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Utilita Energy supplier uses cloud to rapidly scale IT service desk

Energy provider Utilita Energy puts its IT service management in the cloud to support its rapid growth

Domestic energy supplier Utilita Energy transformed its IT service management (ITSM) through cloud software when its existing system was deemed unable to support the company’s rapidly growing business.

Utilita, which provides more than 600,000 domestic premises with pre-paid gas and electricity, enables its customers to top up their meters online, by phone, through SMS or by visiting a shop. While the company is moving into contract energy, it is predominantly in the pre-paid market.

Dave Woods, IT support manager at Utilita, leads a core team of 12 IT support staff, split between first- and second-line support.

The company’s 2,000 staff work in the field and at operations in locations including Glasgow, Sheffield, Chesterfield and Colchester. In June 2015, the company only had 250 staff and its ITSM system was unable to support staff when numbers grew rapidly.

“We realised the support we provided could be massively improved,” Woods told Computer Weekly.

While the company had an IT support team, it was small and there were no specific processes and procedures in place. “Because it was low-call volumes and not a lot of people, we were able to get away with a personalised desk-side service,” said Woods.

As the company grew, this approach was no longer sustainable and the company began to look at alternatives. Woods said this initially required consultation with the users of IT within the business, as user satisfaction was seen as critical.

“It was vital to engage with the business and get clarity about where they saw IT, what they thought its strengths and weaknesses were and how we could better meet their needs going forward,” he added.

The IT support team created a list of around 180 services it was providing, then went to market to find an appropriate ITSM system to replace the Microsoft Service Manager tool it had been using.

Woods said it was vital the company understood the problems and requirements before choosing the software.

Utilita looked at tools from a number of suppliers and wanted software as a service (SaaS) because it is easier to manage and maintain. “If other people will look after it for you, why wouldn’t you do it?” added Woods.

He found there were lots of tools available, but that most were focused on large enterprises. The company selected an ITSM SaaS from Sunrise Software, which Woods said enabled the company to embed all the processes it required in a package that was simple to use and understand.

This was vital as the previous Microsoft tool being used was “extremely cumbersome and not fit for purpose”, according to Woods. “To use it effectively, you needed someone with good programming skills in SQL and XML – and I am neither of those,” he added. “We wanted something we could run out of the box really easily and Sunrise ticked all the boxes.”

Read more about ITSM in the cloud

A service portal for users offered through the Sunrise service was also an attractive option for Utilita. “I was very clear when we started that we need to have more of the IT issues solved by the users themselves rather than by the service desk,” said Woods.

“We wanted a portal that was fully in the cloud, audio visual-integrated and one where people didn’t have to remember loads of passwords. We also wanted users to be able to raise tickets and update them themselves.”

The implementation was done by Utilita’s team alongside Sunrise staff. “It was a two-pronged approach. They understood what their software could do and we understood what we wanted their software to do,” said Woods.

The beginning of implementation to full launch was around three months. Benefits being gained include the availability of full reporting, which has shown that more than 60% of ITSM tickets are being raised through the self-help portal.

The ITSM is also providing important metrics from the system, such as the top 10 IT issues that staff have. This information enables the support team to be proactive and reduce commotion problems, and it has saved the company money, said Woods.

Beyond ITSM, Utilita is using the cloud widely – utilising Microsoft Office 365 in the cloud, making its human resources (HR) system and its stock management system cloud based, and the company is increasingly using Microsoft’s Azure public cloud service.

Read more on IT operations management and IT support

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