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Sooraj Shah

Contributing Editor

Sooraj Shah is Contributing Editor of New Statesman Tech with a focus on C-level IT leader interviews. He is also a freelance technology journalist.

How one NHS support unit is automating migration to Office 365

NHS Arden and GEM (AGEM) Commissioning Support Unit provides a range of services to NHS England, and is one of the largest CSUs in the country.

“We provide back office functions to the health and social care sector, supplying CCGs, local authorities and other providers with specialist HR, business intelligence and IT services among other things – a lot of areas where you need expertise to get the best value for money,” explains Chris Reynolds, head of innovation and product development at AGEM.

Reynolds role at AGEM is to future-proof the organisation by always looking at what products and services it can use next.

One of the organisation’s goals was to migrate from SharePoint 2007 and SharePoint 2010 to Microsoft Office 365 several years ago.

“We needed a way to collaborate with disparate teams across a large geography and Office 365 gave us that,” he says.

AGEM was aiming to support 1500 users in 60 CCGs, NHS England and provider trusts and local authorities. However, the task of migrating was made tougher as a result of the constantly evolving IT ecosystem at AGEM, and the fact that an IT team of only three was responsible for managing all of its users.

“We had a lot of stuff all over the place and this meant trying to draw it together, and while we had aspirations to get 1,500 users on Office 365, it was quite a bit of management in keeping the lights on as well as moving it forward. It was a real technical challenge,” Reynolds explains.

The CSU began the process of moving from a disparate legacy position to an integrated alternative but quickly found that it was at significant risk of human error, and this along with the time it took to shift data across meant that throughput was slow and their daily workload was increasing. It was a technical challenge to restore a document or library easily, and as a result, and the team wasn’t able to focus on other core duties.

AGEM looked at several software vendors to find a product that could remove manual processes and also securely migrate its local legacy SharePoint farm, including financial management accounts.

“As soon as I saw the capability of Metalogix Essentials [which was acquired by Quest Software in June 2018], I knew it could save me at least one person’s salary per year, which is a massive saving. Rather than just doing handle turning and moving data around, the tool could automate the data migration and I had a good feeling it would be accurate every time.

“With humans there’s always going to be errors when shifting large amounts of files, whereas with a tool like this, I know it is going to be right,” he says.

According to Reynolds, the standout feature of Quest was that it enabled AGEM to maintain version control of documents. Other tools would have only shifted across the existing version of a document – despite finance managers requiring the ability to access different versions of the same document.

In addition, he said that Quest provided a plan for AGEM to get to its goal, unlike many of the other software companies that the organisation considered.

Since using the tool, the organisation has been able cut down the amount of manual work required for migration, and didn’t need to worry about the risks involved with user mistakes. Reynolds says that moving the amount of data would have taken a month manually for two people working full-time, but by using Quest they have been able to do this in a day.

Reynolds says this project was just one part of his overall role. His focus is on people, processes and technology. On the people side, he has four apprentices on his team, and he stresses the organisation is heavily focused on developing its people. Together with improved processes and use of technology, Reynolds believes that AGEM can help the NHS to provide better patient care, and he says that the organisation strives to workout what products and services will make the most impact.