The Canadian province of Saskatchewan has an estimated population of over a million people. The Information Technology Office (ITO) division of the Government of Saskatchewan is the major IT services supplier for government ministries and agencies. It
offers a full-range of IT services to its government customers, including help desk, hardware and software, application development and IT security services. The division is also responsible for setting government-wide policies and standards in IT infrastructure,
IT support services and security. Its key focus is to add value to government IT services and enable more effective and efficient government services while fostering a culture of customer service.
”Microsoft Consulting Services assembled a team to help lead us from envisioning through project closure—the resources they allocated were fantastic. Using their experience, they were able to keep us on task throughout the project, scoping it out from the
start, so that we would both be successful”
The Government of Saskatchewan’s ITO had begun to feel the impact of the dated Windows XP platform that was running on 12,000 machines across the province. Nearing its ‘end of life’, the ITO was confronted with several challenges including reduced software
and application efficiency, as well as issues with security and compliance. Additionally The ITO was faced with a large cost of buying support for Windows XP after April, 2014.
“Our ability to support and even deploy new pieces of technology on the outdated operating system was becoming more and more difficult and costly,” said Chris Zimmer, Director, Desktop Operations, ITO, Government of Saskatchewan.
The ITO knew it was time to modernize their platform in order to ultimately create a better end-user experience and to drive increased efficiencies, productivity and collaboration throughout government. This led the ITO to a migration to Windows 7 and an
upgrade to Office 2010, and thus presented an additional challenge of how to migrate and adapt the 2,000 plus applications that were currently being run across the government. The poorly managed, outdated application portfolio had inhibited them from making
significant strides as far as remediation or using alternative delivery methods for applications.
“It seemed like an application mountain—it was a humongous roadblock for us to move forward with anything,” described Zimmer, adding that “it’s no secret in government that some of our applications are over 15 years old and are a nightmare to do anything
As a public sector organization, the ITO faced increased scrutiny over costs and needed to operate responsibly within tight fiscal constraints. From the perspective of the ITO, there was a large amount of unknown in regard to the migration to Windows 7,
and a perceived risk of failing due to a lack of application compatibility. This ultimately drove them to seek support from an experienced partner who had done this before and who knew the product intimately.
“We wanted to partner with Microsoft right away. That was our initial thought. It’s their product, they have done this before, and we need some help as far as laying the ground work and technology in order to develop a mass deployment. They were the ideal
candidates for us,” said Zimmer.
The Desktop Operations branch within the Government of Saskatchewan’s ITO made the decision to roll out Windows 7 as an upgrade from the XP platform. The ITO engaged Microsoft Consulting Services to help them prepare for the migration, including support
through strategy, planning, and architecture for deployment.
“Working with a limited amount of funding, we had them focus on laying the groundwork, helping us to build up the technology and process, and get us into a position to run with the deployment on a mass scale,” said Zimmer.
Microsoft Consulting Services began the engagement by going through several envisioning sessions and establishing a solid scope of the project, setting clear expectations and defining roles and responsibilities.
“They assembled a team in order to kick us off from envisioning through to project closure—the resources they allocated were fantastic. Using their experience, they were able to keep us on task throughout the project, properly scoping it out from the beginning,
so that we would both look good in the end,” said Zimmer.
Microsoft Consulting Services set up the System Center Configuration Manager for optimized desktop management, thereby developing an end-to-end solution that would deliver the applications, updates, patches, security fixes and more in a single distribution.
Microsoft architects designed Core Infrastructure Services and led the ITO team through a series of workshops to facilitate key decisions in areas such as Configuration Management, Windows & Office Activation and Advanced Group Policy Management. Microsoft
deployment engineers also configured an automated desktop management solution to streamline tasks required during deployment, and the team at ITO was guided through a series of Windows 7 deployment planning workshops to ensure readiness. Microsoft Consulting
Services also facilitated the development of a communications plan, including protocols for end users.
Additionally, Microsoft Consulting Services went through a detailed process of application rationalization, in which they collated desktop applications that were currently in use, in order to determine the target number of required applications to be supported
through the initiative. They created a consolidated list of applications—which was referred to as an “APM” list.
In preparation for deployment Microsoft Consulting Services led the ITO through a series of production proofs of concept and user acceptance testing with a small sample of machines. Through this process, Microsoft Consulting Services was able to fine tune
the deployment configuration and management strategy to avoid risk and ensure a smooth migration.
Throughout the project, Microsoft Consulting Services collaborated with the ITO employees as well as extended teams including the organization’s partner datacenter provider.
“Microsoft would create the architectural diagrams, which would be sent to our team and our third party providers to be digested and turned into something real. They provided leadership there in a big way,” stated Zimmer.
As a result of the ITO’s partnership with Microsoft Consulting Services, every government desktop across the province can be replaced or refreshed with the new operating system in as little as 30 minutes per desktop. The roll-out plan has included the enablement
of flexible workstyle and also provided users with training and materials on how to use the new system to take advantage of all of the new features and maximize efficiencies. The ITO can now properly manage, secure, configure and maintain workstations, and
Windows 7 will support employees to be more productive, while allowing more file formats and running faster.
Reduced risk through strong project foundation built on expertise and trust
By engaging Microsoft Consulting Services to help build their deployment capability, the ITO was able to mitigate the risk of trying to do the work themselves. By working with Microsoft directly, they had confidence in the expertise and product knowledge
of the consulting team, and the reassurance that their solution would be delivered using best practices.
“We had a high level of trust in Microsoft Consulting Services, as one of the biggest reasons for our engagement was for the shared risk,” said Keith Phelps, Executive Director of Operations, ITO, Government of Saskatchewan. “This initiative was so foundational
to our ability to improve services, improve efficiencies, to continue to develop and mature as an organization that I have to believe that any partners that are going to help us get there are vested and that they are on the journey with me. That requires trust.”
Deep subject matter expertise and employment of best practices to allow for quicker deployment—averaging less than 30 minutes a machine.
The planning, process and structure implemented by Microsoft Consulting Services has enabled the ITO to replace or refresh any government desktop across the province with the new operating system in as little as 30 minutes per desktop—a process that had
initially taken approximately 2 to 2 ½ hours.
“When we would deploy before, at our maximum velocity we were able to have one guy doing two or three machines a day. Our customers would feel the pain and I would hear complaints around time needed to deploy and how inefficient that process was,” noted
Zimmer, “Without Microsoft’s wealth of knowledge, we would not have been able to drive this inefficiency out.”
In addition, Microsoft Consulting Services brought experience from other migrations and other jurisdictions, and were able to apply that knowledge, aligned with best practices, to the Government of Saskatchewan’s migration plan.
“When it comes to knowing the underlying technologies and processes, they have product intimacy, prior experience and subject matter expertise. That is why we engaged with Microsoft,” said Zimmer, “But even beyond product knowledge, there was a large amount
of credibility and guidance that we leveraged from Microsoft on best practices learned through experience which was extraordinarily valuable. For instance, they set up security policies on our local machine that are based on the United States Government Configuration
Baseline (USGCB), and that have become part of their standards. If we didn’t have Microsoft we wouldn’t have had that level of security.”
Leadership and structure led to better decision-making, on-time delivery and empowerment to independently run mass deployment
“The resources allocated by Microsoft Consulting Services were fantastic, including the project manager. They held us on task and helped us to make educated, timely decisions in order to keep things moving and complete the project on-time. We had clear timelines
and deliverables. This was a huge success factor for us,” noted Zimmer, adding that there was a strong sense of structure, purpose and intent about how Microsoft Consulting Services mapped out the project.
“The business benefit for us is that with their knowledge and experience and leadership, they have truly positioned us to succeed,” added Zimmer.
Additionally, both IT and end-users will benefit from the flexible workstyle enabled by Microsoft. IT will now have the capability to perform Lite Touch deployments, and provide support for these deployments on an ongoing basis, while employees will also
have the option of installing authorized applications and printers themselves, decreasing dependency on IT support.
“This engagement provided us with the opportunity to standardize and tightly manage the delivery of applications as a part of Windows 7. To prepare us for automation and prepare us for self-service,” said Keith Phelps, Executive Director of Operations, ITO,
Government of Saskatchewan.
“Our future vision is to be able to do this once and scale from here. Plug in, build, and have a strong platform,” finished Phelps.
Knowledge transfer gained through workshops and collaborative approach
The ITO’s internal technologists have benefited significantly from working collaboratively and shadowing the Microsoft Consulting Services team during planning, architecture and configuration.
“Having these strong resources available to give our technologists the opportunity to ask for guidance was a great benefit,” said Phelps.
The ITO’s internal project manager has also learned a lot from the structure implemented by Microsoft Consulting Services, including how to maintain velocity and manage progress when it comes to a project of this size and scope.
“We have leveraged Microsoft Consulting Services to help us plan for support capabilities as well, which dovetailed nicely into the other engagements that we had going on. We do RKM (Roles and Knowledge Management) engagements and other similar exercises
where Microsoft will go through the specific technology stack to help us put a best practice aligned support model in place to provide support to those technologies,” added Phelps.
Migration to Windows 7 will result in significant cost savings due to a more efficient work force
With the migration from Windows XP to Windows 7, and upgrade to Office 2010 the ITO can anticipate approximately $5 Million in cost savings per year based on increased employee efficiency. In addition, by improving their ability to manage, secure, and configure
workstations internally, the ITO is driving towards a 30% reduction in incidents requiring IT support.
“A 25% efficiency gain for our IT team is very realistic. It takes less time to build the workstations, far less time to deploy them, and we are going to be facing incidents at the end of the day on them,” noted Zimmer.
With Windows 7 and Office 2010, Zimmer expects the end-user experience and daily work routine to vastly improve. “Beyond the performance as far as improved work productivity, through the improvement of applications being used on the operating system, there
is the groundwork for self service that will greatly improve how they interact with the workstation. Installing
their own printer or being able to request and have software provided without having to go through a long arduous process is going to be a big benefit for our customers,” said Zimmer.
The ITO is now moving forward with the mass migration to Windows 7 and upgrade to Office 2010.
“Based on the investment that we made to have Microsoft come in here, it was clearly visible to staff within not just my area but around the whole organization that this was a commitment to move forward by our organization,” said Zimmer. “As a result, the
morale and engagement of my staff is way up because they are excited about doing these things. It has brought a lot of visibility to how we need to move forward and how best to move forward given our procedural and policy challenges. I can hang my hat on the
fact that we have brand new technology, we have made strides around improving not only how the end-users consume it, but how we get it out there faster. It is slicker. A lot of these things that are soft and I can’t point to them on a statement of work, but
those are the things that I really saw true value on.”