How to save money in the public sector: Cut ICT costs

An open letter to the Coalition.

Dear Dave and Nick,

Thank you for you e-mail today titled 'how to cut costs'. I received it at a school where I teach.

I nearly missed it as there were nearly a hundred others from senior staff, also coincidently called Dave or Nick, and generally themed 'how to do more work for the same pay'.

Apparently the Local Authority has to deliver cuts of 25 percent and there seems to be a bit of a panic on. Our break-time biscuit will have to be cut into four and apportioned appropriately.

So here is my suggestion for saving money in the public sector. Well actually I worked it out for school but Nick (or was it Dave?) thinks you would find it more generally useful. You will have to be quick about it because VAT is going up next January to 20 percent.

My ICT 1 percent

A few 'back of the recycled envelope' calculations plus a little bit of digging in the finance department revealed that the TCO (total cost of ownership) of ICT facilities is close to 1.5 percent of a school's total spend. That's a little disappointing really but seems small because most of what a school spends is on wages.

However I have restricted my calculations to things I can measure. Interestingly though, the cost of ICT seems to be composed of things which are easily measured (for example the cost of a computer) other things that you don't see readily but can measure such as the electricity and paper used and finally things you cant measure at all. I will return to this last point as it will spoil the flow of the letter and you may think I am a crank.

OK, here goes...

The median secondary school spends £10,000 per year on proprietary software and licences when it could do 90 percent of the work using FOR FREE using Open Source Software.

The same school uses £20,000 every year on electricity to power computers, white-board projectors, servers, switches and air conditioning to keep the lot cool. This is readily reduced by 80 percent using low energy desktops virtualised* server stacks and turning off the aircon units (you won't need them) and the whiteboards (you don't need them)

*I apologise for using the word 'virtualise' it's very buzzword compliant and means doing very clever things to get computers to do more work for the same pay... so to speak...they are very idle most of the time you realise?

Every child consumes on average 3,000 sheets of A4 paper a year. Paper is cheap (ish) but even so a printer/photocopier uses the same power as a kettle when it 'warms up' then you have the 'per-click' costs, the lease cost, the service cost. Suggest you buy 75 percent less paper and let them fight over it.

There you go, measurable, simple solutions.

I hope you find the above useful, Dave and Nick. It's all really easy, just check the power bill, the reams of paper bought and the cost of licences you own…it wont take long.

yours, hoping to hang onto a job,


PS. below is a slightly tangential blue sky kind of thing (for you Nick). Don't worry, reading on is optional.

The Human cost of ICT

In schools and in every public sector department there are jobs that have been created by computers and time that has been wasted by computers.

Time wasting is hard to cost. If something technical breaks then it is relatively easy to pin down (e.g. no Internet access) but if it is say 'meta-work' like dealing with e-mails from incontinent managers or filling in forms it is much harder.

But hardest of all are the computer generated office jobs. As it happens I have tracked the number of administration staff in secondary schools over the last 20 years. All of course do 90 percent of their work on a computer. To cut a long story short most schools that I know well have now reached 'parity' where the number of teaching staff is matched by the number of non-teaching staff.

Pre-computers it was approx 1:10. The graphs (yes I plotted it for one school) over time show a rapid rise in the late 1990's..all very suspicious. If we turned off the computers in a school the teaching functions would carry on with little or no degradation. I suspect most of the admin staff would step blinking and bewildered into the sunshine having now no role.

My guess is, and I take my lead from you Dave, that the 80:20 rule applies here too.

If am right, forget the 1 percent of school spend attributable to IT, we can easily make 25 percent.


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