Shoestring IT and a £6,000 budget: Whitehall gets flexible for the Olympics

Summary:For civil servants wanting to dodge the crowds in central London, the Cabinet Office has set up a low-cost alternative hub, hoping to entice the Whitehall-bound into Croydon instead

While fears of Olympics-related travel chaos may have turned out to be overblown, civil servants who would normally be travelling into central London during the Games have been given the option to spend time in the government's new flexible working facility instead.

Rather than heading into Whitehall, dozens of civil servants will be able to use the newly-established flexible working hub, which has been set up in a 1960s office block in the south London suburb of Croydon.

Whitehall
Dozens of civil servants have swapped their Whitehall offices for a temporary hub in Croydon.

The hub, which can house up to 150 workers, is situated on a vacant floor of a government building, Southern House.

According to the Cabinet Office, the hub was set up in eight weeks, using furniture from the now-defunct COI (the government's Central Office of Information) and IT equipment already in situ.

The cost of the hub, according to the deputy government CIO Liam Maxwell, came in at under £6,000.

"The IT for the Croydon hub was provided on a shoestring budget. Our aim was simple: to provide just enough infrastructure for civil servants to easily get connectivity back to their home departments using their own departmental-issued laptop," he said.

"When we arrived at the Croydon site for the first time we were fortunate to find that the office was already fully network cabled meaning that we avoided a great deal of cost on expensive cabling. There was also another community-spirited department based in the same building which was willing to share some of their existing internet connection to help us get the hub initiative off the ground. That saved us entering into a new contract with a service provider.

"The only hardware we had to put in was standard commercial kit, designed for small business, which we fitted ourselves. We've designed in the ability for the infrastructure to scale if the hub turns out to be popular with civil servants."

The hub team budgeted for between 80 and 150 civil servants using the hub, with four wireless access points. If it proves popular during the Games, the hub will be able to take over another floor of Southern house with more access points added accordingly.

The hub was placed in Croydon as it "made geographic sense" given the area's excellent transport links and the many civil servants living nearby, according to the Cabinet Office — as well as the Southern House space being available rent free. Civil servants needing space in the Croydon hub won't be able to drop by unannounced, however — would-be flexible workers have to book a desk or a meeting room one day in advance.

Southern House is one of a number of hubs set up for civil servants to dodge the Games. The hubs provide flexible working space for over 500 staff between them.

While the Games may be over in a few weeks, the hubs will remain available for months afterwards to cater for any of the 40,000 central London-bound civil servants who head into Whitehall each day, and will be evaluated to see whether such flexible working facilities should become a permanent fixture of the public sector.

Topics: Olympics 2012, Government : UK, United Kingdom

About

Jo Best has been covering IT for the best part of a decade for publications including silicon.com, Guardian Government Computing and ZDNet in both London and Sydney.

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