Children’s charity Barnardo’s is celebrating 150 years since its foundation by Dr Thomas Barnardo ( pictured below ) in 1866, when he opened a school in the east end of London offering free education to children.
In that time the organisation has grown to over 5,000 staff and 17,000 volunteers, and it raised £296m last year in its efforts to transform the lives of the most vulnerable children in the UK.
The IT team at Barnardo’s has responsibility for supporting thousands of users across 1,700 sites, ranging from local shops to the company’s HQ, supporting everything from laptops and smartphones to EPOS systems so that the organisation can continue to raise money and achieve its mission.
Keeping tabs on tech
This is no mean feat and for many years one of the biggest challenges encountered by the charity’s IT staff was keeping track of the device estate, ranging from locations to performance problems.
Mark Bassett, head of IT service management at Barnardo’s, explained that this set-up rarely worked to anyone’s advantage.
“Staff had to manually log incidents in a spreadsheet, or call us, but of course they rarely did, especially if they saw an issue but it didn’t cause any specific problems,” he told V3 .
Bassett cited an incident when Office applications kept crashing when being shut down. This didn’t directly cause problems and staff rarely reported it, but it needed addressing.
“It was something we had to get to the bottom of because, while it may not be causing pain at the moment, in a month’s time it may combine with something else and cause major problems and affect the whole organisation, so we have to be proactive and fix issues,” he said.
The company turned to IT monitoring service Nexthink, which Bassett explained was already on his radar.
“I saw the technology about three years ago and it looked interesting, but we didn’t have the budget at the time. But when we had some new budget freed up this year, we had another demo and decided to push ahead with a deployment,” he said.
Dr Thomas Barnardo circa 1900
Using Nexthink the IT team is now able to monitor the IT estate and see problems as and when they arise without the need for any staff involvement.
“The agent on the machine just reports back on everything to us about issues such as crashes and what causes them. It’s far more than an end user could give us. This let us be proactive in terms of being able to spot issues and is a real benefit,” he said.
It also makes it easier for the team to keep tabs on the location of equipment and whether it has ended up being used by someone for whom it was not originally intended.
“There’s a tendency for kit to move around, so maybe a member of staff leaves and gives their laptop to someone else, or it gets left in another building from where it was deployed,” he said.
Windows 10 rollout
The service also allows Barnardo’s to assess the state of its IT estate and identify machines that need upgrading, which is timely given that the organisation is on the cusp of moving to Windows 10.
“It means we can identify machines that may need work, such as extra memory, before the move,” Bassett explained.
The move to Windows 10 is set for 2017 as the charity does not want to rush into a major migration until it’s satisfied that it will not cause problems.
“At the moment the desktop team is preparing for this, testing the applications we run to make sure they are happy with everything,” he said.
“We’re happy sweating the Windows 7 assets we have for now, though. As a charity we don’t expect to be on the bleeding edge of technology. We are forward thinking but we have to ensure stability and consistency too.”
This desire to be methodical and to take a considered approach also extends to the cloud.
“We use a few cloud-based apps, such as Huddle for collaboration , and we are looking at other applications as a service, such as Office 365, but we haven’t gone cloud in the sense of saying ‘let’s just whack everything out there’,” Bassett explained.
“We have to be cautious about how we approach it and where data will reside and what changes to safe harbour agreements mean and so on.”
Mobile devices are also core to the charity’s operations, given how many staff move between locations. Employees are offered a choice of several devices, including the Galaxy S5, iPhone 6, iPad Air 2 and Galaxy Tab 2, or can use their own phone or tablet.
Bassett explained that most staff prefer to choose a company device owing to the nature of the charity’s work.
“Most staff ask for a corporate device because they are wary of giving people their personal mobile number,” he said.
Barnardo’s uses Citrix’s XenDesktop and XenMobile services to monitor and manage the mobile devices and push out updates and notifications.
This includes managing the rollout of new software such as iOS 10, which has recently been tested by the IT team to ensure that all key apps work as expected before prompting staff to update.
“We do advise [staff] when they should or shouldn’t update the OS and usually send out a communication saying we’ll be testing it for a few days, so just to wait before we give the go-ahead,” he said.
Cloud, Windows 10, smartphones. It’s all a far cry from a world Dr Barnardo could have imagined, but the work of Bassett and the IT team ensures that the charity can continue the good work it’s been doing for 150 years for as long as is necessary.
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