Northumberland County Council employ over 10,000 staff, and provide residents, visitors and businesses with a wide variety of services. The council see its employees as its most valuable asset and is keen to invest in learning and development so that it can further improve the way in which it collaborates, works and learns together. In order to facilitate this aim, it provides people with the opportunity to develop the tools, knowledge, skills and confidence to maximise their performance. Currently, the council is updating its computer hardware to enable a more agile workforce.
IT Support Manager Paul Foster is responsible for the technical aspect of IT delivery for the entire council. He manages several teams who oversee numerous obligations, from IT technical support to service desk. In addition to the County Hall headquarters, there are a further 240 sites the teams look after, including schools. The team at the council HQ are responsible for the administration of all schools and look after the IT curriculum requirements for around 40.
With many of their existing desktops between 5 – 7 years old, they were nearing end of life. And so, the council submitted a tender to refresh 5,000 desktop devices.
“The hardware was elderly and slow and therefore needed a lot more attention in terms of maintenance, memory upgrades and hard disk replacement,” explained Paul. “This was a constant overhead for the service desk team and this, together with the fact our machines were running on Windows 7, were key drivers for the investment in our commitment to facilitate an agile workforce.”
The tender was successfully won by Stone, and although the council had heard of them previously, it was not until they started a due diligence process that Paul and his team appreciated the full range of services we could offer.
“We were very impressed when we visited Stone – we had no idea of the size of their operation, and although price and value for money were of course important in the decision, the range of services Stone could offer was equally vital. We didn’t want somebody who would sub-contract various elements out to other providers. We wanted a one stop shop and Stone’s full range of technology and solution expertise fitted the bill.”
The council wanted a company that could not only supply notebooks and desktops, but who could also configure the council’s new devices through SCCM imaging so that the machines were already set up and ready to use once deployed. The council have numerous departments, each utilising different pieces of specialist software. “In their configuration centre, the Stone team put the operating system and some basic software on each device. Stone then ship to site where specialist software is added as required,” explains Paul. “We provide our requirements and then Stone build the piece of kit to our specification – we wanted to make it as easy as possible for our end users and so everything was aligned by the experts at Stone which made life so much easier for us.”
Stone has over 25 years’ experience and its own in-house engineers, and so is able to offer a bespoke solution to all of its clients. Stone and the council set up a few pilot configurations and installations and it was apparent that the actual set up was going to take time and resources that Paul’s team did not have. Stone were more than happy to deploy several of its own team members to the council to assist with the installation of the machines and help streamline the implementation.
As an OEM and trusted partner of many industry leading vendors, Stone offer an extensive range of own brand kit and hardware from the biggest names in IT. After listening to the council’s requirements, Stone advised the most appropriate equipment to meet these needs and proposed robust Lenovo devices. The council had worked with Lenovo previously so were familiar with the hardware and knew the machines were reliable. “Some of our staff who work outside an office environment need laptops that are quite rugged and the Lenovo brand had proved themselves in the past,” said Paul.
Stone were also able to save the council money after having discussed exactly what staff required from their equipment. In cases where it was clear that less functionality was needed, Stone recommended affordable entry level devices in place of higher-end options. And as a Lenovo Platinum Partner, Stone were able to offer extremely competitive pricing. Paul said: “For example, not many people would require the flip over capability to use their notebook as a tablet or, they would not require a finger print reader. Value for money is so important in the public sector and Stone were refreshingly open and honest and explained that we could get perfectly adequate machines without these features which meant less expense for us.”
As they had learned in the pilot, the deployment of the devices was the most labour intensive element of the project, as the engineers need to visit the desks of all staff members to replace their old hardware with the new equipment. The machine exchange takes place during office hours so that staff can log into their new devices and Stone can check that there are no issues.
“A project manager at the council schedules in the physical replacement of the hardware,” said Paul. “She is responsible for informing Stone on the type of configuration required and which device is most appropriate for their needs, for example a notebook or a desktop. Most people want a notebook, which is ideal for the agile working policy and it is really important staff can work from multiple locations quickly and with the minimum of fuss.”
With this in mind, and because staff need to be able to go to any desk at any location and just plug in and start work, a USB-C connector was agreed as the way forward. This new generation of connectors allows the user to have the network, display, keyboard and mouse on the one connection, meaning less wiring and simply one plug rather than a multitude of different ones. This not only keeps workspaces tidy, but it’s quick and easy to set up – the ideal solution for an agile workforce
“Having decided on this route forward we wanted Stone’s advice on the most appropriate monitor for us,” said Paul. “Stone recommended we try a new monitor from Philips which features an integrated docking system.”
The monitors suggested by Stone were Philips’ new B-Line FHD LCD Monitors with USB-C technology and crystal-clear IPS images. The integrated 3.1 USB-C connector allows simple one-cable docking, data transfer, video display and more, and the SmartErgoBase enables user-friendly ergonomic adjustments for a truly versatile solution.
As the monitors had only recently been launched, Stone and Philips worked closely with Paul and his team, with Philips happy to come onto site to provide demonstrations of the monitors in collaboration with the full range of new kit, including notebooks, desktops and Chromebooks.
Paul said: “The Philips monitors worked really well with all our new kit and so far, we have had around 1000 installed with excellent feedback. Philips provided great support and they were more than happy to come in and explain everything to us – for example, specifying the exact USB-C cable for charging and display purposes.”
Providing advice on future technologies, such as the Philips monitor is one of the reasons why clients like Northumberland Council work with Stone. As one of the leading suppliers of technology in the UK, Stone have the expertise that help them stay ahead of the game when it comes to new market developments, as is proving to be the case with a new Audio-Visual solution the council is considering.
AV is not something Paul and his team usually get involved in, and so he turned to Stone for advice. This project will see all the video conference facilities at County Hall transformed to utilise a standard piece of kit in all rooms. The existing facilities are fairly old, and can differ from room to room, so staff waste time trying to work out which wire goes where to get the AV up and running – again this places pressure on Pauls service desk.
“Stone are working with the council on this as a collaborative project,” said Paul. “Stone have an AV specialist and we have been working closely with him to advise on the right kit.”
Going forward the council want a solution that is standardised so that whichever of the 30 – 40 video conferencing rooms a member of staff walk into, they all offer the same easy to use system.
Paul adds: “Stone have taken our brief and will shortly be installing demo equipment for us to trial. It’s good to be able to go to one company and be confident in their ability to find a solution to our IT problem – that one stop shop facility again.”
Another service provided by Stone is the recycling of the old kit. “We have to meet numerous waste management requirements,” said Paul, “and Stone has the expertise and experience to ensure we meet them.”
Stone offer a complete 360 recycling solution through its fully accredited recycling facility. The council has a collection point which quarantines the hardware and ancillary equipment for two weeks in a secure part of the building until Stone is ready to collection them.
“We arrange it so that Stone can send one of its larger trucks every couple of months,” said Paul. “We fill it and then off it goes to the recycling facility for Stone to do its thing.”
Once Stone has collected the equipment in one of its maximum security, GPS-tracked vehicles, they use the Blanco data erasure software to ensure everything is removed safely and in accordance with GDPR regulations. Stone then provide the relevant certification back to the council to deliver full traceability and to demonstrate all data has been disposed of in the correct manner.
At the time of writing, the Northumberland County Council desktop refresh is about 18 months into what is a three-year project. “This is a major project for both parties,” said Paul, “and we have been more than happy with the process to date.
The project is on track to ensure that staff at Northumberland County Council have the next generation Windows 10 operating system in modern equipment that suits their needs. Once complete, our staff will be able to go to any desk across the council and plug in one connection to be ready for work in an instant.”