Reaching across the public sector

coverEd Brown, Managing Director of Capita Managed IT Solutions, talks to Owen McQuade about Capita’s business reach across Northern Ireland’s public sector and its plans for future expansion.

While Capita is well known as the largest provider of business process and IT outsourcing in the UK, its presence in Northern Ireland until recent years has been more modest. The acquisition of the Managed IT Solutions business from Northgate in 2013 was a step-change for Capita. Their long-standing customer relationships in both public and private sectors and reputation for delivery of service excellence in IT outsourcing and services made them a very attractive acquisition target.

Capita’s commitment to further growing their footprint in Northern Ireland was confirmed with the announcement of plans to create 400 new jobs over the next three years with support from Invest NI. The Managed IT Solutions centre of excellence in Newtownabbey is key to these growth aspirations and currently provides remote technical support to many of their private and public sector customers, both in Ireland and across Great Britain. With a further 1,200 staff based in the Republic of Ireland and an aspiration for growth across the island and beyond, Ireland is an important location for Capita.

Capita now employs over 1,200 people in Northern Ireland across a number of its businesses and provides its outsourcing and technology services to almost every part of the public sector – from workplace and payroll services to consultancy, asset management and specialist software and IT services. The extent of the work Capita undertakes means that it touches almost every part of the public sector in different ways and the company is also a business partner and supplier to many private sector organisations in Northern Ireland. Capita’s HR Solutions team also has a substantial presence, employing over 350 staff and providing HR, payroll and recruitment services in partnerships with BBC HR Direct, NICS HR Connect and Ulster Bank. Capita also works hands-on with BBC Audience Services to support their UK-wide audience engagement strategy direct from Belfast.

With the combination of their broad capabilities and in-depth understanding of the business and public sector world of Northern Ireland, growth is firmly on the agenda for Capita in 2015.

One of their most established sectors is education, where Capita provide the management information system that’s used in every school in Northern Ireland and are also responsible for managing the IT infrastructure that is putting technology in the hands of over 300,000 students every day.

PEYE 041114KB2  0051 Education

Just over half of the Capita Managed IT Solutions business is in the education sector. The company is the partner for the delivery of the C2k Education Network Northern Ireland (ENNI) service and has now finished the “complete transformation” of all primary and post-primary schools across the province. As part of the programme, Capita introduced a new wide area network (along with eircom NI) to every school in Northern Ireland, as well as also introducing new technologies including the deployment of the My-School portal which is Capita’s own proprietary application solution.

“Students and teachers come in in the morning and they access the digital world through My-School,” Ed Brown explains. “That’s our application and all digital content is delivered through that infrastructure. In totality, the overall ENNI technology offering provides the most digitally advanced delivery of ICT into the education sector, certainly in Europe and probably worldwide.”

In his view, we need our schoolchildren “to be exposed to the best use of technology possible from an early age, we need them to embrace all forms of technology and what it can do.” Our local ICT industry needs this as it is already “really under-resourced” and its growth is in Northern Ireland’s strategic interest. The ICT industry is among the top five sectors that have continued to develop over the last five years: “We need to teach children about ICT from the early stages – and this helps with their future education and career choices.”

Policing

A significant part of Capita’s business is in the criminal justice sector. Across the UK, the company works with police forces on a local, regional and national scale providing a portfolio of solutions and services ranging from control room solutions, mobile data, evidence management and records management systems and translation services.

Brown remarks: “Once you’ve secured your base IT service, it’s the applications you provide on top of that which actually improve operational efficiencies. Every force is under the same pressure: a reduction in people. Not one application is going to fix everything so it’s these range of different applications around different processes that are going to make a difference. Capita have worked with the PSNI over a number of years on many key operational solutions and will continue to bring innovation and development to the market to support changes in operational policing.”

PEYE 041114KB2  0004 Looking forward

Since the Newtownabbey operation was acquired last March, it has already established itself within the Capita Group as the nearshore delivery centre for technology solutions for the company’s customer base within Great Britain. “It’s been a very efficient and very successful development of a nearshore delivery centre here,” says Brown.

The next phase of the company’s development will see the leveraging of the wider Capita Group’s capabilities locally. “Our second phase of evolution involves bringing the rest of the capabilities of Capita through us to the market first and foremost in Northern Ireland and into our customer base in Great Britain,” he adds.

2015 will be all about growth and increasing Capita’s footprint in Northern Ireland – in both the public and private sectors – and then look at extending their capabilities into the Republic of Ireland. In his view, this will see “the start of a focused push across an all-Ireland basis, beginning in Belfast.”

Brown also sees an opportunity in helping government here meet the challenge of reduced budgets. He explains: “With the enormous challenges that the public sector is facing, organisations like Capita that can address technology and business processes have got to really help public sector departments figure out not just how to address budget cuts but actually achieve a real step change in citizen-centric service provision. The point of cloud services, underpinned by BPO offerings, is that you can buy what you need today on a platform where you don’t buy any more than you need to use.”

As the finite amount of money available to the public sector decreases, it will have to do things differently. In doing so, the sector has to look at the private sector and organisations like Capita “to help them think about reinventing the wheel” and how to get “more efficiency, productivity and value for money” out of their finances and their work.

“That has to come with the deployment of new technologies, whether it’s cloud technologies or mobile technologies or efficiencies driven around that and the streamlining or outsourcing of business processes,” Brown continues. “Something that changes the way that things have previously been done.”

He recognises that this is a very difficult and very emotive issue but Capita can bring some of the other models of shared risk where it has built “variations on joint ventures” with local authorities outside Northern Ireland. “It’s a matter of opening the mind,” he says in conclusion. “There are other ways to deliver innovation and real value for money”. With Capita’s increased capacity and capabilities locally, they are well positioned to bring such innovation and expertise.

Capita are good with hands on experience: “We are always keen to roll our sleeves up, take risk and actually work with the public sector as partners.”

C2k Education Network Northern Ireland

In March 2012, Capita Managed IT Solutions was awarded a £170 million, five-year contract to provide a new ICT service for over 1,100 schools in Northern Ireland.

At the centre of the new service is the creation of Europe’s largest cloud service for the education sector. “Everything that we’ve been doing around the wide area network and My-School is to equip schools to securely and safely use all the digital cloud services. That may be using content on the web that’s out there day and daily. There is lots of published material that schools can use in lessons to make lessons really come to life,” says Brown.

A large portion of the curriculum applications in schools are now delivered through the cloud and the challenge, particularly in education, is ensuring e-safety. In accessing the content through My-School, schools know which sites are ok to access. Users can access public cloud services in a very secure and defined way “so that you’re able to safeguard children and teachers in how they access content.”

Brown contends: “It’s no longer reasonable for schools to have everything on their own site and lock it down. It’s just not the world that children are living in outside school and we want them to adapt to when they come into work. It’s really mirroring our world.”

Future bandwidth demands have been a problem in previous provision for schools. However, this is a long contract with built-in scalable bandwidth so that when schools reach their maximum bandwidth capacity, it can then be increased.

The cloud service also means that rather than storing data on individual devices or on the school server, they will automatically be routed into Capita’s data centres. The other big change is the move to the use of mobile devices. The project has deployed a new wireless network to all the schools, which was just finished over the summer, and it now connects an average of 30,000 devices at any point in time.

The network has also seen the implementation of over 300,000 Microsoft Office 365 accounts: the biggest deployment Microsoft has had. All students use Microsoft Office 365 to access their email. They can log into their account at home through My-School and extend learning so that it doesn’t all happen in school. All schools also use the virtual learning environment where lessons can be uploaded and homework can be set so it does make the students want to work closer into the school.

“It’s a real cloud deployment across a 350,000 end-user community,” says Brown. The network has also an education apps store which can be accessed via My-School. If the user is on a desktop in a school, directly on a network, they can pull down the entire application (licence-permitting). If they are on a mobile device or have lower bandwidth, it will stream what they need from that application. There are now 170 different titles for schools to use in that way and that will just build over time.

The network is leading-edge. “We’ve had a number of representations from governments and education departments in other countries come over and look at what is going on in Northern Ireland because it’s seen as leading the way globally,” says Brown. “It’s one of the most complex IT programmes that even Capita has undertaken over the years in terms of its breadth and scope of work.”

Profile: Ed Brown

Ed has over 25 years’ experience in the provision of IT services and solutions across a wide range of industry sectors. These include local and regional government, manufacturing, distribution, consumer products and professional services sectors. Prior to joining Capita Managed IT Solutions in 2005, Ed was a partner in the national IT consulting practice of Deloitte, the largest of the UK’s big four accountancy firms. He also spent ten years in Accenture where he held a Senior Manager position in the UK and Ireland consultancy practice. Ed has spent a number of years on the management board of Momentum, the trade body for the ICT industry in Northern Ireland and held the position of Chairman for several years.

Ed’s interests include gardening and walking his two dogs and he is a season ticket holder at the Kingspan stadium. Ed is also Chairman of Belfast Exposed, Northern Ireland’s principal gallery of contemporary photography based in the Cathedral Quarter in Belfast, and is active in corporate social responsibility, working on the CBI’s school leaders’ mentorship programme.

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