By Thomas Macaulay
July 3, 2017
Department for Education (DfE) CTO Adrian Tucker recently completed an 18-month project to overhaul the department's ageing technology stack and create a mobile workforce.
The process was one of the biggest departmental IT upgrades in more than a decade. It involved the moving traditional data centres to Microsoft's Azure cloud, a complete overhaul of end-user devices, and upgrading all software to Windows 10 and Office 365.
With the support of annotation, paperless drive, auto-connect WiFi, and collaboration tools such as Yammer, the strategy has transformed the approach to collaboration and flexible working of a department split over multiple sites across the UK.
Mobile and Microsoft
"Mobility is the key thing," says Tucker, a member of the 2017 CIO 100 who was appointed to his role in August 2014 after a year-long stint as CIO of DfE subset organisation the Education Funding Agency.
"The Microsoft Surface devices mean that you're no longer stuck at a desk. You can now work pretty much everywhere. And the upgrade that we've done to the WiFi and auto-connect means that people can work in a cafe or in previously unused areas of the DfE, which with space at a premium in every business is an important point.
"It's also about how we start really exploiting Office 365 and Windows 10 and that interconnectivity. Teams co-locating maybe in London and Sheffield, or London and Darlington, can now collaborate on the same document and work on something in real-time whereas in the past that would have been dependent on a lot of email traffic passing documents back and forth. Now there's one version of the truth and people can work on that simultaneously."
The in-house IT team partnered with Microsoft to supports Tucker's ambitious timeline for the revamp. The company's Azure cloud platform, Surface devices, Windows 10 OS, and Office 365 software are central to the unified new way of working. Turning Microsoft from a supplier to a partner by sitting its staff next to the DfE team ensured that they shared issues for mutual benefits.
Other supplies have also changed their approach through collaboration with the DfE. Agreements with Trustmark and Capgemini eased the transition from on-premise to the cloud, and another strategic deal with Computacenter helped roll out 4,000 of the Surface devices in just eight weeks.
"We went for the Surface Pro 4 as well as the SurfaceBook and that gave people a genuine choice, but what I wanted to avoid is going for two very different devices otherwise we'd end up with a two-speed company," says Tucker.
Changing culture of education
Selling new technology to senior civil servants can be a challenging task. Tucker has reformed his approach to improving their understanding and attracting their support.