Government quango moves IT into the cloud

By Martin Courtney
03 Jun 2010 View Comments
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Clouds over a keyboard

Remploy, the government quango that finds jobs for people with disabilities, is moving all its applications and services to a cloud computing model hosted by systems integrator 2e2.

It will leave nothing in-house bar a first-contact helpdesk and a handful of IT staff responsible for managing the relationship with the cloud provider.

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Under continuing pressure from central government to reduce costs, and having sold off its two datacentres, the organisation is now about three months away from seeing all its applications remodelled as subscription-based or pay-as-you-go, on-demand cloud-based services.

These include enterprise resource planning, supply chain management, case management, back-office and finance applications, serving about 3,000 disabled employees in 34 recruitment offices and 54 factories across the UK.

“We are working through the finer points of how the two organisations will work side by side,” said Remploy IT director Chris Jones.

“All we need to finalise is how the call centre is structured and how helpdesk tickets are handed over.”

Remploy will spend £5m over the lifetime of its five-year contract with 2e2. Jones says keeping services in-house was never an option when the deal was first negotiated last year, not least because the body could not envisage scaling up service provision to handle Remploy’s anticipated expansion with the IT resources it had in place.

“Our strategy is how to facilitate growth. We did not even try to work that [in-house cost] out as we knew we would never get there because what we had in the cupboard was not a scalable model,” said Jones.

“We will downsize [the IT department] but there will be no redundancies – most of the work was done by a range of contractors and the jobs internally have all changed anyway.”

Remploy wants to treble the number of disabled people it supports in employment from an estimated 10,000 this year to 30,000 by 2012/13.

But like other quangos, it has to keep one ear open for a phone call from government ministers looking to trim costs as part of the coalition’s £6bn cuts, with quangos top of the list for the chop.

Announcements so far include the closure of schools technology agency BECTA with the loss of an estimated 330 jobs, and the qualifications and curriculum development agency also axed along with 500 jobs.

So is Jones concerned that Remploy will go the same way, putting an end to all the time and effort invested by staff in streamlining IT provision so far?

“It is always dangerous to say never and foolish to bet too heavily, but we have no expectation that that is going to happen,” said Jones.

“If anything, it will be the opposite because the government wants to leverage anything that helps people get back into work, and Remploy is one of the best ways for disabled people to do that.”

Remploy caused controversy by closing down 29 of its factories in 2007, with others reprieved after pressure from unions and ministers. During the same period its management was heavily criticised for high salaries, bonuses and expensive perks.

The government-owned company was established in 1945 under the 1944 Disabled Persons Employment Act with a remit to provide employment and employment placement services for disabled people.

It runs a recycling business that wipes data off computers, and its factories supply chemical and biological protection suits to the UK police and armed forces, furniture to the education sector and components for automotive manufacturers.

Employment placements are arranged with companies including BT, Asda, Royal Mail, Sainsbury’s, the NHS and Marks & Spencer.

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