Public Health Organisation & ZephyrIT Cloud Transition Professional Services
A large public health organisation, faced with upgrading a high-value, complex medical system (an external beam treatment unit) for use in its oncology department, retained ZephyrIT to manage the upgrade.
Post Cyber-Attack Context - The upgrade was a complex transition programme which was further complicated by the organisation having suffered a major cyber-attack in the previous 12 months.
This impacted its ability to deliver health services for several months following the attack, so improved systems security became a top priority in programme requirements. As part of the security review and treatment system upgrade, the organisation strategy was to move data processing, imaging storage and treatment information to the cloud.
The context within the organisation following the cyber-attack and its fallout, was significant. This placed the whole organisation in a highly stressed state and particularly the technology/digital functions. As a result, any activity in this area would have immense scrutiny and absolutely no tolerance for failure, not only within the organisation but also across the sector, government and the public.
This is the context ZephyrIT found itself in when embarking on this critical programme.
Transition Strategy - Initially, the approach was to upgrade the operating software of the linear accelerator (the external beam treatment unit) when the physical unit was replaced. However, ZephyrIT recommended that it was best practice to transition to a cloud system without adding unnecessary complications by simultaneously changing other major project variables. This approach was adopted except for one small utility system, which was found to be incompatible with the cloud environment, so it was replaced.
Re-baselining - In the early stages of the upgrade programme, a key vendor consistently failed to meet scheduled deliverables. Eventually, this led to ZephyrIT recommending that the entire upgrade programme should be reset to a fresh starting point. This returned the programme to a steady state with achievable outcomes.
The upgrade programme is now completing its final testing phase and will go live with the new hardware and all related data systems moved to the cloud in early 2023. All programme requirements and specifications will have been met and full testing completed before the system goes live and is used in the treatment of patients. In health systems especially there must be a zero-tolerance approach to any possible compromise of performance and safety standards, which generally requires significant experience and professionalism as was provided by ZephyrIT. The client is extremely happy with the outcome.
The value of the experience brought by ZephyrIT was evident throughout the programme. A further value add example was delivered in the final testing phase during a project update meeting, where the managed services vendor representative announced that once the full production cloud environment “had been stood up” and approved by the health organisation, the contracted quarterly charges would begin
ZephyrIT pointed out that the contract specified that charging would not commence until the cloud environment was in full production use, not just “signed off” as meeting performance requirements. This was accepted and this action alone saved the health organisation between $150,000 and $200,000.
This demonstrates how ZephyrIT goes beyond the obvious boundaries of an accountability to ensure the customer outcome is achieved in all areas.
When a large multinational corporation bought out its regional distributors in Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand, its European technology headquarters decided that implementing a globally consistent desktop computing environment with standardised security was a major priority. A similar project had already been successfully completed across the European region, and the company was keen that its new subsidiaries be integrated into its global systems as soon as practicable.
In New Zealand, the company’s European technology management selected ZephyrIT to manage the upgrade and standardisation of the desktop environment for 1,300 local staff. ZephyrIT was selected because of its staff’s combination of skills and experience and the company’s track record in successfully managing complex projects.
Stephen McCambridge, the ZephyrIT project manager in charge of the upgrade project, said the New Zealand subsidiary’s planned work programme quickly changed after an initial pilot run showed that the local conditions did not match the assumptions of the European technology team.
“The European experience was that 80-85 per cent of the staff were able to self-manage the transition to the new environment, 10 per cent required minor support, and only five per cent really required Helpdesk intervention,” said McCambridge.
When the standardisation project was carried out in Europe, it coincided with a hardware upgrade rollout. Staff there were effectively handing in their old laptop and collecting a new device, preinstalled with a standardised desktop environment and the appropriate permissions and security settings for their role. This was not the case in New Zealand, as the local subsidiary did not have the luxury of simply upgrading to new hardware, as it was only partway through its current hardware life cycle.
The local pilot showed that the assumption of 80-85 per cent of users being able to self-upgrade was unrealistic for the New Zealand business. This was primarily because the existing hardware was being re-imaged overnight rather than staff being handed new pre-configured units.
“Locally, the mix of environments and configurations meant that more than 60 per cent of users needed technical support, so expecting the majority of the 1,300 users to self-manage the upgrade wasn’t going to happen,” said McCambridge.
“What we learned from the initial pilot programme was used to design a new upgrade workflow,” said McCambridge.
“The local project plan was amended so that on a daily basis, batches of 100 to 120 devices were backed up, then reformatted, and the new desktop environment installed overnight. The following morning users would collect their devices, connect to the network and download their role-specific configuration, including applications, permissions and security settings. So we had two migrations occurring in sequence – the hardware migration and then the person’s role migration.”
“Almost immediately, though, we hit a snag in the form of needing a scheduling system to book staff in for their laptop to be upgraded overnight. But it had to be flexible enough to allow them to manage their individual booking to ensure minimal impact on their work.”
McCambridge did some digging around and discovered a Microsoft scheduling utility inside Office 365 for which the company already had licenses. It was a perfect fit for the requirements, so that issue disappeared almost immediately.
“You don’t often get that lucky on complex projects, but in this case, it was a perfect fit for what we needed,” said McCambridge.
Complicating matters further, the New Zealand subsidiary was entering its peak sales period. As a result, the sales teams were concerned that the upgrade would impact their selling ability, initially seeing some passive internal resistance to the project.
“All their sales staff want to be at peak performance at this point in their financial year, so they're just seeing me as someone who's potentially hitting their figures and their ability to trade. So we did our damnedest to ensure that didn't happen,” said McCambridge.
McCambridge said the sales concerns were alleviated by plenty of one-on-one conversations and scheduling the changes at times when it wouldn’t directly impact the individual sales staff.
“It’s always tricky when you are rolling out major upgrade projects like this. People, for the most part, really aren’t that keen on change. And if you are a salesperson with targets to meet, the last thing you want is IT spoiling your day with a poorly timed upgrade,” said McCambridge. “We fixed that by careful scheduling and lots of conversations, so everyone was kept in the loop, and nobody had any unpleasant surprises.”
“As expected, the accounting team had some particularly complex requirements. Some accounting staff systems were relatively straightforward to upgrade, but others had complex links to files all over the Sharepoint environment, so they required a little more planning and hand-holding to ensure the upgrade went smoothly,” said McCambridge.
McCambridge said that the time zone difference between the European technology management group and the local New Zealand operation complicated the early stages of the project.
“I was working evenings and nights until the pilot was completed and the revised process was in place and running smoothly. In the early stages of the project, because the proposed changes were a radical departure from the original plan, there was a lot of discussion with European technology management. How the revised progress would work, what additional resources might be required and any impact on the timeline,” said McCambridge.
The standardised environment and new security protocols also generated some pushback from local staff.
“The previous environment was much more relaxed, so staff had installed all kinds of software and tweaked their configurations to suit their personal tastes and preferences. Initially, there was a chorus of staff asking why they couldn’t have their personal Google profile in their Chrome browser or use their preferred software when they first booted up their systems with the new environment and security settings.”
“I explained that it was the new enterprise-wide standard required across the company and that the European headquarters had mandated it. There’s a subtle advantage in contracting specialists to run projects like this – the permanent staff don’t get associated with any of the negative emotions and feedback generated by the programme,” said McCambridge.
Once the initial pilot showed that self-migration was not workable, the revamped upgrade process settled into an almost routine “business as usual” operation, according to McCambridge.
“The only time we had any glitches in the latter part of the project was when something went wrong at 10 am in the morning, and it involved the enterprise cloud services. Those are managed from Europe, so we had to wait until 6 or 7 pm for an answer. The key, as always, was talking to people, explaining what was happening and answering any questions or doubts they might have. Even with the new tighter settings of the standardised environment, people were fine once you explained the reasoning behind it. People only really get cranky when you keep them in the dark and don’t talk to them,” said McCambridge.
ZephyrIT managing director Don Glenn said the approach taken by McCambridge was typical of how the company approaches any project or programme of work.
“We’ve learned over the years that the correct mix of skills and experience combine to smoothly deliver projects with the least disruption and the maximum benefits realisation. It is rarely about the technology or the company – it’s always about the people, how you work with them, how you inform and update them on progress, and how you explain what any changes mean for them,” said Glenn.
ZephyrIT is an IT consulting and business solutions practice specialising in delivering consulting services, project management and change management. It has a strong track record for quality delivery and high client satisfaction. We believe that satisfied clients are the best form of marketing and have built the entire company on that basis.
The challenges of upgrading: The challenges of upgrading to a standardised desktop environment can include:
Compatibility Issues: Ensuring that all hardware and software components are compatible with the standardised desktop environment can be a major challenge, especially if the company has a mix of different devices and operating systems.
User Resistance: End users may resist change, especially if they are used to working with different tools and applications. Addressing this resistance and ensuring that users are trained in the new environment can be challenging.
Data Migration: Moving data and settings from the old environment to the new one can be a complex and time-consuming process. Ensuring that data is transferred wholly and accurately can be a major challenge.
Security Concerns: With the increased standardisation, there may be increased security concerns, such as ensuring that all users have the latest security patches and that sensitive data is appropriately protected.
Cost: Implementing a standardised desktop environment can be costly, especially if it requires the purchase of new hardware and software. Ensuring that the budget is adequate and the project’s cost is justified can also be challenging.
Testing and Deployment: Testing the new environment thoroughly to ensure that it meets the needs of all users and that there are no compatibility issues can be a significant challenge. Proper planning and resource allocation for deployment and support is important.
These are just some of the major challenges that an IT project manager may face when deploying a standardised desktop environment across an enterprise-sized company. Careful planning and effective communication with stakeholders will greatly help mitigate these challenges and ensure a successful deployment.