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Microsoft is due to end support for Windows 7 in 2020. How will public sector organisations - many of which still run Windows XP - cope under pressure for another large-scale upgrade?

From January 14th 2020, Microsoft will officially end extended support for Windows 7. Anyone who continues to use the OS after this date will do so at their own risk, with no new patches planned to protect them against new security threats and vulnerabilities.

For many, it’ll be hard to believe this date has come around so fast. In the public sector, the end of extended support for Windows XP back in 2014 still casts a long shadow - not least because some organisations haven’t upgraded even today.

In September 2017, for example, a Freedom of Information request to Greater Manchester Police showed that over 1,500 of the force’s PCs were still running XP.

Then there’s WannaCry, of course. The massive 2017 ransomware attack, which affected over 45 NHS organisations, highlighted such widespread use of the unsupported OS that Microsoft took the unprecedented step of releasing a one-off patch.

So why is it that public sector organisations struggle to keep their Windows software up to date when so much is at stake? And how, when 2020 rolls around, can they avoid a repeat of their Windows XP migration pains - or worse?

Find out more about the challenges facing CIOs in 2018 in our report: Delivering Digital Transformation Demands Agile Workspaces – Where are Organisations Today?

Addressing legacy application compatibility

In order to answer the first question, it’s important to recognise that an IT Director planning a large-scale OS upgrade has more issues to consider than the cost and adoption of the new OS itself - they also need to address the impact it will have on their legacy application base.

In the public sector as elsewhere, large organisations are often dependent on applications that were never designed for compatibility with modern OSes - or, for that matter, for delivery from the cloud or use on mobile devices.

This was one of the findings of our September 2018 research, Overcoming Barriers to Building an Agile Workspace of the Future. We found that almost nine in ten enterprise CIOs (87%) say legacy applications have slowed their digital transformation journey and wider ability to respond to trends such as the consumerisation of IT.

The cost of replacing or reengineering these applications can be high. However, the end of support for Windows 7 may force the issue.

To minimise the impact on their budgets and resource spend, IT Directors will need to identify which legacy applications they can and can’t live without - and then determine whether the latter can be replaced, re-engineered or virtualised to run on a more modern OS.

Getting out of costly upgrade cycles

More generally, another reason IT departments in the public-sector struggle to keep their software up to date is that it’s costly and resource-intensive to do so.

In this way, the continued use of Windows XP is just one high-profile example of a wider problem. When an organisation’s IT budget is consumed by reactive support and device management tasks, it can be difficult to find the time to stay current with any software - whether that’s a large-scale OS upgrade or something much simpler.

In the former case, the evergreen nature of Windows 10 will go some way to help organisations get off the treadmill of drawn-out, costly upgrade cycles where their OS is concerned. But the public sector uses other applications as well as Windows, and our research shows their IT support overhead is still growing - for example, 89% of CIOs reported that BYOD had increased the burden.

So what’s the solution? One option is to move fundamentally away from the traditional IT desktop model and change the way those applications are delivered - whether that means the use of cloud and virtualisation or some other way to automate and centrally manage how software is installed and updated.

A perennial challenge for the UK public sector, in IT as elsewhere, is to do more with less. The long shadow cast by the end of extended support for Windows XP should leave no doubt that software is one particular cost centre that’s ripe for disruption - not least as organisations move towards a more user-centric, inclusive IT model.

Want to find out more about the top challenges facing CIOs in 2018? Download the report: Overcoming Barriers to Building an Agile Workspace of the Future.

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