“I think one of the best things about working with the public sector is that it really evokes a sense of mission,” says Jonathan Stern, Public Sector Director at IT services firm Computacenter. The necessity of that mission has only been reinforced by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has refocused the public’s attention on the value of the public sector, in the form of the NHS and initiatives such as the Job Retention Scheme.
The pandemic, and the shift to remote working it has caused, has resulted in Computacenter scaling up its offering. “There’s been some pretty Herculean efforts to go from being in the middle of a Windows 10 deployment, to suddenly needing to transform the way in which we deliver service to the user and pivot towards delivering to individuals in their homes. The hours that were worked and the effort that was put in was quite remarkable.” Stern estimates that there are 300,000 key workers making use of its managed services, with over half a million critical national infrastructure customers across its customer base in the UK.
“Given that I was only a couple of months into the job proper, it was quite a baptism of fire,” says Stern. “It's quite humbling how Computacenter and my team stepped up to support that emergency handbrake turn to homeworking.” Enabling that has required a strong culture, as Stern emphasises. “Fundamentally, we're a people business. We're all about collaboration with our customers and our vendor partners to deliver technical solutions and outcomes to our customers.”
The company itself is the largest British IT services firm, combining its reseller heritage with a services business, from service desks to digital workplace, to networking security and public and hybrid IT. “We’re a unique company, from the longevity of our leadership, the fact that we're a British organization and despite our scale we have the ethos of a smaller, more agile business. We take complex technical and logistical challenges and turn them into commodity solutions, driving a competitive cost with a high quality of service”.
The work Computacenter does with the public sector is broad, with a focus on big customers such as central government departments - a process that started in 2013 with the securing of a relationship with the first major central government department. “We’ve been investing in our NHS business quite substantially and hiring more talent to help address NHS trusts on a regional basis, and a similar approach for police,” says Stern. “With Brexit coming downstream, there's a once in a generation opportunity to reimagine how government is structured and how to get the best value out of its supplier relationships. And the same might apply for the NHS. It's a highly fragmented environment, but you do wonder if a restructure could yield more coherent, larger entities with more control to deliver more predictable outcomes.”
Stern identifies an appetite to address legacy systems, which has only been accelerated by COVID-19. “Minimising the Public Sector’s reliance on aged IT solutions will unlock their potential to be more innovative and agile, which should lead to better public service outcomes, as well helping to mitigate cyber security threats.
“Working in partnership with the world’s leading technology companies - as we recently did with Dell Technologies to help a major transport infrastructure body create a new hybrid cloud solution for their application estate within Crown Hosting data centres - means we can bring together leading technology solutions with our scale and expertise to help organisations transform their legacy platforms. Our partners work with us because we really understand our customers’ challenges and their goals, which means we co-design solutions that drive maximum value from technology investments.”
“The pandemic has also materially accelerated the adoption of digital transformation with the creation of entirely new user bases. Whether that’s disadvantaged young people being given access to devices, or remote GP consultations. Once you create these platforms, you can't just take the technology away. You have to work out how you derive the maximum benefit, whether that's re-imagining models for patient care or working out how you actually level up and drive much improved educational attainment for segments of society.”
As for many in the tech industry, attracting and maintaining talent is a constant concern for Computacenter. “Attracting the right talent is connected to our vision in terms of the public sector, which is focused on helping to make the UK a better and safer place to live and work,” says Stern. “Often the UK is a consumer of tech services from overseas-based organisations, and so there's a real sense of responsibility for us in representing the British tech industry. That’s in terms of attracting talent in a diverse and inclusive way and representing the industry in a way that's reflective of society as a whole.”
Computacenter’s projects involving the public sector at this critical time include provisioning significant volumes of devices for the NHS. “How do you prioritise the critical national infrastructure priorities? I think very quickly there was an ethical or moral conclusion that healthcare had to be first. Back in April there were undoubtedly concerns over the ability of the NHS to cope. So we were very pleased to play a role.” Its work with the NHS extended to enabling clinicians to do more remotely, reducing the numbers of people entering into hospitals.
Elsewhere, Computacenter has been involved with the Department for Education’s ‘Get Help with Technology’ programme. “That involves devices for disadvantaged pupils and it’s been an extraordinary collective undertaking with a broad sweep of vendor partners, the likes of Microsoft and Google providing their educational platforms. We delivered over 200,000 devices in about 80 days, part of a complex solution with a wide variety of OEMs. Connectivity and security capabilities were locked down into the builds, distributed to nearly 2000 responsible bodies who then were responsible for the 26,000 schools. You're talking about 24% of the UK’s normal consumption of devices in a quarter, just a phenomenal undertaking.”
Stern highlights that Computacenter’s resilience stands the company in good stead for the future. “The pandemic has had an enormous impact on our lives, and it looks like it's going to be with us for a while. However, it has shone a light on the capabilities of the British tech industry, delivering technology solutions to meet social needs at a pace and scale that people wouldn't have considered to be achievable in normal times.” Despite the abnormality of the current situation, Computacenter remains dedicated to the same tenets. “We focus on our customers and we look to deliver relevant solutions that help them to achieve their business goals, and we will continue in that vein.”
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