It is now 12 months since Coventry City Council bought its ICT services back in-house, and one of its big successes during that time has been the partnership it has established with Stone for the provision of flexible and “exceptional value” hardware and services.

Having concluded that outsourcing its ICT services no longer delivered the value for money it required, Coventry City Council (CCC) decided to bring the majority of its IT requirements back in house. This would provide the Council with more control over its budget, and allow it to allocate funds more directly to strategic initiatives required by the business.

 

Jonathan Guy – Head of ICT Support Services said, “The decision to insource ICT was made in order to facilitate an improvement in service levels and customer satisfaction, whilst ensuring the long term commercial viability of the service. A key factor in delivering this was to establish new, fit for purpose agreements with a smaller number of key strategic suppliers, to deliver improved levels of performance and a greater value for money. Stone have excelled in delivering both.”

 

As part of the review process, the ICT team at CCC identified that the existing desktop and laptop estate was in significant need of refresh, with more than half of the devices being over four years old and not capable of supporting the Windows 7 rollout. This presented the ideal opportunity to test the market for a new hardware provider. After a successful bid through the Government Procurement Service (previously Buying Solutions), a contract was established with Stone for the provision of ICT hardware and associated services.

 

The contract with Stone is part of a larger initiative backed by a multi-million pound capital budget. Jonathan explains, “As part of a broader business transformation programme, we were looking to support location-independent working which meant moving to lighter, more portable laptop devices and deploying wireless connectivity.” This, in turn, would allow the organisation to look at whether it reduces the size of its property estate by consolidating the number of desks that would be needed to deliver services to a mobile workforce. The Public Sector is facing a challenging time with regards to funding and CCC has tasked itself with reducing its revenue budget for contracts by £1.2 million , a challenge that the partnership with Stone is helping to achieve.

 

Cost efficiency, service quality

As part of the contract review process, and in order to facilitate pressing hardware requirements, two suppliers were engaged, primarily selected based on a quantitative/commercial assessment, one of which was Stone.

 

Tom Northcote, CCC’s Supplier Relationship Manager who is responsible for over-seeing the Council’s ICT contracts explains, “When we established the initial agreements with the two providers, we had looked primarily at cost, but we soon recognised that the agreement with Stone was delivering a number of other benefits, particularly around support services. Stone had incorporated a majority of the additional services into their cost proposals, or else had exceptionally good value rates, including ‘asset tagging’, ‘imaging’ and an ‘install to desk’ service whereby hardware is supplied fully configured and installed on the premises, plus a warranty of up to five years on its desktop systems.”

 

Now appreciating the value of such services and following discussions with Buying Solutions (now Government Procurement) the ICT team offered an extended two-year agreement to Stone, covering all desktop, laptop and other associated equipment. The new contract worth upwards of £500,000 per annum, covers 5000 corporate users across the entire Authority, which spans some 120 locations.

 

Flexible working, flexible IT

The original intention when reviewing the provision of desktop hardware in to CCC was to roll out new standard laptops and desktops on a 3:1 basis, which was supportable by the capital budget available. Less than 12 months in to the relationship with Stone, the Council’s current strategy is now to phase out both the standard laptop and, to a large extent, the standard desktop in favour of ultra-lightweight laptop devices which are more suited to its location-independent working initiative. Tom says, “Previously these ultra-light weight devices would have been too expensive, costing in excess of £800 each, but Stone was able to provide a suitable device for approximately the same price of our traditional heavier laptops, giving us a significant increase in value without any increase in cost. Factoring in the increase in the warranty period to five years and like for like, these devices were actually less expensive.”

 

The Council is also taking full advantage of the value-added services proposed by Stone in its original engagement with CCC – from the long warranty cover to factory-based asset tagging and imaging. These last two services mean that by the time Stone has installed the equipment on-site, the systems are fully configured and connected to the corporate network.

 

“The tagging makes asset management much easier, and the fact that the systems are being installed fully working means we don’t have to use any of our own resources,” Tom explains, “Instead of being tied up rolling out hundreds of devices, our own qualified engineers are free to prioritise other things.”

 

Support schools

The Council serves 120 schools, ranging from primaries to secondary schools and Academies. Whilst under the previous service model, CCC provided both first-line IT support to these estates and advice and guidance on solutions, Stone has been invited to augment the support provided here too.

 

“Schools are not required to engage with Stone via the Local Authority, but can utilise the provisions of the contract by approaching Stone directly. This has included advice and guidance as opposed to simply the provision of commodity items,” Jonathan explains. “This started on a small scale / pilot basis initially, but has been allowed to grow both quickly and organically principally as a result of the good service Stone is providing. The schools are getting all the support they need and have come to expect, including recommendations on which equipment to choose or solutions to adopt. The feedback has been excellent; the schools feel they are getting great value for money and a high quality of service.”

 

This is because Stone is always ready to go the extra mile. A recent example was when a local catering academy, the De Vere Academy of Hospitality, approached the Council to request free laptops in support of a new apprentice scheme.

 

“They needed 20 desktop machines of a reasonable specification but ideally needed them to be provided free of charge,” Tom explains. “Had we still been engaged with one of the tier 1 multi-nationals, we would have been unlikely to have been able to support this initiative. With Stone however, we were comfortable in approaching them and confident that they would be able to assist. Sure enough, they offered us 20 desktop systems from their Encore range of refurbished systems, at no charge. This is the kind of attitude that sets Stone apart from a majority of other suppliers. Instead of a large and disengaged corporate entity, we’re dealing with a real customer focused service company.”

 

Seeing the job through

Stone’s end-to-end service also includes a full recycling process for decommissioned equipment, using its own facilities based at its manufacturing premises. Where possible, Stone refurbishes and sells on retired machines as part of its commitment to a “cradle to grave” approach – in which Stone manages the entire lifecycle of its hardware, sending 0% to landfill.

 

The Council has ready access to its account manager, which has paved the way for a very professional but largely informal relationship that works extremely well for CCC. Jonathan adds, “We have a very good relationship with Stone. With most suppliers, the relationship can be very contract-driven and prescriptive. Whilst there is certainly frequent discussion and challenge around services and costs, this is conducted in an informal and frank manner by both sides. Stone negotiate on our behalf with third party suppliers, and are happy to receive instruction on the outcomes required; they’re extremely flexible and provide excellent value for money. Whilst it is obviously relatively easy to have a good relationship with a company that is providing a good level of service, Stone really have been exceptional.”

 

A further credit to Stone is that, despite manufacturing its own equipment, the company always makes sure that a customer gets the right technology for their specific requirements. Tom explains, “Although we are using Stone’s desktop systems, they recommended Samsung laptops as better suited to our particular corporate needs, despite recognising that these would represent a large proportion of our demand, and deliver a lower margin”. Tom concludes, “At a time when you might expect a supplier to push higher margin products / services, it is reassuring to be dealing with a company that remembers and prioritises the value of a fit-for-purpose, personalised service.”