Hillingdon Council’s IT department spends just 20 percent of its time “keeping the lights on” thanks to its adoption of virtualisation technologies, according to the local authority’s assistant head of ICT.

Roger Bearpark told a Computerworld UK webcast that deploying virtualisation both required and enabled a change in the IT department’s culture.

“I see virtualisation as the beginning of the end of the traditional IT department.

“Five or six years ago, what really excited our technologists was fixing things. So the more things broke, the better the job satisfaction. So a good day for them was when something broke [but it was] an awful day for the business. That’s wrong,” Bearpark said.

That had changed thanks to a determined drive to focus on the needs of the business, and then find appropriate technologies, in particular, virtualisation. Bearpark said it was important that his technology team was willing to “travel on the journey to introducing and maintaining a virtualised environment”.

“We now have a different cultural environment and we spend 80 percent of our time more productively engaging with our business and only 20 percent of the time keeping the lights on,” he said.

Virtualisation and cloud computing race ahead of security practices

Hillingdon Council started virtualising its servers six years ago, simply because it had run out of physical storage space in its buildings.

It worked with suppliers VMware and Dell Compellent to install a virtualised storage and server environment, and one of the first business applications it virtualised was its CRM systems.

The new environment has also enabled the council to build a more resilient architecture, which includes having a secondary site, based at the council’s crematorium, to keep the council running if anything fails in the primary site.

Instead of using the virtualisation as an excuse to cut staff, Bearpark said that it was “key” that the council retained its IT team’s skills.

“We can still fix things when they go wrong and that’s important. We haven’t lost the skills,” he said, “(But) it was much more important to see staff repurposed and reinvigorated.”

However, Bearpark is aiming to reduce even further the proportion of time his team spends on keeping the lights on, to increase the focus on the business.

“Ten percent is our target, so much further to travel and maybe that final bit, a bit like running a marathon, is going to be the difficult part.

“We have got to be a catalyst for change now and be seen as that. There’s still a distinction between ICT and the rest of the business. I’d like to see that much more blurred,” he said.