The Department of Finance and Personnel is the central department of the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS), which is responsible for the financial and personnel management of the NICS’s 11 departments, including itself. In 2004, the United Kingdom’s Gershon Review pressed government agencies to reduce costs by introducing shared services. When reviewing NICS IT, the Department of Finance and Personnel believed that it could consolidate the seven IT teams and the associated core infrastructure that served different NICS departments into one IT shared-services center. Consolidating the teams and infrastructure would improve service quality and resilience while cutting costs and achieving economies of scale.
||Without Advisory Services, we could not have delivered the program as aggressively as we did. Delivering the program on time and within budget was a major achievement
The Department of Finance and Personnel decided to carry out a feasibility study, which, if it reached a positive conclusion, would then form the basis of a wider business case. Barry Lowry, then a Senior IT Manager at the Department of Finance and Personnel, asked Microsoft to help with the technical elements of the feasibility study. He hoped to take advantage of Microsoft expertise in the products and technologies that would support the new NICS IT infrastructure.
“We created a feasibility study with Microsoft, building out a new shared-services center on paper,” says Lowry. “As part of the study, we determined how much it would cost; how many people we would need and what their areas of expertise would need to be; how many servers we would need and how they would be housed; and what the overall infrastructure would look like.”
The cross-departmental steering committee soon approved the concept, which became ITAssist—a 239-person shared-services center that provides common infrastructure and desktop services to the NICS. Through this shared-services model, the NICS projected cost savings of £14 million (approximately U.S.$26.67 million as of September 2006) over 10 years while providing a higher level of service and more resilient infrastructure. However, a project of this magnitude was unfamiliar grounds for the ITAssist team and research highlighted that few, if any, organizations had attempted something of this nature. By establishing a shared-services center, the ITAssist team would now need the knowledge and best practices in place to manage a much larger environment that supported the 18,000 employees at the NICS. “What I felt we really needed was someone who had experience in providing services of a scale far beyond what anyone at the NICS had ever done before,” says Lowry.
At the same time, the ITAssist team needed to be able to move the project along swiftly. Says Lowry, “Once approved and financed, we needed to push forward with the project aggressively to get early wins and build confidence that the creation of a shared-services center really could work.”
To establish ITAssist, Lowry looked to the expertise of Microsoft. He had been impressed by the previous input from Microsoft on the project, and the decision by the NICS to develop an Enterprise Agreement with Microsoft to standardize licensing and provide a breadth of related services, offered an ideal opportunity to secure the help required. Lowry therefore secured the services of an enterprise architect through Microsoft Services Advisory Services to help drive the formation of the IT shared-service center. Says Lowry, “Microsoft promised that the person would be one of the best people they could offer, and that he or she would help us take our shared-services program forward.”
The advisor works as a member of the ITAssist team, helping to manage projects and drive the architecture and planning of the new IT infrastructure while transferring knowledge and best practices to the ITAssist team. Through this knowledge transfer, ITAssist employees are empowered to take control of their IT environment. “What I didn’t want to do was bring in a firm of consultants who would do everything for us,” says Lowry. “The Microsoft Services approach matched my goal of bringing in someone who could support and mentor our team, and then impart us with their knowledge and expertise so that we could support our own environment.”
||With ITAssist, we are demonstrating that we can use economies of scale to provide better services for less
The advisor also helps to coordinate architecture and planning efforts towards overarching business objectives by working across teams including ITAssist, Microsoft Services, and other IT firms.
Establishing a Shared-Services Center
With the help of the Microsoft advisor, Lowry and his team established ITAssist. “We worked with our advisor since the very first planning day when we brought the ITAssist planning team together,” says Lowry. “We talked about how we would, on a very aggressive schedule, create a shared-services center that would open its doors six months later to five departments and 9,000 users—a project that we would then need to complete at the end of two years.”
To establish ITAssist, Lowry and his team worked with the Microsoft advisor, specialized teams from Microsoft Services, and a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner to achieve the following:
- Founding an ITIL-Compliant Shared-Services Center. The ITAssist team engaged a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner to help organize their new shared-services center according to IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) best practices. During this process, Microsoft Services worked with the partner and the ITAssist team to share expertise and advice and extend the benefits of ITIL with the Microsoft Operations Framework to break the ITIL process down so that the team can use it on an operational basis. ITIL compliance helps ITAssist ensure optimal service delivery and divides ITAssist into specialized teams that serve distinct IT functions, such as e-mail, server, and desktop services. Says Lowry, “ITIL helps us organize our teams in a very efficient way so that we can handle the number of calls and requests that come into our help desk in a way that demonstrates a clear customer focus.”
- Setting Up a Help Desk. The ITAssist team also worked with the same partner and Microsoft Services to establish a help desk that comprises two teams: a Customer Services Team, which handles first-line and second-line support, and the Technology Expert Services Team, which handles third-line support and plans the evolution of the infrastructure. The third-line support team works directly with the Microsoft advisor to build advanced technical skills for managing upgrades, deploying security patches, monitoring services, and migrating departments over to the new shared-services IT infrastructure.
- Deploying Microsoft System Center Operations Managers and Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager. For proactive service monitoring and patch management, the ITAssist team worked with Microsoft Services and deployed Microsoft System Center Operations Manager and Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager.
- Aligning KPIs to SLAs. After establishing a range of service-level agreements (SLAs) between business and IT, the ITAssist team looked to the insight of Microsoft Services to link these SLAs to key performance indicators (KPIs). Microsoft Services first determined what those KPIs would be, and then how to make those KPIs measurable on a day-to-day basis.
- Centralizing Active Directory. ITAssist also teamed with Microsoft Services to create a centralized Active Directory service for managing the credentials of NICS employees and quickly onboarding new employees during the migration process.
- Establishing a Quality-of-Service Network. Behind the servers and software that support the NICS, ITAssist also deployed a new quality-of-service network. This network provides the NICS with a single, higher-bandwidth network.
- Forming a Tier-4 Data Center. Through the establishment of the new centralized IT infrastructure, ITAssist built a tier-4 data center, which is optimal for storing sensitive data.
With the help of Microsoft Services, IT Assist has stayed on schedule with bringing shared services to the departments of the NICS, positioning the team to meet its project deadline of only two years.
“It is quite an incredible achievement,” says Lowry. “Other public sector organizations are still talking about moving to shared services, and the NICS actually has one in place. Without Advisory Services, we could not have delivered the program as aggressively as we did.”
||Other public sector organizations are still talking about moving to shared services, and the NICS actually has one in place
Reduce Costs, Saving £14 Million Over 10 Years
While Offering More Services When the migration program was initiated in October 2006, ITAssist projected a cost saving of £14 million over 10 years. Lowry is confident that the program will actually exceed that projection. Included in these savings is a reduction in the total cost per user. After benchmarking the services of ITAssist against the old delivery model and other service providers, Lowry and his team have set the following year’s target cost per user to be more than 36 percent less while offering more services than when originally benchmarked.
Even in an environment of cost cutting, the ITAssist team has been able to provide higher-quality service, including a quality-of-service network and tier-4 data center. The team has achieved this higher service level through the shared-services model, enabling government departments to share the cost of IT and, in turn, drive economies of scale. Says Lowry, “With ITAssist, we are demonstrating that we can use economies of scale to provide better services for less. For example, we have recently implemented one of the U.K. public sector’s most resilient messaging services. We also have a 24-hour support service underpinned by greatly enhanced monitoring systems. This recently enabled us to discover and resolve a major incident early one morning before the departments had even been aware it had taken place.”
Improve Customer Satisfaction
ITAssist is still in the early stages of measuring customer satisfaction improvements, but for the groups that have already migrated to the new resilient infrastructure, the future is bright. Says Lowry, “In one migrated department, the number of calls has dropped as much as 50 percent in the course of six months. This has given us an indication of where we can go as we move more people over to the new infrastructure. Also, decreasing the number of calls makes us available to focus on further improvement projects, helping us reduce calls even more.”
The ITAssist team surveyed users to help it reach its goal of continually improving customer satisfaction. “In the last survey, the sample of customers who agreed or strongly agreed that ITAssist provided quality service was 10 points above target,” says Lowry. “It’s an improvement that’s heading in the right direction.”
Ensure Long-Term Success with Trustworthy Expertise
By working closely with a Microsoft advisor, the ITAssist team approaches the final stages of the transformation confident that they have the knowledge and best practices in place to support the new infrastructure for years to come. Says Lowry, “The Advisory Services engagement was so successful, that when it came up for review after one year, we extended for another year.”
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