Interview: Neil Moore, head of ICT at Hampshire Fire & Rescue, explains that it is moving the function back in-house to support its transformation programme
Taking part in an ICT shared service can produce worthwhile efficiencies, but it could it make it more difficult to meet an organisation’s long term objectives.
Such thinking has been behind Hampshire Fire & Rescue’s decision to move away from the service provided by the local county council and take its ICT function in-house, with a handful of individual contracts to support its transformation programme.
Neil Moore, head of ICT for Hampshire F&R, says the old arrangement has given it a “good, robust service” for the desktop estate and a number of applications, but that “not the ideal fit” for what it now wants to do.
“There was some frustration that we couldn’t do everything we wanted to do, and the things we could do took a long time to happen,” he says. “It was all part of a business model that had to serve many more people than we are.”
He cites the example of a different attitude towards risk. “Like most of local government, the county council is quite risk averse in what it does, but our culture in emergency services is quite different; managing risk is what we do.
“We had frustrations with the business model around potentially bringing in services and finding an objection around security. Because they had to think across their whole user base they did not have a priority of addressing the issue.”
The fire service also wanted to make itself more agile, with a corporate aim of using technology to drive innovation rather than just keeping up with what the business needed; and its transformation business case set a relatively high bar on savings with a target of £800,000 per annum by the end of next year.
It also felt that it would have more freedom by controlling things in-house than looking for a partner to take over.
“We didn’t want to procure a service provider for all of our infrastructure,” Moore says. “It was primarily because we wanted to maximise the agility piece and felt that getting a big service contract would not really help.”
It helped that some other major contracts were due to expire around the same time as that with the county council, enabling it to align the planning for the in-house migration with the new round of deals. Subsequently it has signed a group of contracts with the aim of having everything in place when its commitment to the shared service expires at the end of next March: for a wide area network with Virgin Media; unified communications with Unify; a virtualised desktop infrastructure with WMWare; and printing services with Canon.
The contracts are generally set to last for three years with the option to extend to five, and each has their own special features. For example, the printing contract involves a move to pull printing, with users having to confirm the job on the machine, to cut down the use of paper and improve security.
A migration from on-premise Microsoft Office to cloud based Office 365 is also in the pipeline. Moore says the appeal of this is in its granularity, enabling the organisation to develop use of the various functions, and providing freedom for the local sites to develop their own applications.
“One of the challenges we have always had is local fire stations building little apps on spreadsheets and doing their own thing. It’s fine locally but there’s been no opportunity to build on that from the corporate perspective.
“By putting everything into Office 365 we can still encourage the local initiative, but it gives us a platform to benefit corporately from that. We could, for example, have access to the data from a corporate point of view rather than it just being on a local system.
“One of the blockers at the moment is that they can have the data to meet the local need but can’t share it around.”
The new printing infrastructure is now in place, work is ongoing on the telephony, and the service is aiming to get the VMWare infrastructure in place to support the move to Office 365. The aim is to coordinate it all as closely as possible, and Moore acknowledges that this is going to create some disruption in the organisation.
Caution in change
“One of the things that came back to us from the wider organisation is that there is a lot of change going on and we have to be careful about managing that, doing the ICT change when we don’t have other major change programmes going on. We’re looking to early next year.”
The business model for the migration has forecast a return on investment in around 15 months. Moore says that Brexit has introduced an element of uncertainty through its effect on currency exchange rates, and the prices from suppliers based overseas, but he is confident it will deliver the savings in the long term.
Equally important is to meet a prime ambition in giving Hants F&R more responsiveness and mobility in its operations.
“One of the frustrations at the moment is that we can do mobile working, but it’s not that slick and we have to pay extra,” he says. “By moving everything into the cloud it gives us mobility that will be much better for the way the services are received.
“We’ve pretty well got the mobile devices in place. We already have a significant number of people using laptops and tablets, and make a lot of use of mobile phones.”
The latter are especially important for retained firefighters, who have other day jobs and turn out to support ‘shouts’, and tend to use their personal mobile phones. An important function is that they can text into the service’s systems to indicate when they are not available.
Dealing with disruption
One of his main lessons from the work so far has been that a dedicated communications person is a major asset. The service had come to appreciate this from an earlier estates management rationalisation programme, and Moore says it can make a big difference when dealing with the level of disruption involved in the ICT migration.
“This has proved invaluable and will continue to be so as we are talking about disruption. Having that engagement piece in place has been really important.”
He is also clear that the ICT transformation is not regarded as an end in itself.
“One of the strong messages we are getting across internally is that transformation is a start rather than an end. Putting in a mobile, flexible platform is something to drive change.
“A couple of years on we will be a much more integrated community with much better collaboration. This is a big theme for us, especially collaboration with other emergency services, and having cloud services available will make it easier for us to collaborate operationally, strategically and tactically.
“We expect people to work more from home or different locations. When that sort of mobility is built into everything we do rather than an add-on there will be a greater use of working in diverse locations. And that will trigger all sorts of innovations and thoughts of developing different services.
“It’s a message across the organisation, not just across the ICT function, that we’re trying to encourage staff at all levels to take the initiative and feel empowered to suggest ways of working. It’s already happening in a way, but until now we haven’t had the infrastructure to support it.”