Procserve partners with CenturyLink to meet government requirements

Procserve, the public sector winner of the 2014 Datacentre/Storage prize at Computer Weekly's European User Awards, shares its story

Established in 2006 to underpin the UK government’s e-commerce strategy, Procserve’s secure network has carried more than £2bn worth of transactions and is used by more than 17,000 buyers and 32,000 suppliers.

Procserve operates the only accredited platform trusted by the UK’s police forces, health service and government to deliver transactions securely in the cloud. When established, the firm had to gain the government security accreditations it needed to satisfy its public sector customers.

Procserve chief technology officer Jesper Lynge Petersen says finding partners that were comfortable operating at such high security standards was a tough challenge, particularly in regards to modifying an existing product and being able to scale-up as new business demands emerged.

Procserve needed to operate at a minimum of Impact Level 2, which is a UK government security standard. Lynge Petersen says the firm struggled to find a partner that was willing to invest the time in understanding its security requirements. Procserve also needed a platform that could deliver a highly available and always-on service.

“If you wanted to deliver government-accredited services, there weren’t many providers that could provide the standards required,” he says. Help, however, was at hand. Procserve established a relationship with CenturyLink Technology Solutions and the specialist provided a managed hosted IT infrastructure.

“When we spoke to CenturyLink, we both realised quickly we could configure their standard product set to meet government purposes and requirements. The partnership represented a great fit,” says Lynge Petersen.

“We matured as an organisation very quickly. The whole approach to small and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs] has changed now but it was tough at the beginning for a smaller supplier to become an accredited government supplier. The governance was very demanding, but the relationship with CenturyLink allowed us to make use of their services and to build a compliant approach.”

CenturyLink’s initial assistance was used to extend Procserve’s in-house expertise, providing knowledge to a small but growing company. As the organisation continued to expand, the number of commercial transactions began to ramp-up rapidly. The reliability of the firm’s services also became increasingly critical to its customers’ business operations, says Lynge Petersen. Hospitals, for example, rely on the Procserve platform to order equipment and supplies for next-day operations.

“We grew by extending our customer base and by providing additional services to our existing clients,” he says. “Local authorities are using our platform to procure a whole load of services, from care homes buying food to hospitals purchasing resources. The reliability of our services became ever-more critical as we worked with more organisations across a range of areas.”

Building a private cloud system

As a consequence of the firm’s success, Procserve needed to expand its managed infrastructure. The company turned to CenturyLink, as its long-standing partner, to build its private cloud system. The on-demand technology is based on a managed service and operates from two datacentres – one in London Docklands and the other in Reading – both of which are ISO 27001-certified.

“Our services were initially based on hardware but we were able to move towards a virtual platform as accreditation became more straightforward,” says Lynge Petersen. 

“Virtualisation provides efficiency at the infrastructure level and helps makes sure expensive resources aren’t just sitting idle. As we developed and re-engineered our platform, we recognised we could run elements more efficiently on virtual machines.”

CenturyLink relationship enabled move to virtualisation

The private cloud approach from CenturyLink gives Procserve an economical way of providing round-the-clock availability to its clients. In fact, Lynge Petersen says the relationship with CenturyLink has evolved into a partnership. For example, without the firm Procserve might have been reticent about making a move to virtualisation, especially in regards to governance.

CenturyLink helped us design our virtual infrastructure and optimise our costs

Lynge Petersen, Procserve

In the past, virtualisation across multiple computing platforms would not have been able to satisfy Procserve’s security requirements. But as technology and security processes evolved, the company wanted to take advantage of the efficiencies that could be achieved from running smaller modules on many virtual machines, rather than having to use lots of discrete systems. CenturyLink supported Procserve through its move to virtualisation, sharing its expertise and experience to develop a strategy.

“CenturyLink helped us design our virtual infrastructure and optimise our costs, which was all provided as part of its standard private cloud service. But we’ve always had a very pragmatic relationship with CenturyLink. They tell us our work really matters to them – and that sentiment comes across in the way they treat us,” says Lynge Petersen.

“We’ve had direct relationships with the management team and they work extra hard to overcome any challenges that emerge. We know we can sit down with the top people and talk things through. As an organisation, they’re also very commercially minded and we can use that strength to help develop new relationships with new partners. Both firms are keen to grow their business together.”

Partnership puts UK at forefront of public sector e-commerce

Lynge Petersen says CenturyLink’s support has been essential in helping Procserve scale its platform to support 32,000 suppliers, and to execute more than a billion pounds of transaction value. The firm’s services now include purchase to pay, integration platform as a service, marketplace provision, spot-buying systems and electronic payment.

We will continue to work together to make the most of any new opportunities that emerge

Lynge Petersen, Procserve

Procserve’s reliable platform has helped put the firm, and the UK, at the forefront of public sector e-commerce. Lynge Petersen says CenturyLink plays a crucial enabling role and consistently meets service-level agreements, whether that target is in terms of server and system availability, backup response or data syncing.

If challenges do emerge – which Lynge Petersen says are few and far between – then both parties work together to keep operations running for Procserve’s customers. The relationship means the team have total confidence in the approach of CenturyLink and can embrace new opportunities without fear.

“It’s great to be recognised for the good work we’re doing,” says Lynge Petersen, referring to being crowned public sector winners of the 2014 Datacentre/Storage award at the 2014 Computer Weekly European User Awards. 

“Both partners looked at the entry and realised how much we’d achieved and the award is terrific kudos. It’s always a battle to stay current and to make sure our approach continues to meet out customers’ needs. We will continue to work together to make the most of any new opportunities that emerge.”

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