Power utility Seeboard needed an IT partner to run its desktop and network servers while still allowing it to control its IT strategy
- Business description Seeboard is a leading power utility, distributing electricity and supplying gas and electricity to UK households and businesses
- Business challenge Provide cost-effective, efficient support for the company’s IT infrastructure while still having the resources for strategic IT planning and policy
- Solution Outsource the management of the company’s desktop estate and NT servers to an IT partner, that can also deliver other technical services as required
- Services Technical consultancy, systems integration and installation and support
As costs and resources come under increasing scrutiny, more and more businesses are outsourcing IT - whether it be individual projects or entire functions. According to a study by market research firm Vanson Bourne, 46% of companies outsource parts of their IT operation.
The popularity of outsourcing is not surprising - its benefits are well established and extend beyond just cutting costs. By working with an external service provider, businesses reduce the need to recruit and train internal IT staff; they can also dedicate more time to their core competencies and find it easier to keep pace with new technology.
Seeboard was keen to enjoy such benefits and has, for the last three years, outsourced the management of its desktops and network servers to Computacenter.
Seeboard is a West Sussex-based energy company that supplies gas and electricity to approximately two million customers in the UK. It provides a diverse range of services, from rewiring a house to installing a high-voltage network for a large corporation.
The organisation turns over in excess of £1 billion and has more than 3,000 staff – the majority of whom are employed by Seeboard’s two main companies, Seeboard Energy and Seeboard Power Networks.
Like most companies, Seeboard is increasingly web-enabling its business processes, and recent initiatives include providing an online service for customers to record and submit their own meter readings.
This expanding role for technology was identified some time ago by Seeboard. The company also realised that such an expansion of its IT needs would rapidly outgrow the resources of its in-house team, as Brian O’Donnell, Corporate IT Manager for Seeboard, explains: “There were a variety of drivers that contributed to our decision to outsource. There was a lack of in-house expertise in some areas, and it was difficult for us to keep up with the rapidly changing technology and business environment. Plus we were keen to get better value for money.”
The path to outsourcing
Seeboard began its first outsourcing contract with Accenture as long ago as 1993, since then Computacenter and Siemens have also been added to the mix.
Computacenter was brought in to manage Seeboard’s NT estate - a responsibility it has now had for more than three years. The managed services contract covers 3,000 desktops, 400 laptops and 200 servers at various sites across London and the South East.
The remit of the contract is extremely broad, as Nigel Wilks, a Computacenter consultant who works on the Seeboard team, explains: “We are entirely responsible for developing standard desktop builds, configuring servers, rolling out new software and hardware, day-to-day support and asset disposal.
"We have also used the contract as a springboard to carry out a server consolidation programme and other projects that will help Seeboard get the best value from its IT investment.”
One such project involved the roll-out of Seeboard Energy’s business continuity plans to Compaq iPAQs. The plans were already being stored on palmtops, which synchronised to a bespoke desktop application, but there were some limitations that necessitated an upgrade.
“We took all the information and using Microsoft Reader Format converted it into one document, which could be annotated and searched, making it much easier for users to view in a potential emergency,” comments Nigel.
One of the iPAQ users is Mike Belton, IT Service Delivery Manager for Seeboard Energy. “Computacenter rolled out the entire upgrade and also provided us with excellent training. All the iPAQ users now also have modems, so we can pick up our mail remotely, which means added flexibility,” he explains.
Breaking up is hard to do
Support for the iPAQ users and for the rest of Seeboard’s IT infrastructure is managed by a joint helpdesk, manned by all three outsourcing partners. As a result of deregulation, the helpdesk has been split in two, as Brian explains: “The deregulation of the industry has meant that energy companies must avoid taking competitive or synergistic advantage from their ownership of supply and distribution operations.
"Separate service provision to Seeboard Power Networks and Seeboard Energy means separate support contracts and organisations aligned with each business.”
Unfortunately, separating some other elements of the IT function is by no means a simple task. Customer/1 is a bespoke system that is fundamental for both selling and supplying energy to Seeboard’s customer base.
“It simply can’t be assigned to just Seeboard Power Networks or Seeboard Energy,” adds Brian. “Instead we have had to redesign parts of the system to ensure we comply with OFGEM’s [Office of Gas and Electricity Markets] guidelines. Deregulation and increased competition in the energy sector has presented us with many IT challenges.”
Being able to discuss these challenges with an experienced IT outsourced services provider has been a great advantage, as Mike Belton acknowledges. “By working with Computacenter, we have been able to access a much wider pool of technical knowledge and have benefited from Computacenter’s experience gained through other IT projects and outsourcing contracts.
"As a result Seeboard gets to benefit from worldwide best practice, with only a small fraction of the direct staff that would be required if we did not outsource.”
Taking control of costs
This has not been the only benefit of Computacenter’s managed service, as Mike explains: “Seeboard has seen a significant reduction in its total IT operating costs. Just by implementing a standard desktop build, we saw a dramatic decrease in support calls and, as a result, support overheads.
“These standards also give us greater control of our processes - we now know which desktops should have which applications, and can keep track of upgrades much more effectively. Our desktop management is extremely organised and efficient,” adds Mike.
To ensure it is not just the IT function that is pleased with the way Computacenter delivers its services, Seeboard operates a balanced scorecard system. This enables the business and end users to also assess the service level standards, responsiveness, customer satisfaction and project performance of all Seeboard’s IT partners.
“To date, Computacenter’s record has been excellent. I have been very impressed with Computacenter’s commitment to helping Seeboard improve the value it gets from its IT. They have worked very well with the other service providers and have proved their technical capabilities,” concludes Brian.
This article was part of Computer Weekly's managed services business channel, sponsored by Computacenter