Imagination and determination - a new beginning

Insights | Life at Agilisys

Head of IT Services Shona Leavey marks the first anniversary of the SMART Guernsey Partnership by reflecting on the highs as well as the challenges she and her team have faced over the last 12 months.

What stands out for you most in the past year?

It’s tempting to say our response to COVID-19, but I actually think our most important achievement this past year has been the transition of over 50 colleagues from the States of Guernsey’s IT Services team into Agilisys, along with the transfer of the States’ existing IT estate.

This was a major undertaking and the fact it happened seamlessly, meant that when COVID hit, we were able to respond rapidly and support the States to maintain essential public services for islanders.

What changes has the move to Agilisys brought for you and your team?

As you might imagine, it has been extremely busy. We are not only responsible for the day-to-day running of the States existing IT infrastructure, but we are also in the process of bringing into service the modern IT estate.

So, it’s vital that our IT Services team are involved throughout each step of the IT Transformation work that’s being undertaken. This means taking part in the low-level designs, the high-level designs, participating in different workshops – all to make sure that the team know the new IT estate inside out before we take it into service.

I think this is also demonstrative of Agilisys’ commitment to building local digital skills. We each have individual learning plans in place, and all staff are provided training to ensure that we are competent and confident in understanding the new and modernised IT Services.

The two new data centres that we delivered for the States at the beginning of summer are a great example of this. Not only were we as the IT Services team having to get involved to understand what these new data centres would mean for Guernsey, but when worldwide travel bans prevented technicians from coming on-site, members of our team actually built the data centres. This involved them working alongside a unique virtual team of Agilisys specialists in the UK and global IT providers Dell.

This was a fantastic achievement, made possible only by fantastic Partnership working. We had also had great support from the States, and our local partners JT and Logicalis, while colleagues in the UK broke down every step of the process to determine and mitigate any potential COVID-related health risks involved for our colleagues who would be building and installing the racks.

I’m immensely proud of the team, not only because of what these data centres represent for public services in Guernsey, but also because our IT Services team did an incredible job embracing a completely unique opportunity to learn new skills.

We are hugely excited and proud to be a part of this IT Transformation programme. It’s also very motivational to know that our work to modernise and transform the States’ IT Services will bring significant improvements and substantial benefits to both civil servants and the whole island community.

This transformation will touch every aspect of government, enabling the complete reimagining of how public services are delivered as we bring into service a more modern IT infrastructure, with more resilient, stable and secure services. Things that were formerly just pipe dreams can be achieved on an unimaginable scale, and services can be redesigned to take advantage of the technological advances that exist today and will exist in future.

Finally, for me personally this year has brought significant change when, earlier this year, I was appointed Head of IT Services and then last month I was shortlisted as Team Leader of the Year for Computing’s annual Women in Tech Excellence Awards.

What has been the biggest challenge you have overcome in 2020?

Our greatest challenge has also been one of our greatest accomplishments this year: navigating the upheaval and uncertainty caused by the global pandemic.

When Guernsey went into lockdown in March, the IT infrastructure in place within the States was not geared up for remote working: the majority of the service areas are office-based, with civil servants working on desktop computers lacking the tools that could enable a more modern way of working.

Over the space of a few short weeks, our team procured and supplied over 700 laptops, 1,000 Microsoft Teams licenses, 200 VPNs and countless phones. We trained over 200 civil servants and politicians to use Microsoft Teams across 15 remote sessions in 8 days, and engaged Microsoft to support Guernsey’s parliamentary team – enabling them to facilitate the very first virtual States of Deliberation sitting, complete with roll call and live streaming to the public. This was in fact the very first remote parliamentary sitting in the British Isles.

Beyond this, we set up IT solutions to enable remote public services across the whole of government, from the Revenue Service, Employment & Social Security, Health & Social Care to Courts and Law Officers.

Finally, we delivered new services for the frontline response to COVID-19, assisting in the creation of COVID-19 hotlines as well as embedding IT infrastructure in the hospital’s COVID-19 ICU unit.

While supporting the States to adapt to a new way of working, we also adapted our working life. Suddenly, our office was empty, our people were working from home with family, friends and flatmates all around. I, like many others, was trying to find a balance between home schooling and running essential services.

It’s only now when we look back that we realise how much we did during that period. And none of those accomplishments would have been possible without a fantastic team to work alongside on this journey. Every day, the morale and atmosphere were electric, and we took daily calls as an opportunity to not only discuss the serious tasks we had to deliver, but to also laugh and let off steam during times that were, for many, unimaginably stressful and challenging.

Any final reflections on this first year?

Building our new Agilisys Guernsey culture and the way we work has been hugely important and definitely impacted by the pandemic. Adapting to remote working and split-team working measures to ensure that our colleagues, as critical workers, could be best protected against any risk of COVID-19, has meant that our new office in St Peter Port has been quieter than earlier this year.

But we’ve taken a number of steps to ensure that we are working as one Partnership and one team, and that all of our work is recognised – even from a distance. Weekly ‘all hands’ calls with our colleagues based in both the UK and Guernsey, newsletters, staff-authored articles, and workshops have all been vital to our way of working for the last 9 months.

The cultural and mindset change that is required having spent years working for one organisation to being in a new working environment cannot be underestimated. Undoubtedly the past year has been challenging but it’s also been hugely positive. I’ve loved continuing to working alongside my colleagues of many years at the same time as embracing a new team of people who are committed to my and my team’s personal and professional growth.

The SMART Guernsey Partnership is delivering a 10-year programme to modernise the States IT Services, enabling improved access to public services for islanders and greater operational efficiency for the States.

Shona Leavey