City of Westminster CIO David Wilde is making something of a name for himself on the CIO circuit in that – in a high-profile role that is often cautious – he is an unashamed proponent of such hot topics as shared services and cloud computing.

“In the public sector there’s been talk for a number of years about shared services but not a lot happened,” he says. “There were counties or districts and maybe schools administration shared services but not at the level of finance teams, for example. Because of the financial constraints we’ll drive that harder. Rather than having silos, it will be ERPs and sharing teams.”

It’s a sensitive area because ‘efficiencies’ typically mean reduced headcount, but that can’t be an excuse for not automating and saving where it makes sense.
“It’s not exclusive to the public sector but you’re talking about people’s jobs. You’re going to have fewer managers and, inevitably, fewer staff, or why do it? That’s a difficult thing to get people to sign up to, but it’s manageable if you can get the benefits across and show that it’s more about people retaining their jobs.”

Free association

As for cloud computing, Wilde sees the phenomenon as the realisation of long-standing attempts to reduce dependence on internal systems, and is currently engaged in a programme to move desktop computing and core applications to a private cloud that will be largely controlled by consulting partner Capgemini and that will see Westminster’s current datacentre in Victoria Street repurposed.

“Two years ago we called it ‘infrastructure-free’ because nobody was using ‘cloud’,” says Wilde.

“It’s about not having to retain a lot of expensive IT on our estate – which, this being Westminster, is an expensive estate – and taking advantage of what the market deploys. [Specialist datacentre hosts] are better than we are at it so why do we have to have datacentres at all? And of course it’s going to be lower cost, more robust, have better disaster recovery and [make us] better able to adapt to change.”

Other changes also help trim costs and let Wilde’s department focus on making a strategic difference.

“Desktops are commodity items and at home I don’t...... buy a helpdesk. You can buy desktops as a managed service from a supplier that’s better at managing them.”
Of course in any sourcing engagement there is always sensitivity about the possibility of outsiders gaining access to personal information but Wilde says that the challenge is to secure access to information rather than devices.

“It’s the rules you have about the way information is treated [that are important],” he argues. “Too often the focus is on security at the LAN, WAN or firewall, but really it’s about governance and systems -administration, the source and the destination of data.”

When it comes to cloud computing, that view still has to be communicated internally. Trust has to be established and good governance instituted. “It was a challenge but it took about four or five months until we got to the point where stakeholders trusted us. The vision has to be absolutely clear. If I say ‘let’s go infrastructure-free’ [there’s no positive response], but if I say, ‘we’ll take £2m out of the budget and it will work better’, it’s positive.’”

Rather than endure prolonged consulting-itis, Wilde went to suppliers with a clear message: this is the strategy, now show me the savings.
“I said, if the cost is £2000 or £2500 per user per annum, the discussion is that providers [need to be] looking at £1500 – you’ve got 24 months to get there. The strategy has to be about value. A strategy that talks about technology is a wrong one; it’s the tangible benefits you receive.”

Despite his desire to go infrastructure-free, for Wilde there is a limit to sourcing.

“There are things you always have to retain. You need a strong, strategic function looking at the landscape and what’s happening in the next few years. I don’t want to buy somebody else’s ideas. Technical design, security and configuration: that’s another area where if you get it wrong you lose your job, compromise the organisation and have costs run away from you. For incident investigation you need a high-level skeleton team.”

For more of CIO's interview with David Wilde, click on the links below:

City of Westminster CIO David Wilde on rigorous budget management

City of Westminster CIO David Wilde on staff resourcing and CIO bloat

David Wilde is speaking at the CIO Summit on Wednesday 29 September. Click here for Tweets of the event.