Richard Blanford | Fordway | IP Expo 2018

Avatar Sam Dynamou | 05/11/2018

Richard Blanford of Fordway has joined us IP Expo 2018 to discuss Fordway’s cloud migration system, he is talking all things data and cloud. Hosted by David Terrar and Steve Denby.

Richard: We specialise in looking after medium to large enterprises. This includes organisations where it is starting to get quite complicated and they are running multiple systems at multiple locations. We also do a lot of work for the public sector in the NHS.  We love complex IT challenges and try to resolve and help organisations buy better platform run services. The core characteristics of our customers are they run a multitude of systems possibly in many locations. If you look at NHS trust or a local authority there are potentially thirty or forty different functions doing it all together and making it all work together.  In particular what we do for a lot of our customers is host and run systems for them, or help and migrate them on the public cloud and then help them manage and optimise their environment for the public cloud.  Infrastructure specialists have evolved from primarily on-premise to now hosted and public cloud services. We will help if you wish to run a good in-house service. You can give it to us to look after and run, we will love and cherish it and give you our ultimate, very good top level service or if the public cloud is where you want to be, we are very happy to help you. First of all, design the right environment for the public cloud, then we will help you migrate on to it to make sure that it goes well and is fit for the purpose and delivers.  The last part probably the most important part is optimising, as most people know once you move into public cloud you go into a different billing system where everything is meeting. Everything you do, every transaction, every bit of data you do, you pay for as you go. What we are trying to do is help our customers understand how they can optimise and maximise utility but minimise the spend in public cloud. Things like infrastructure for service, provide a lot of the additional services that public cloud providers provide, such as we offer security management for your patch management application monitoring end-to-end service management. A lot of our customers will have a bit of something on the public cloud, something probably sitting inside their own data centres and possibly third parties providing more services. We are just trying to help them put it all together, provide that common interface, common monitoring, common service management and common security management.

David: I heard someone say the other day that the typical medium and large organisations tend to deal with six or seven different clouds. We live in a multi-cloud world, you are at the forefront and managing all that for a customer and making sense of it. Do you try and become agnostic? Are there particular cloud vendors that you work with more than others?

Richard: I think our background or history is predominately around the Microsoft stack. Most of our customers are predominately Microsoft customers.  Most of them naturally gravitate towards Azure and office365 initially. However, we also have skills in AWS.  A growing amount of our customers like Google Cloud, it looks very good for analytics and containers. A growing number of our customers decided to look at Google Cloud. I cannot say we have got anything productive with helping with Google Cloud yet, but we are certainly looking at it and then a myriad of SaaS Services and our basic proposition is in some years and this is going to take longer than any of us believe it is going to take, but most of our customers ideally want a load SaaS Services which is just integrated again. The trouble is they cannot get there because they have got legacy and that is where we have to come in because you have got these legacy applications which are really tough to move. 

David: The Legacy application is often crucially important, they are actually keeping the lights on, running the business. It is difficult to shift them.

Steve: You mentioned the NHS earlier on and I know that central governments are pushing for cloud first. How challenging are they finding it? How challenging are you customer finding it?

Richard: We deal both with central government, NHS and local authorities. The core difference in central governments is you have a large department that sort of does one thing so like HMRC collects taxes now, I know collecting taxes is not simple but basically you have thousands and thousands of people. Unfortunately, they seem to be getting quite good at it. That is why you need to deal with British companies and that is why we, SME’s (small medium enterprises) pay taxes in the UK. That is why they say do not give it to Amazon give it to us because you will actually get it back, you will benefit from your health service if you pay. Typically that government department will have a small number of very large systems and in cloud terms, it is much easier to move one big system in the cloud than the NHS.  I have mentioned they have 40 departments inside a trust and a local authority has 30 or 40 different effective lines of business. Each one of those systems is quite small. It is normally from a specific provider who probably is not that interested in you moving to the cloud unless you go into their cloud over their cloud service. Also the scale, the benefits of scale, the cloud they bring is not big, this might be three or four servings and each one has got to be designed an architected. It is actually a lot more complicated to move an NHS Trust or local authority to the cloud than it is for a Government Department. A Government Department has the scale so that brings its own challenges. local authority or an NHS Trust brings a lot of complication because each one of those systems has got to be designed and then you have got to integrate them.

David: The NHS is an interesting one because it is like the third largest employer in the world, but as you have been explaining it has dozens and dozens and dozens of different organisations that are interconnected.

Richard: All are different types, each Trust has its own autonomy to make its own decisions. As a consequence groups of GP Surgeries for Primary Care are loosely grouped together, but ultimately each GP Surgery is a private enterprise working for the NHS. If the partners within that surgery want to do this in a particular way then they can, there is nothing that forces them to do it. We have tried it and I think the Government is a bit afraid of us. The challenge was to try and get everybody in the nature of the common systems. Which if it had been delivered probably would have made everybody’s life quite a lot easier. We deal with eight or nine NHS customers. Most of them have three or four doctors systems, all with their own challenges, all run by different people and then you get into the Trusts themselves i.e. oncology, pharmacy. It all has lots of complications, that is how we make our money because we helped put it together.

David: Are there any particular kind of issues and challenges that keep coming up at the moment?

Richard: Probably two or three things I would highlight initially. The first one is actually there is too much choice. We defined the standard template – how we deal with customers. Do I go to AWS? Do I go to Azure? How do I do it?  Am I making the right decision? What should I do? Our first challenge with a lot of our customers is to really understand there is no such thing as the right or wrong decision. It is what is the most appropriate decision to that organisation at that point in time based on what they currently have. You may have just invested in a complete new data set and it is working fine, you have got a very well sorted IT operations team so why do you want to move to the cloud? It will probably cost you more money. Conversely if we have what I termed the compelling event theory e.g. I have got to spend a lot of money or change the way I do,  something like Windows 10 for example is compelling, I am losing my data centre because of the building rationalisation and premises rationalisation. I have now got to think about what do we do next in IT terms?  For most of our customers ideally the lift it and shift it idea probably is not going to bring the benefits. Can we re-engineer or re-organise the data that is really easy to get into the cloud. Email, files, file storage and I have to say the meaning of the basic common systems where there is a really good SaaS service or best cloud service available. It is the parking enforcement system or the revenue and benefits of the social care system that you have to run that has got 30 years of history inside it that you know and this looks after people’s livelihoods.

David: What you are highlighting is the fact that you know there are no one size fits all solutions, that every particular application has its own circumstances from a different context and history so a cloud solution or one public cloud data may not always be the right answer. It is a matter of picking and choosing what is the right answer for that particular set of circumstances?

Richard: We deal a lot of our focus on those medium to large Enterprises. It is typically the organisations where they have got hundreds if not thousands of users. So it is pretty important they get it right or get a good answer. If you are a really large corporate company you have got teams of people who do this every day working for you. Typically those organisations do not need to do it once, they need to do it right probably every two to three years, they are looking at a reasonably fundamental way of doing large parts of it. We then come in and we develop the proven process, which is Fordway’s way of doing a five step process. Initial stages are what we call an engagement process, this is where we help each other and see if it feels right, because you do not really want to do business with people you do not like or do not feel you have interests alike. If it works we then have a formal analysis stage because it is complicated, you cannot just normally make business decisions on what a salesman is telling you. We have got to come in and understand exactly what issues you are facing, what your outcomes are going to be and how you do that. A lot of our customers make better decisions and will do some adoption analysis. We will do a high number of projects this year. We are bringing that accumulated expertise knowledge, answers from other organisations and best practice to your business e.g. here are your options as we see them now, let us work through that and this ideally getting you to the next focus of the business because nobody is going to do anything until somebody says this makes sense. Once you have got the business case done unlike consultants we then sit alongside and help you deliver.  The most important phase is that we plan it and make sure it happens, we will help you do it, but for us the most important is the last phase, the realisation of those benefits because if we do not help our customers get the outcomes they want and the benefits are expected again then we are not really worth our money. We have got to make sure that we are helping them deliver what they need to deliver and they get a better result from working with us faster than they could certainly by doing it themselves and I hope to think using any other organisation.

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