Medical Research – 500 staff
To transform the IT support model into a mature IT services function enabling researchers to compete on the world stage.
- Establish long term strategic IT plans
- Prioritise and implement a range of interdependent technical projects
- Outsource the right areas of IT operations
- Develop mature IT governance processes that align with the organisation’s strategic needs.
- Significant cost/head-count reduction and improved service levels.
- Productive research staff, with reliable and secure IT services.
“The organisation had grown in size and complexity to the point where the IT support model was no longer meeting our needs.”
Mark Dado – Chief Operating Office (COO), Westmead Millennium Institute
The Westmead Millennium Institute (WMI) is one of the largest medical research institutes in Australia, conducting research into a wide range of important human disorders affecting both adults and children. Closely affiliated with Westmead Hospital and the University of Sydney, research extends from the laboratory to the patient, using the basic tools of molecular and cell biology, genetic epidemiology, imaging technology and clinical research.
With around 500 active researchers and support staff, WMI contends with a range of IT issues such as: multi-terabyte storage needs, information security compliance, sharing of research with external bodies, emerging bioinformatics needs and deep integration with other IT support organisations.
Increasingly, IT is a leading enabler of world class research. Prompt access to high quality IT support and services has become mandatory for organisations such as WMI wanting to remain globally competitive.
When BlueScale Director, Damien Hogan, first met with WMI back in 2007, IT services were coming under strain. There were concerns with the capacity of IT to deliver what was required for the future, and individual research groups were adopting non-standard local solutions.
As Mark Dado, WMI’s Chief Operating Officer, saw it: “The organisation had grown in size and complexity to the point where the IT support model was no longer meeting our needs.”
The symptoms of this growth were felt across a number of areas of IT:
Storage – With existing centralised storage going end-of-life, WMI noted an influx of unreliable USB drives and local storage and backup solutions. There was also a requirement to ensure the privacy of underlying clinical research data, but WMI needed further investment to be able to efficiently search and analyse the data stored within its network, making compliance processes manual and inaccurate.
User support – Satisfaction with the helpdesk was falling – users were starting to disengage with IT – sometimes not even logging support requests.
The centralisation of WMI’s IT support teams did not coincide with the deployment of the skills, tools and processes for coordinating a large team of people to work effectively and collectively on incoming IT issues.
With no ticketing/tracking system in place, user’s requests were sometimes lost, or lacked the necessary written record of the work performed.
Legacy Assets – A growing number of end-of-life software and hardware systems needed replacing. Upgrade projects were necessarily given a low priority in the face of operational demands, but some older systems were having real impact on researchers’ productivity.
Head count – To address the growing list of issues WMI tried increasing its IT support head count. However the return on investment was lower than expected.
Support Integration – Common to organisations that have developed from a federated structure, WMI needed to integrate with a number of existing IT support providers. Many WMI users straddled the organisational boundaries between both the university and hospital IT support teams, or had existing local IT support within their research groups. Leveraging the capabilities of these other support groups was key to delivering day-to-day IT operations, as well as to achieving cost savings through selective outsourcing.
Mark Dado determined that a transformation of WMI’s IT services was required to bring these risks under control and commissioned a strategic review and roadmap for the organisation.
The IT transformation began with a benchmarking exercise. Using a combination of methodologies from the industry standard CobiT® and ITIL® frameworks, the most risky and poorly performing areas of IT governance and operations were identified first.
From a technical perspective a number of interdependent projects were required:
- Deployment of Active Directory.
- Centralised storage and backup.
- Server and network upgrades.
- System monitoring and alerting.
- Help desk ticketing systems.
- Remote desktop assistance tools.
- Email system migration.
There was a need to create a range of processes and policies to greatly improve the efficiency of IT staff and to better align the department’s activities with the interests of researchers and executive management. Initiatives included:
- Establishment of an IT governance forum to oversee IT activity.
- Development of project portfolio management processes.
- Standardised user support processes and policies, such as: on-boarding and off-boarding procedures, permitted applications, usage policies, etc…
- Introduction of ITIL processes for IT service management.
- Establishment of Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for IT services.
- Appropriate reporting and performance tracking of IT activity.
- Selective outsourcing of IT services.
- Creation of an IT service catalogue.
A key milestone for the transformation was the deployment of an enterprise-grade NetApp storage system. Starting with an initial requirement for 25,000 Gigabytes of storage, WMI was able to centralise and secure its intellectual property and meet its compliance obligations. WMI is now well positioned to accommodate future storage growth from high volume sources such as cell imaging and genetic sequencing technologies.
Today the WMI environment continues to be incrementally improved as new items from the service catalogue are implemented. With the foundation of the IT infrastructure bedded down, WMI has begun to explore higher value areas for researchers such as centralised bioinformatics support, remote working and collaboration.
BlueScale works in partnership with WMI on a number of ongoing outsourced services, including:
- Providing all user/desktop support.
- Management of storage and backup.
- Management of WMI’s firewall.
- Management of WMI’s remote configuration and monitoring tools.
- Design and implementation of all complex IT project work.
- Strategic planning and consulting.
WMI’s transformation has delivered the key outcomes that any organisation wants from its IT initiatives – it has added new capabilities and improved the quality and reliability of IT services, whilst reducing the organisation’s headcount and operational costs.
On WMI’s IT transformation, COO Mark Dado says: “The transformation has been highly successful, delivering high quality IT infrastructure and services which meet our needs in a demanding environment. Research group satisfaction with IT is up. Our environment is well governed and provides a platform for future growth.”
“ WMI operates within a complex political and technical environment and when we began this project 3 years ago we understood the scale of journey ahead of us. Across the spectrum of strategic advice, projects and ongoing services we are getting the help we need from BlueScale. I would highly recommend their services to any organisation looking for dramatic improvements to the value and quality of their IT operations.”
As with most industries today, the role of IT services in medical research is becoming more and more vital. By providing a business driven IT service, BlueScale are helping WMI to deliver on their own organisational goals— to grow as a world leader in medical research with the power to improve the health of all mankind and rapidly translate research outcomes into better prevention strategies, treatments and healthcare for all.