Cheshire Council uses desktop analytics to shape Windows 7 migration

By Derek du Preez
13 Oct 2011 View Comments
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Cheshire East Borough Council has used data sourced by Centrix Workspace iQ software to better understand its IT estate, resulting in a reduction of applications and the potential for renegotiation of its enterprise agreement with Microsoft.

The Centrix software puts an agent on each user's desktop which analyses every user session and recognises which applications are used.

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The software then observes the user's working patterns in real time.

This analysis was necessary because the council's structure meant that the ICT managers had little more than a rough idea of how many users or devices they were dealing with.

"We are currently using Windows XP, but are planning to migrate to Windows 7 before the vendor support runs out in 2014 and so for this reason we needed to know what our estate comprised," said Alan Myatt, ICT programme manager at Cheshire East Borough Council.

Council structure prevented a clear view of estate

Part of the reason for lack of oversight into the council's ICT estate was that the council's structure changed several years ago.

Cheshire East Borough Council had been a traditional county and district two-tier local authority covering Cheshire.

However, towards the tail-end of the Labour government it was made into two unitary councils, covering East and West Cheshire; this move also saw the two councils merge and begin to share their ICT infrastructure.

The council spent 18 months stitching the legacy authorities together to create a shared service then 18 months keeping the lights on and working on running the infrastructure.

"Throughout this process, the desktops were forgotten and when we started the transformation I couldn't have guessed within a 15 to 25 per cent accuracy how many users and devices we had," he added. "Also, as a local authority our business is very varied. We have lots of applications dealing with all sorts of work from education right through to waste and every point in between, often written by the person doing a particular job at the time.

Myatt said there were as many as 600 applications in use, and the analysis will help the council to pare these applications down wherever possible.

Without the analytics, the migration to Windows 7 would have required all 600 applications be fitted for the new OS environment requiring lengthy compatibility testing.

"This would have been very costly," he explained.

Microsoft licences

East Cheshire began using the analytics software last October and ran it for eight weeks before receiving a report. The report showed that the council currently has 4,000 users and 4,300 devices.

However, when the council originally signed an agreement with Microsoft it based this on a device licence for 4,900 users.

"We are therefore moving over to per-user licensing – this will save us some money," said Myatt. "In addition, demonstrating we are managing these budgets in a prudent fashion is hugely valuable."

The council will also reconsider how to run some of its office applications, such as Microsoft's commercial digramming programme Visio. The report showed that this expensive programme is used as a brief viewing tool and never by more than half the staff in East Cheshire council.

"The fact that this is used just as a viewing tool means we are going to be able to manage that licensing down," said Myatt.

"The next step is to use this information to shape the transformation roll out. We are fairly confident that most of our line-of-business applications, office productivity, basically the software delivered by the big vendors will be Windows 7 compatible."

Myatt estimates that about 60 per cent of users just use these big products, and the council can migrate them and start to get some momentum.

"This will buy us some time to run the compatibility tests on the applications that are used less to understand how best to manage them," he said.

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