Features: December 14th, 2012

IT maintenance contracts hold no excitement, but they can lead to drama when problems are not fixed quickly. This feature describes how complex networks are kept working and how technology is used to manage incidents and support field engineers.

One of the largest hospital trusts in the UK, Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust runs both the Cheltenham General and Gloucestershire Royal Hospitals with major facilities such as ED, Theatres, Oncology, Pathology and Radiology services for the County. In addition it hosts the Countywide IT Service which in addition to the Acute Hospitals at Cheltenham and Gloucester also provides IT services to the rest of the NHS community including NHS Gloucestershire which is the primary care trust and 2Gether Trust responsible for mental health services in the county.

In total the IT service supports around 160 locations in Gloucestershire including GP Surgeries, Health Centres and Community Hospitals. In turn these provide patient services to around 600,000 people resident in Gloucestershire.

Like every other Trust in the country, behind the scenes the NHS Community in Gloucestershire increasingly relies on IT systems to help deal with the efficient and timely care of these large numbers of patients and employees. Consequently, CITS runs over 350 technology applications to ensure its day-to-day work is carried out smoothly, efficiently and securely.

Until recently, its server infrastructure was supported by a couple of different vendors under various support and warranty agreements. However, when the contract came up for renewal, the trust decided to make a change. As Chris Johnstone, IT operations manager explains: “It made sense to consolidate our assets and use a single provider. We could see that this would save time, enable us to take a fuller and more complete view of various elements of the IT server and printer estate and save money for the taxpayer in the long run too.” Companies were invited to tender for the three-year support contract and, following a stringent evaluation process, this was awarded to Calyx Managed Services.

“Calyx has a long and successful track record of supporting similar customers to the Gloucestershire Countywide IT Service,” says Dave Buckland, Calyx account director. “We provide managed services including maintenance, project, implementation and support services for huge user bases across a wide range of organisations including healthcare and government.”

In fact, Calyx was already well-known to Johnstone and his team as it had worked on a series of projects with the trust for almost a decade, initially alongside HP. These included the management and roll out of a new LAN infrastructure, which had to be phased in with no perceivable downtime. Not only was this project delivered on time and within the budget, but it also resulted in significant performance and resilience improvements.

Calyx had also implemented Quality of Service (QoS) across the trust to support its VoIP solution and deployed a web security system, to help manage internet access.

“Calyx was already a trusted supplier and we had confidence the Calyx team would deliver on its promises. As a vendor-independent managed services supplier, it could offer a more flexible service tailored around our own needs rather than only offering off-the-shelf products and services. The fact that they could support our remaining legacy systems was also a factor,” says Johnstone.

Managing maintenance

Calyx now works with the Service on several levels, providing informed market knowledge to support input to CITS decision making on strategic direction for its IT estates, as well as day-to-day workflow. At the heart of Calyx’s service is a round-the-clock service helpdesk run from its Network Operations Centre in Manchester. This provides first-line support including the proactive management and reporting of response times covered by rigorous service level agreements.

Always keen to use technology to improve performance and help drive down costs, Calyx has installed tracker devices in all field engineers’ vehicles to enable accurate assessments of specific locations. This is complemented by an automated incident scheduler which refreshes the incident allocation on a 30-second cycle, ensuring that all incidents are allocated to the most appropriate resource to enable the fastest possible response.

“We pride ourselves on our quick response to problems,” says Buckland. “We’re one of only a small number of organisations in the country to offer fully integrated service management ensuring that all operational personnel involved have full access to real-time incident status.”

Johnstone reports that since Calyx took on the contract there have been no serious incidents. “In addition we have appreciated Calyx’s reaction to more mundane issues such as disks that go wrong or battery renewals. Getting these fixed as quickly as possible is important to us as it avoids minor issues becoming more major problems that would potentially impact users”.

Further, he adds, it is having a good working relationship with Calyx that is the real key to success. “The feedback I get from my team is that they are really easy to work with and are both professional and personable.

“Part of this relationship is the confidence that Calyx won’t let us down. From our point of view, even the smallest delay can be business critical. In a hospital, without being overdramatic, it can ultimately affect people’s lives. Calyx has offered good SLAs, but more importantly, its actual service goes beyond this,” he concludes.