Agreeing & implementing major IT change
Getting all levels of an organisation on board with technology change is a challenge, especially when the forecast will result in increased costs. Even when the benefits of change are numerous and evidenced, the increasing of costs through one-off or on-going expenditure can be difficult and time-consuming to justify.
The way to approach this from a budget and then a procurement perspective is to be clear on the outputs and returns. Board engagement is fundamental to get change approved, as is their on-going awareness of outcome delivery to build confidence in IT services enabling and supporting the business. This approach does mean a high level of business awareness is needed because the actual expected or planned returns are often not made in the IT department, but elsewhere in the business.
When engaging with the market, there are numerous ways to buy a solution, whether for consultancy, software, hardware or a complete managed service, giving you the opportunity to engage with the market to get your potential suppliers to do some of the hard work for you. This doesn’t mean that selecting the right supplier is ever simple, but there are ways that suppliers can be made to bring ideas and solutions to the table so that you don’t have to over-think and over-engineer a tender process.
For example, if you have complete clarity regarding your desired outputs, state these to the suppliers and get them to tell you how they will achieve the outputs using their solutions and services. This can be done pre-tender so that informal dialogue can take place to gauge feedback, ensure you are clear on what is being asked for and to ensure that when you formally approach the market you will have a viable solution offered from interested suppliers.
Depending on the value of a contract, procurement could have been a lengthy and formal process using OJEU standards. Now though, if you haven’t considered using a procurement framework then do so; there are many routes to market that formalise a process and the resulting contracts while reducing the overall procurement time.
For example, Housing Plus has used early market engagement with G-Cloud 11 and Tech Services 2 frameworks to buy new services that are transforming how IT is delivered and consumed within the group, all achieved within limited timeframes to enable business change.
Challenges & doing things differently
When Housing Plus embarked on a change programme for our IT services, there was a vision of what the future should look like and how this should be delivered. Realising the changes and the numerous benefits that can be delivered has been a major programme built around IT as a service.
Rather than taking the constituent parts of IT such as applications, networking, hosting, devices and service desk and formulating a plan for each, we constructed a change programme for IT that could be effectively procured, delivered and managed.
We are working with Littlefish, Incline-IT and Rainmaker to deliver IT services while enabling a business environment that can accommodate merger integration, on-going group expansion and service transformation.
Why have we decided to work the way we have and what are the changes being made within the programme?
- Alignment of IT to the needs of the business, resulting in IT sometimes not delivering what the business expected of it due to a lack of understanding or a lack of investment.
- Ageing on-premise infrastructure resulting in lower grades of service or a lack of resilience to incidents.
- Ageing devices in circulation among staff, resulting in poor connectivity and potentially unsecured or out-of-date security profiles.
- Difficulty covering the support hours needed by the business and addressing out-of-hours incidents.
- Difficulty in getting the right IT resources due to geographical location and/or IT in housing not being as attractive as other sectors.
- The inconsistent application of processes for change management, problem management and patch management resulting in delays to the delivery of support or change.
The objectives and deliverables that have been realised through a series of changes are:
- Improved staff engagement and support experience through a specialist 24/7 service desk.
- Renewed device rollout enabling agile ways of working with full device management.
- In-progress transition of hosting to public cloud to improve performance and availability.
- In-progress migration to SDWAN for all sites to improve connectivity and support for remote workers while significantly reducing network costs.
- Closer engagement of IT with the business to understand its needs and translate these into future service or application deliverables.
- Standardised processes with all partners to manage change better.
The delivery of service and technical solutions has been procured with one thing in mind; how best to deliver the services to Housing Plus. If there’s a specialist who can provide a service better than we could deliver it ourselves, then we have taken that service. When setting up such a service, we have ensured we maintain control of the strategic direction of IT and govern how the services are delivered.
Two specific examples of technical change and why they’ve been adopted:
- Migration of on-premise hosting to AWS hosting. In the first instance, this has been a ‘lift and shift’ approach to be followed by rationalisation to overcome availability and performance issues. This move to AWS was taken instead of investing heavily in new on-premise hardware and setups that would require on-going management. We have also selected AWS due to the maturity of its platform, cost-effectiveness and to ensure a service split between Microsoft and AWS cloud services. There are many stories of a migration being complicated, of applications not being supported in a cloud environment, but a key point to remember is, if a machine is virtual on-premise then it can in all likelihood run happily as a virtual machine in AWS or Azure!
- Implementation of Intune and Autopilot from within our Office365 setup to enable a zero-touch device deployment to staff from standard configuration profiles. This is now being rolled out following a trial period and is going to rationalise how we consume and support devices.
For all of the changes being implemented across our IT services, it’s Housing Plus that’s governing those services, defining what’s required and, for the most part, empowering our partners to deliver the technical outcomes. In the above two examples, Incline-IT is delivering and managing the AWS services and Littlefish is delivering and managing our device rollout and support alongside their service desk delivery to us.
Our main reason for using partners to deliver our services is to get the right skills at the right time. The rate of change within IT is phenomenal and keeping on top of the changes is a challenge for the best of teams and the best of staff. We now have expanded capabilities coupled with an increased rate of change that would have been difficult to match internally without significantly increasing the size of the team.
When considering changes to services, consider how these are delivered and how they can be managed and whether enabling partner delivery can bring benefits; our experience is that the benefits can be significant while the associated delivery costs aren’t hugely different.
Andrew Dale is the assistant director of IT at Housing Plus Group.