Housing Plus Group has been transforming its technology infrastructure to improve accessibility to services while increasing application performance and availability. The changes were necessary to overcome technology limitations that historically meant HPG’s IT service couldn’t effectively support the wider business in the delivery of its objectives and services.
We initiated managed service agreements from October 2019 with Incline-IT (infrastructure) and Littlefish (support services) to deliver day-to-day services and transformational change. Since then, our access to the right skills at the right time has increased significantly and has resulted in a rapid pace of change that now means IT can be an enabler of change while having high levels of accessibility to services. The ongoing changes were planned from October 2019 to June 2020 and have continued to be delivered despite the lockdown and the need for everyone involved to work from home.
How has this been possible? By having an IT setup that was designed for remote working combined with support that could effectively manage remote workers.
The right foundations
Our approach to change was to make sure the foundations were right and then build from there. The foundations included:
- A 24/7 service desk to provide support to people as and when they needed it. This has been invaluable, allowing us to cater for double our normal volume of support calls at the start of the lockdown.
- Standard device builds for laptops and mobiles using Autopilot/Intune so that devices can be issued quickly with default configurations.
- SDWAN networks based on Meraki- and Amazon Web Services hosting that allow sites and remote workers to connect in the same way, which has given flexibility to working practices and a single method of network management.
- Public cloud hosting, with servers and applications running from Amazon Web Services. Having enabled the design of the infrastructure before the lockdown, we have continued to move servers and applications to AWS in a phased way, with no service disruption to the business.
- Public cloud ‘desktop as a service’ by moving to Amazon Workspaces from a legacy Citrix setup; this has made highly-available desktop services accessible to remote workers who need to use our housing management system and other business applications.
- Increased use of Microsoft Office365, combined with a ramp-up in our use of Teams for collaboration and communication.
The rate of change has been speedy; for example, we have moved from on-premise servers and Citrix remote desktops to AWS cloud hosting and Workspaces remote desktops within six months of starting the project. This has been done despite our dispersed working patterns and the enforced difficulties that come with working remotely from each other and from the people who actually consume the IT services. When we started, we wondered if we really could achieve a cloud-first approach in the timescales defined, but we’ve done it with the minimal of fuss; what this has shown is that no matter what application you are running, with proper planning and testing, it can be run from the public cloud.
We are now reaping the benefits of our major changes in IT services and are concentrating on the value-adding elements of IT while also now being in a position to start to reduce our ongoing IT costs. The key points that we have learned are that enabling change during a time of major disruption requires high levels of engagement and a conviction in seeing the changes through to live operations.
A standard toolkit for change
Overall, what has been done is now enabling us to start work on the integration of our post-merger business units, using a standard template for design and delivery. Our advice is that when implementing change, consider what is good and what is bad and then build a standard toolkit that enables repeatable actions to be carried out quickly and with confidence.
Andrew Dale is the director of IT at Housing Plus Group.