 40% target. Software asset management (SAM) best practice is built on a foundation of common sense that could go some way towards offering the savings the Chancellor is seeking. And the bonus? You can start making the savings now.

If you have a process around which you can create and maintain a supported software catalogue, then you are in a much better position to turn to a third-party support company and say: "These are the titles we need help on; we will tell you when the list grows, and when the list gets pruned." You can start by stating that all existing installed software will be supported and maintained, but let’s fast-forward to another process that could drastically scale back such a list.

If software isn't being used within a set period of time, what are you doing leaving it installed on a system?  Get it removed!

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Consolidating software licences offers several benefits. First, the IT department can benefit from economies of scale. Restricting users to specific software means those applications that are chosen are more widely installed, so the procurement department can claim a bigger discount from a supplier. Reducing the number of licences also cuts support and maintenance fees.

The criteria for choosing an application should include an assessment of how reliable it is. The winner should have a good track record for uptime and user appeal.

Greater focus in support teams is another factor to consider because not every version of a software product will be required if a reduced software set is used to run your IT systems. This also reduces the dependency on subject matter experts knowing how to resolve a particular issue with esoteric software that has crept onto our network, if the use of such software has been pruned back.

My closing piece of advice is this: you don’t have to run the full assault-course of software asset management to make an informed decision on how best to manage your software assets. The above steps can be taken without knowing whether you are under- or over-compliant.

Indeed, I would argue that if you carry out the steps above before embarking on a formal SAM compliance programme, your life will be made considerably easier as your search for appropriate proof of entitlement will be surgical rather than exploratory.

Rory Canavan is author of the SAM Charter process kit, which has now been updated to version 2 

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