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Plans for change involve areas including the college’s ways of working, a major redevelopment of the building and its organisation structure.
Interim head of IT Mike Proudlock was brought in to deliver the technology enhancements supporting these changing business needs, which include a “significant IT infrastructure transformation”, and work around all the site relocations and changes.
“My remit is to ensure that all IT provision and resourcing is not only cost-effective and efficient, but has the flexibility to meet evolving business needs during the transformation and afterwards,” Proudlock tells Computer Weekly.
RCS has around 290 staff, but the organisation also provides services for a number of specialist associations in the same building, bringing the number of people who use RCS services such as online training and research facilities to about 25,000.
In addition, before the onsite Hunterian Museum was closed due to the building redevelopment, the 20-strong technology team – which includes eight staff in application development and a number of fixed-term roles to provide the required resource for the IT transformation project – also provided the infrastructure used by visitors.
Key projects for the RCS in 2017 are all centred around the transformation programme. This includes a recent major relocation of users as the college’s Barry building is vacated to be rebuilt. Proudlock’s team will also be decommissioning networking equipment in the soon-to-be-handed-over areas.
In parallel, the college is in the process of migrating many of its services to a new, cloud-based managed service provided by OCSL, and will also be introducing Office 365, as well as Skype for Business for telephony to replace aged equipment.
“There are a range of software changes taking place to ensure our main line-of-business system is supporting the various departments as they change their working processes, while streamlining and improving these processes,” says Proudlock.
“Cloud is now moving beyond marketing hype, and basic infrastructure as a service offers enough to become sufficiently mainstream and bring some exciting opportunities”
Mike Proudlock, RCS
The bespoke core application at RCS, dubbed Sims, is written in .Net and uses Microsoft’s SQL Server relational database management system. As part of the transformation programme, the platform used for the membership, education and fundraising functions of the college will evolve and deliver a range of new capabilities.
Within the next six months, RCS’s core platform will include a facility for regional staff to carry out tasks such as bulk inputting of candidates for exams and to link back to updates – such as exam results – automatically. It will also include a feature to set up direct debit payments for donations, as well as improved links with the SunAccounts finance system.
In addition, planned improvements for Sims will also see an automated process for initiating post-training surveys, linking course triggering. The platform will also be linked to the Moodle training application to automate course management.
Proudlock is interested in further exploiting the efficiencies cloud can bring, not only for the software estate, but also for infrastructure.
“Although it has been around for some time now, cloud is now moving beyond marketing hype, and basic infrastructure as a service offers enough to become sufficiently mainstream and bring some exciting opportunities to reduce costs or improve service provision and flexibility,” he says.
Proudlock is also excited about the prospects of additional innovations around mobility.
“As mobile communications grow in capacity and ubiquity, new ways to offer and improve customer services for our members and also to mobilise staff are opening up, with the potential to create new opportunities for customer engagement and possible revenue generation,” he adds.
Looking further ahead, the head of IT also sees potential in other emerging technologies such as blockchain.
“The possibilities of blockchain being used in user identification and authentication looks like it might make the management of IT security for both organisations and individuals easier,” he says.
“I’m sure, however, that there are also ways that it can be misused, and I don’t believe that it will offer a silver bullet.”
As with any period of major change, Proudlock anticipates there will probably be a lot of uncertainty for staff as the RCS progresses with its digital transformation plans.
“I expect my main challenge will be to keep everyone in the IT team fully engaged and committed to what we need to deliver, despite the inevitable uncertainty – both for us as a department and staff in the wider organisation,” he says.
“From previous experience leading similar major changes, I have found the best approach is to be as open and transparent with people as possible, including admitting when there is no information available,” he adds.
“I’ve seen too many cases where someone has tried to waffle their way through in such cases, and it almost always comes back to bite them.”