Author: Stuart Hodge

How the London borough of Harrow and Version 1 took on a major IT transformation and delivered lasting success in spite of the challenges.

Twelve months ago, amidst the most challenging of circumstances, a London borough embarked on a remarkable technology transformation on behalf of its quarter of a million residents.

This major programme for Harrow Council - in the north-west of the capital - involved an overhaul of its tech-services delivery model and the wholesale transition of its infrastructure from incumbent partners and a legacy data centre to the cloud. That it would be undertaken during a global pandemic and led by an IT Director just weeks into the job made the challenge all the more daunting.

“We had to create an entirely new IT service to deliver the technology which underpins all Council services,” says Ben Goward, Harrow Council’s Director of IT. “All our statutory functions depend on that technology - it felt like a lot of risk!"

One year later, despite the challenges, Goward says the journey has been a success. And core to that success story is the strength of its partnership with multinational IT services organisation Version 1 - a partnership forged not just on expertise, but on a shared social purpose and a strongly held people-first ethos.

“There was risk in coming out of this previous delivery model, moving into an entirely new delivery model, and transitioning to that from the incumbent. That was quite significant. I needed a partner that could really take some of that risk on board themselves, that could be trusted by me to really get under the hood of exactly what the existing legacy estate was. I didn't know that myself at the time - I’d only just come in,” says Goward.

Version 1 worked to identify and address the “great many” risks presented by the infrastructure transformation and transition process, taking on support for the entire legacy data centre operation and most of the council’s existing core business applications.

“When it came to supporting our existing services, Version 1 were really, really capable in that regard. And we went live on the first of November, which was the date that we planned to, without any significant disruption.

“We have lots of challenges to overcome but almost all the feedback we got at the point of transition, and from that day to now, has been positive around the quality of the service that we're offering to our users. So that key element of the Version 1 relationship, in terms of managing risk and customer satisfaction, was fantastic.”

The council now has a new portal for reporting issues, which has helped improve customer satisfaction levels significantly. The number of people managing to resolve their problems the first time around has risen dramatically, from in the region of 80% up to 96% against a target of 90%.

Meanwhile, Harrow Council and Version 1 have together reached a mid-point in the huge transformation of its legacy infrastructure to the cloud. The scale of the task and the pace at which it needed to move meant the council depended on Version 1’s ability to respond nimbly to changes in scope, scale up fast, and meet requests without missing a beat,

“That’s a big, big project,” says Goward. “We only allowed a year from the start of this contract to finishing the migration and disabling almost the entire legacy data centre, and we’re on track.

“We’ve had to change our approach quite a lot along the journey. Version 1 have been very good because they’ve provided architecture resource that is really helping us navigate our cloud migration with Microsoft, which has been absolutely critical to us.”

"Adding social value is rarely about money. It's about the giving of time, and giving resource..."

A powerful motivation for pace is the fact Harrow Council intends to demolish and redevelop the building in which its current data centre sits. An ultra-modern new Civic Centre will be built on a new site, while the old site will become home to a development of new social housing for the borough’s residents, including significant affordable housing.

The council’s transformative work with Version 1 is rooted in a social purpose both organisations share. The data infrastructure migration will ultimately underpin a new, more collaborative, and more distributed way of working for the council’s people in a post-pandemic age. Over time, those same people will be enabled by much richer data, allowing more efficient use of resources, improved decision making, and enhanced outcomes for taxpayers.

Catherine Little, Head of IT Operations at the council, says Version 1’s purpose-driven approach has led to a deeper relationship and one focused more on community benefit than on commercial negotiation.

“I think the difference between Version 1 and some of the previous experiences we've had is that the conversations were never around contracts, it was about ‘what can we deliver together in a partnership?’ she says.

“There was a complete understanding about what we were trying to do, and why we were trying to do it. The people we were dealing with were completely onboard, even prior to day one. And you know, they've carried that through."

Version 1’s commitment to contributing social value through its work with Harrow Council isn’t limited to supporting its technology transformation. The company has actively partnered with colleges and other community groups in the area to offer tutoring, work experience and apprenticeships.

“Adding social value is rarely about money. It’s about the giving of time, and giving resource, in order to support some of those benefits,” says Little.

“For me, where Version 1 have gone above and beyond is in exceeding their commitments. Where they had a commitment to deliver, say, two work placements, they’ve actually taken 4 of the 11 applications at a time when many organisations have had to say “no” to HCUC due to the restrictions this year.

“They’re also doing lots of voluntary stuff, helping people with their CVs, with job interviews – most recently with 30 students attending a virtual Insights Programme over 2 weeks in June. At the moment it’s about getting people back into work and showing youngsters that there is a future and a career for them. It shows me that they care.”

Goward adds: “I think there is an alignment in values.”

“Version 1 are very people-focused and, like Harrow Council, they have quite a high set of standards around their corporate integrity. We had exposure to this during the transfer, because we had staff transferring up from our incumbent provider into Version 1. From that we could see they were a very people-centred organisation, and I think we are too - that's certainly the culture we have tried to create within the IT team.”

Goward says Version 1’s triangular success model - which gives equal priority to its own people, its customers, and its business - is ideally suited to organisations such as Harrow Council and other local authorities.

“Budgets are tight in the public sector. We're in this business because of the impact that we can have. It sounds trite, but it's true. You're in public service to deliver, to do good in your local communities. Having a partner that reflects that culture is really important,” he says.

“Version 1 operates much more like a smaller company, but with the added benefit of huge scope. The transformation we are undertaking will be a long term change for Harrow Council, and we're building the foundations for it with Version 1.”

The Head of Version 1’s Service Reliability Group Olivia Carroll reflects on the positive feedback shared by Harrow Council following the successful overhaul of the council’s service delivery model. “It’s absolutely heartening for our team to hear such positive feedback from our customer Harrow Council. We always strive to put our customers’ needs first and to truly listen to what it is they require to ensure they have a world-class service in place. While Customer Satisfaction is absolutely a key factor in this, we go a step further to ensure we also achieve Customer Success, which means the customer isn’t just happy, it means they were successful and that we made a real difference to their organisation."

Carroll also discusses with us how the experiences with Harrow Council have contributed to the organisation's inspiration for a new value-led, next-generation approach to its Managed Service offering going forward, with a new service offering launching this summer.

“It’s all about getting our customers to aspire to more as part of our Managed Service partnerships. We’ve always had Customer-First and Delivery Excellence at the heart of our Managed Services, but what we are priming to bring to market this summer formalises the integration of business value into our KPIs on top of service excellence - that aspirational value that we believe will make a real difference to our customers’ businesses.”