The States of Guernsey has been struggling with legacy IT systems for a long time, so it seemed serendipitous that just as the island’s workforce were pushed into home working, the States had just signed off on a new IT partnership.
It has been one year since the first case of corona virus was detected in the Bailiwick of Guernsey and in the year since, our lives have been dragged ever further into the digital age; this is no different for government.
Online media briefings, virtual States sittings, entire workforces moving to work from home. Not to mention critical behind-the-scenes systems implemented as fast as possible, from the Covid-19 track and trace programme, to Travel Tracker and the vaccine programme. All digital, and all developed through a partnership with Agilisys.
Agilisys. A name we’ve heard so often and yet, what they’ve been up to has been left to speculation and, in some cases, formal questions in the Assembly.
Pictured: Mr Vaudin was appointed as Guernsey's first-ever Chief Information Officer in 2014.
The States of Guernsey signed a £200million contract with the IT firm back in 2019, to allow for a complete renovation of the ancient States systems.
The 10 year agreement gives Agilisys the reigns on transforming all IT systems, from pulling personal tax returns completely online to digitizing all patient’s records at the hospital. Express was told by the CEO of Agilisys that they’re roughly 50% of the way through the process.
Much like IT in any business, or even at home, little is heard until something goes wrong. So does that mean it has been all smooth sailing?
“We've had some challenges - there's been a lot about developing digital maturity," said States Chief Information Officer Colin Vaudin. "A lot of people still buy the cheapest home broadband, which is fine for normal Netflix, but it can get overwhelmed easily."
"We were still doing remote working by legacy systems, what we're doing now is rolling people out onto the new infrastructure," he said.
Meanwhile, The CEO of Agilisys, Richard Hanrahan, said the pressure was on to create something seamless.
“The benchmark set by Colin and his team was to have an IT estate that essentially people don't know exists - they wanted IT that just works."
Pictured: Mr Hanrahan has been involved in IT transformation projects for the past 20 years.
The most recent and public technical issues were reported earlier this year, when older legacy IT systems failed, causing SOG emails to stop working and online forms to fail. Most notably the issues impacted the February States meeting, leading to a delay in the virtual sitting.
A number of critical systems did remain in operation however. Critical systems which, along with the roll out of 600 new staff devices and 2,000 Microsoft teams licenses, are a monumental success story, according to Mr Vaudin.
"We have on any one day, about 2,000 staff accessing systems remotely. When we started this journey in February last year, on a routine day we'd have less than 200 - so that's the scale of change," he said.
“All of this [vaccine roll-out, track and trace] is a big data exercise. All of this has been built from the ground-up in a matter of weeks and months."
He understands that a number of concerns have been raised, about delays and technical issues.
“We've had to rebuild all the foundations," he said. "It's very easy to look at the parts we could've done better and there are parts we could've done better."
"But I do spend time thinking about what this would have all looked like if we hadn't entered the partnership."
Mr Hanrahan echoed the sentiment: “We are now addressing a technical debt that has accrued over a period of time and step by step we're bringing things up to standard."
Pictured: Data Centres are used for remote storage by large organisations and can process huge amounts of data.
Agilisys has completed a number of projects behind-the-scenes, including building two completely new data centres and 70% of what can be migrated to these data centres has already been moved across. The aim of which was to replace ageing systems and reduce running costs, including cutting down on the amount of staff it takes to complete certain tasks.
“We have a number of 'robots' working on the track and trace programme that take one minute to do what a human could do in 15,” said Mr Hanrahan.
“This gives us the opportunity to look at things like right size in government and reducing manual tasks."
Since capacity is no longer a problem, the completion of the two centres – which were budgeted at £4.3 million and came in at around £2.9 million – could lead the way for the technical infrastructure to be more inviting to financial services and trust companies.
“We now have the most technically advanced back office public/private hybrid cloud of any Crown Dependency,” said Mr Vaudin.
These projects are costly, he said, and the £200 million pound contract does sound expensive.
"It's easy to go wow, the States must be spending a fortune," said Mr Hanrahan. "Actually we have value for money tests that we submit to; there are benchmarking provisions within the contract - there are a number of things the States' procurement team do, to show they have control over the spend."
So, are we saving money yet?
It used to cost the States of Guernsey £17 million per year to maintain and run its IT systems, a best case scenario estimated these costs would rise 5% per annum for the next 10 years. Agilisys's costs were set to be higher in the first few years but eventually the 10 year relationship would aim to save the States of Guernsey an estimated £17 million during its lifetime.
Meanwhile, the States of Guernsey 2021 budget allowed for £1.1 million extra funding for SMART Guernsey, one of Agilisys's restructuring initiatives. Mr Vaudin said it's hard to make a like-for-like comparisons on cost, because our IT needs keep changing and more things keep being "thrown in the hopper"
"If you take a like-for-like comparison in year one, we reduced the government spend by £1.5 million. The problem we have is that as a government we keep adding things in, so the cost goes up. When people say the costs are going up it's because we've added more things 'into the hopper' than we had at the beginning of the process."
Mr Hanrahan said: “Success for me would be to be on a call with you in eight years time beginning the transfer of service provision back to the States of Guernsey."
When Agilisys started its work in 2019 it took on 58 members of staff from the States of Guernsey, it has now increased this workforce to 64 people who work full time for Agilisys. Guernsey doesn’t have all the skills necessary on island to troubleshoot every system Agilisys has implemented, so off-island call centres are utilised as well. However, £1 million has been spent on staff training to prepare for the future handover from Agilisys to a States-run service.
The next step, to allow for more flexibility for staff, is to reverse the ratio of 90% desktop and 10% laptop work.
Pictured: Agilisys could be kept on beyond its ten year contract to offer support services.
When the contract was signed no one could know that covid was just around the corner.
“We went from an environment that was meant to have people in offices; to setting up emergency systems on legacy infrastructure,” said Mr Hanrahan.
The two-year procurement process does seem to have found the island a strong IT partner, a partner who’ll help the SOG implement a number of impressive sounding programmes. Like SMART Guernsey which the CEO of the SOG, Paul Whitfield, says is “highly ambitious” and includes the issuing of digital medical certificates which went live as a trial early in 2020.
Only time will tell if the partnership will bring about the savings and service improvements that have been pledged. For now, as customers, we’re being told that like any IT system, if you can’t see problems - there aren’t any.
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