Tackling the information and systems challenges of acquisitions

Asset Transfers can be complex from an information and technology perspective but can be the springboard for innovation, as well as delivering the expected productivity. The critical path is for the transfer of services agreement, safety case, readiness, and transition of operations. This article highlights the types of transfer, the issues we face, and Sword’s tried and tested approach to dealing with them.

The divestor may not have detailed plans of what to transfer or how to do it, and the acquiring organisation may have limited experience of transfers. The team at each end may be undertaking this work on top of their current jobs, with timescales that are often outside of their control. This creates demands that are stressful for key personnel and impacts their ability to quickly make critical decisions.

The impact on contracts and procurement is often underestimated. Limited time for tenders and approvals for expenditure, as well as a lack of expertise in the contract scope and novation, all need an appropriate strategy. Sword helps drive that efficiently as we coordinate a range of vendors, use specific templates from our procurement catalogue, understand the technical scopes, and can validate pricing. We understand the importance of the early identification of contracts that cannot transfer, or custom and out of date systems that will need replacing. Watch out for surprisingly long-lead time items such as radio licenses, network circuits, software customisation, and offshore deployment.

A changing landscape

The UKCS landscape is evolving. Supermajors are changing their portfolios and mid-tier organisations seek opportunities, but the most dynamic area is new entrants. Rising prices are increasing investor appetite, but this is likely to be balanced by the Energy Transition and ESG pressures.

The approaches to an asset transfer take account of the practical differences in systems maturity and capability between companies of varying scale. The challenges faced reflect the different types of transfer; from a non-operated asset, unmanned platform or subsea production system, to a major platform or FPSO. The timescales, and corresponding project and capex costs, can range from one or two months at one end of the scale, to six months or a year at the other.

Phased approach

The primary objective is always hit the transfer deadline. That creates the mindset of “move everything over ‘as is’, start using it, and then worry about the details later”. Transfer projects can involve dozens of systems and huge amounts of information, paper, tapes, samples, and other data. There is a clear need to maintain the Chain of Custody to govern how information changes hands. Not all systems are appropriate for Cloud technology, and that certainly won’t help with physical archives and samples. On-site systems take longer to deploy, and private datacentres can have short-term capacity limitations.

Don’t try and implement radical innovations unless you have proven methods and funding already in place. Post-transfer project fatigue can set in, creating a risk that the performance the new owner seeks will not be realised. Leadership and investors will expect increased performance so plan for it. Make sure corporate information, engineering and subsurface are all taken care of. This ensures you can apply your people and financial resources to make future modifications to your production assets and make the most of your reserves. Sword’s approach consists of 3 separate phases:

Closing thoughts

Sword has successfully completed many asset transfers and related services on behalf of a range of UKCS companies including NEO Energy and Serica Energy alongside the best-known Operators in the industry.

Contact Neale Stidolph (Sword Energy Sector, Information Management Lead), neale.stidolph@sword-group.com

Sword IT Solutions has embarked on an exciting new chapter with the creation of the Sword Energy Sector. This approach underlines the commitment to placing the needs of energy industry customers at the heart of the organisation, by bringing together Sword’s full breadth of domain experience, digital enablement, and managed service excellence. Building an Energy Sector is a natural next step for this business technology and data company, which has doubled in size over the last 5 years and has the ambition to double again by 2025.

Despite the past 12 months being recognised as the most challenging in recent memory, Sword has created 50 new roles in Energy while protecting existing jobs. Sword’s goal is to create at least 250 more positions within the Energy Sector in the next 3 years with continued investment in new talent, training, and skills development.

Sword’s Energy Sector has over 350 employees in locations across the UK, Europe, Asia Pacific, and North America. This global structure enables Sword to support customers of all sizes, maturity, and location, ranging from international blue-chip companies to local independents. Sword places critical importance on partnering with customers as ‘Trusted Advisors’ and applying an in-depth understanding of business needs. In doing so, Sword draws on extensive consulting and technical expertise to create a platform for future operations and innovation by delivering Digital, Data and Infrastructure Services.

Phil Brading, Sword Energy Sector Director, explains:

“We are shaping our business to make sure we are best placed to support the evolving needs of the energy industry. It’s important that we integrate our data and technology expertise from across the asset lifecycle to support our customers’ digital strategies and drive greater value. Our success is built upon listening to and working with our customers, and that ethos remains as fundamental as ever.”

Sword is delighted to announce the appointment of Helen Ratcliffe in the role of Technology Consulting Lead for the Energy Sector. Helen will be helping to build the next phase of Sword’s digital technology strategy to best meet customer demand for the next generation of specialist advice, projects and services.

Helen has over 30 years of experience in the Energy industry, predominantly in Upstream Oil & Gas. She has a great track record of delivering technology-enabled, business transformation programmes that include Mobility, Big Data, Digital Oilfield, Integrated Operations, and Organisational Change Management.

Helen Ratcliffe, Technology Consulting Lead, said:

“I am excited to join Sword as we embark on the 2025 strategy. Each individual part of the Sword Group has been successful in it’s own right, but I believe the Energy Sector will be greater than the sum of its parts. I am keen to work with our existing clients and bring in new ones with whom we can partner to drive positive business outcomes for each.”

The focus from Phil, Helen, and the wider Sword leadership team, will be to expand upon Sword’s foundations to develop flexible new services that address the challenges the industry is facing. This means applying a data-driven approach that promotes the adoption of best practice, efficiency and new insight.

About Sword Energy

Sword delivers practical business support to our customers in Energy. Spanning Oil & Gas, the Energy Transition, and Renewables, we provide day to day operational support, digital solution deployment, transition projects, and technical consultancy. Our expertise runs from IT, business technology, and infrastructure, to subsurface, production, engineering and corporate data and information.

Sword IT Solutions is part of the international Sword Group, which, with over 2,000 domain experts, is active in more than 50 counties and specialises in software and services across a range of industries.

Today we’re shining the spotlight on recently appointed, Sector Technology Consulting Lead, Helen Ratcliffe who makes up an integral part of our Energy Sector leadership team.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey before joining Sword?

I have been really privileged in my career to work with some of the world’s largest Energy companies, IOCs, NOCs and some clients in the supply chain as well. I have experience in Pharmaceuticals and have provided services to a very large busy airport. My employers have ranged from large technology focused systems integrators to boutique consultancies. For the past 20 years I have focussed on Consulting; this has provided me the privilege of seeing many different organisations from the inside, helping me experience a wide view of their businesses. I have put my effort into a range of technical and business focussed initiatives, always with business outcomes for the client at the forefront.

Looking forward to the rest of this year, what big issues do you expect to help our customers address?

Digitalisation is on everyone’s mind, some organisations are advanced and have a great track record already, others are just embarking on the journey. Bringing together strong consultative skills, the fundamentals of data and information, deep domain and experience, I think we can help move the oil and gas industry forward.

Why did you choose to progress your career with Sword?

Sword have a great set of capabilities, skills and a strong track record over many years in Oil & Gas as well as Utilities and Public Sector.  Why wouldn’t I want to work with a company that couples that with a great growth record and values that I really believe in. Sword really care about client’s businesses, ensuring that our highly valued employees all contribute towards keeping things simple and doing the right thing by our customers.

You have joined Sword at an exciting time for the business, what services and specialties do Sword provide in your region to energy customers?

Sword delivers practical business support to our customers in Energy. Spanning Oil & Gas, the Energy Transition, and Renewables, we provide day to day operational support, digital solution deployment, transition projects, and technical consultancy. Our expertise runs from IT, business technology, and infrastructure, to subsurface, production, engineering and corporate data and information.

On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to women thinking about their careers in the Energy Sector?

Over the past 35 years I have seen the Sector move, slowly at first and more rapidly over recent years to address diversity. The Energy sector has re-invented itself; it is no longer all about the heavy industry aspects often portrayed in media and film.  While this aspect is still a reality for key parts of the industry; science, technology, innovation, and business acumen have come into public focus. The Energy sector needs new talent and Women can play a major part.

What does the International Women’s Day 2021 slogan, #ChooseToChallenge mean for you in your work life?

Diversity of thinking in any team is very desirable. Don’t be afraid to share your thinking, sometimes people will agree with you, sometimes they will not. If you don’t give them the chance how will you know!    

Read on to learn more about careers with Sword or our Information Management solutions.

Find out more about International Woman’s Day 2021.

Today we’re shining the spotlight on Neil Constantine, who leads our Asia Pacific business, based in Perth.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you did before joining Sword Venture?

I have been fortunate in my career to work roles and projects taking me to many parts of the world. Before joining Sword Venture, I was working for an oil and gas operator in Denmark co-ordinating data and information management services across their HQ and regional offices. It is this combination of technical work and scale that excites me and led to me to take up the role in Sword Venture where I could work with multiple clients across a diverse region.

What services do Sword provide in your region to energy customers?

We help operators and regulators maximise their return on investment in data and technology. We perform current state assessments and define change programmes and governance models that build data and information capability aligned to business objectives. We undertake projects including data conditioning, applications rationalisation and EDMS migrations using proprietary data analytics techniques to deliver fast, accurate and scalable results. Not least, we continue our 30-year track record of applications support and data and information loading services across exploration, development and production activities with Sword Venture staff working onsite or from our Perth Technical Centre.

What kind of projects do you work on and what does a typical day entail for you at Sword?

I can start the day at 7am on the phone to Houston, New Zealand or east coast Australia, and finish by talking to the UK at 10pm. Much of my focus is building Sword Venture’s global network and using our broad discipline coverage to benefit our clients with access to diverse skills and experience and to provide growth and learning opportunities for our staff.

Alongside this I am still ‘hands on’ with many of our technical projects, with one recent example being mapping the data model for a seismic metadata migration from a relational database to SharePoint, and another the building of a governance and delivery model to support a global data service squad for an IOC.

This global reach has long days, but I balance this with morning surf lessons for my daughter at the beach and lunch time runs around Kings Park just a few minutes from our office!

You regularly present at conferences representing Sword Venture. Tell us about a recent presentation and what the audience were keen to hear?

Everyone in our industry knows these are challenging times with an unprecedented combination of regulatory, environmental and commodity price pressures. This drives conversation around what re-skilling is needed to ensure we remain relevant in the Energy Transition. I frequently present on the role that data analytics and data engineering must play in building efficiency in today’s oil and gas industry and how this capability relates to growth areas including renewables and CCUS. 

Looking to the new year, what big issues do you expect to help our customers address?

It is hard to have a conversation without mentioning Digital Transformation! What is interesting is that we are working up the Hype Curve with real value to be achieved now from new technologies and capabilities. In 2021 we will continue to work with clients to help balance legacy technology and application spend with on-demand and flexible access to broad capability.

Secondly, there are still large volumes of legacy data and information that need attention. This is amplified by recent cuts in exploration activity and increasing regulatory limitation to where we can explore and produce causing us to take a revised look at existing assets and data. Whilst we have tools and compute to squeeze these data more extensively than ever before, interpretation outcomes are still constrained by the condition and uncertainty of the input data. I hate to keep banging this drum, but it’s true!

Can you tell us about a successful outcome on a customer project that made you feel proud?

It is a cliched answer, but I can’t choose one! When I moved to Australia six years ago our business was focussed on the provision of operational support on a long-term T&M basis. We would put individual staff into client offices and they would do great work. But in the last few years, our clients’ needs have moved from service to projects, requiring specific skills delivered on a defined timeframe by largely self-managed teams. We have pivoted our approach and added new technology and delivery skills to complement our domain experience. Each project has its unique challenges but we’ve built a broad portfolio of proprietary capability that we deploy to guarantee successful project outcomes and keep us all proud of what we deliver.

What would you say to someone considering a role with us in your region?

Do it. You will learn more working with Sword colleagues and clients from the Middle East, across Asia and through Australia and New Zealand than you will in any other company. There are plenty of new customers and markets for us to go after and it would be great to have you help us achieve this!

Read on to learn more about careers with Sword or our Information Management solutions.

Today we’re shining the spotlight on Craig Fitch, Application Support Analyst who is part of our Sword Resolve Applications Team, based in Aberdeen.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you did before joining Sword?

I have worked across various IT disciplines for over 10 years now, building strong problem solving, communications, technical and team building skills. Before joining Sword’s Resolve team in September 2020, I worked as a senior system engineer in the energy and infrastructure market.

Prior to that, I worked for nearly 8 years for a family-owned business who provide safety and competency support for hazardous industries around the world. As an Application Support Executive, I worked as a key member of a small team and enjoyed supporting, training and developing their software products to continually help meet customer demand.

My hobbies include time with the family, walking, hiking and regularly going to the gym (when they are open). I’m also a lover of music, cinema and occasionally turning on the Playstation.

You joined Sword Resolve’s Applications Team during lockdown, how did you find the onboarding process and starting a new position working from home?

I’ve been working as part of the Resolve Application Support team on one of our major oil operator contracts since I joined. Starting a new role remotely has actually been fairly challenge free; I was introduced to the team who very quickly took me under their wings and showed me the ropes. I was picking up tasks and learning on the job within days of starting, and I truly couldn’t have asked for a more supportive group of people. Any questions I’ve had are answered quickly and they have been extremely proactive in showing me different aspects of the job and how to use the tools available to us. This has all been done over Microsoft Teams using calls, chat and screen sharing.

What challenges have you faced while working remotely and how have you overcome them?

The most challenging aspects of working remotely haven’t come from the job itself, it’s more the typical problems everyone is facing during the pandemic and lockdown; home schooling children, everyone being inside and feeling like you are staring at the same four walls each day.

To overcome these challenges my partner and I create timetables for the kids for their schoolwork and make sure to get out for walks whenever possible.

Regular calls with colleagues for catch ups to talk about work and other things such as hobbies and interests help massively. Checking in on one another too really helps, so if someone isn’t saying much on a call or throughout the day, it doesn’t take much to send them a personal message and make sure they are ok.

Why did you choose to progress your career with Sword?

I was fortunate that when the job offer came through from Sword, I had also received offers from other companies, however Sword was ahead of the pack in my view. The conversations I had during the interview process gave me a good picture of the Sword culture, showing the friendly and professional type of business Sword is and the types of customers we interact with.

Having been here for only a few months I’m already having conversations about how I can increase my knowledge, and how I can help to support the Resolve team by building on some of my prior experience.

What would you say to someone considering a role at Sword?

Sword has an outstanding onboarding process where you feel supported and part of the team very quickly, at no point have I felt overwhelmed or that I didn’t know who to speak to for support.

From what I have seen so far and from conversations with others within Sword, whether you are new to IT or an IT professional, Sword have the experience to help you to learn your new role quickly and provide plenty of support. They are also very aware that times are tough for people and are flexible to employee needs.

Read on to learn more about careers with Sword, our Resolve IT service desk and managed IT services or for more information on Sword Resolve’s business cases.

When Serica Energy acquired the Bruce, Keith and Rhum assets in 2018, Sword was engaged to build the IT services they needed as a new North Sea operator.  Andrew James led the IT transition team and subsequently took on the role of Serica’s Information Services Manager, responsible for Sword’s small but perfectly formed managed services team.  In this article, Andrew explains what’s happened since 2018, as Serica enters its third year as operator of BKR, and how Sword is helping the company on its digital journey.

During Serica’s acquisition of Bruce, Keith and Rhum, IT services were built in readiness for cutover with the focus on satisfying essential business needs.  It was important that core services and business systems were available on “Day 1” to support key business functions and ensure operational continuity.  The principle of “Transition Now, Transformation Later” was observed during this phase.

With core IT systems in place following cutover, we entered a stabilisation phase when we made sure everything was working correctly, applied small fixes and enhancements, and introduced some new systems to improve ways of working.  A lot of this work was opportunistic or reactive, based on short term or tactical business needs.

Strategic Transformation

As we approach the end of the second year of IT operations, we are entering a more strategic, transformative phase when we will make more structural changes to how the company maximises value from digital solutions.  In doing so, we have two main aims:

  1. To make sure Serica is equipped with modern tools to help fulfil its business strategy and plans, enabling the company to use technology to work smarter, be safer, and maintain its position as a leading mid-tier E&P company in the UK North Sea.
  2. To ensure sustainability as the business evolves.  Serica is actively looking to expand its portfolio in the North Sea, through development and further asset acquisitions, and it is important that systems and services we operate are flexible and scalable to accommodate growth.

Digital Strategy

To take us forward, our digital strategy and roadmap will define improvements to be made on a rolling 3-year basis.  Recognising that a digital programme is not just about introducing new IT systems, this will embrace four elements:

Planning for the future

Digital is all about bringing these different elements together, working out how to use information, applications and technology to enhance business processes and achieve better performance.  To do this consistently across the organisation and make sure we don’t miss opportunities, it will be important for all of Serica’s business teams to be involved to some extent.   With this in mind, we have formed a Digital Steering Group including representatives from the IT function and all business disciplines.

The steps we have taken to date have allowed us to frame opportunities, explore benefits, agree our priorities, and deliver some quick wins.  First, we recognised that the data which is available in many systems can provide a good insight into business performance and help us to identify improvement opportunities.  We kicked off a project with three aims:

  1. Establish a central data hub to bring together data from different sources, giving us a single “source of the truth” for reporting and analytics.
  2. Develop standard business intelligence (BI) dashboards, refreshed automatically, to help business teams to understand key performance metrics for their processes and activities.
  3. Provide a self-service capability, allowing business users to interrogate the data and create their own bespoke reports.

As the data hub evolves, we will extend this to enable more advanced analytics capabilities.  It has already proven extremely valuable, and our dashboards based on Power BI are used by business teams on a daily basis.

Another theme we are pursuing is to put mobile technology into the hands of mobile workers, allowing them to access the information and digital tools they need without being tied to the office.  We’re beginning with a new tool to improve how we perform inspections of electrical equipment offshore – an important and resource-intensive activity – and we will move onto other uses cases in due course where we see opportunity to add value or work more efficiently, streamlining how we work across many areas through better collaboration and more direct access to tools and data.

Since data is so fundamental to digital solutions, we are also focusing on making sure enterprise data is well managed, with strong data governance controls defining where master data resides, how it is updated, how it is used, and how it can be accessed.  This will allow us to integrate key systems to a much greater extent – maintaining data quality and consistency across business “silos” – and develop digital workflows which are driven by processes and data.  An early priority has been improving our engineering data warehouse, allowing us to feed trustworthy data from there to other systems used for transactional business activities.

Although it is still early days, we have already seen potential benefits of enterprise data governance with our adoption of GDi Vision, an asset visualisation solution.  The core product allows us to perform virtual walkthroughs of the offshore asset based on geospatial and photographic data.  We are now looking at augmenting this with data from our engineering and maintenance systems, allowing engineers to plan work based on a digital twin, reducing the need for costly and time-consuming offshore surveys.

There are many exciting ideas and demands across the business, and our digital strategy and roadmap will help us to make sure we focus on the right opportunities, working hand-in-hand with business colleagues.  Digital solutions will play an important role in Serica’s future, enabling the company to safely reduce operating costs and generate value by innovating, and we are looking forward to helping to deliver those solutions.

To learn more about the original asset transition project, read the full Serica case study and for more on the considerations of IT and IM, Operations and Finance and Board on Asset Transition, please follow the links.  

futuredecoded2017

futuredecoded2017info

What is Future Decoded? A large gathering of businesses showing how they’ve benefitted from changing how they work, showing how they are exploiting technology for serious financial improvement, doing things that have been impossible and getting people totally on board with big changes. Keynote speakers showed how their sectors and their organisations are changing, ranging from healthcare to financial services, and industrial power to public services.

So, just another technology showcase? Well yes, and no. A keynote from Hiscox gives a flavour of what it’s all about. They needed to review insurance records to determine claims and risk levels in order to anticipate their future financial model and necessary funding. That amounted to one billion records to review and analyse, which IT estimated would take eight months and cost millions of pounds. They actually carried out the exercise using people in the line of business, using cloud-based cognitive services that took twelve hours and cost £600. Their CTO Jonathan Fletcher says it still blows his mind every time he thinks about it. What that means is your IT strategy may have imploded, which could be the best thing that’s ever happened. The information itself is the vital spark in your organisation. The ways we used to try and structure it and bog it down in silos is failing us and is a bankrupt model. To be fair, we all spent a lot of money making the best of what was available and trying to grapple with non-intuitive ways of doing things, like classifying information. The emerging model is server-less, API driven and using data at the Edge. Centrica's stand emphasised the move to IoT, working on data at the edge and using AI to deliver smarter heating services to home.

Knowing about the technology is of course useful, especially as it is changing so fast. More important are the explanations of the benefits, and obstacles that people have experienced and share. The first big theme was how to create a culture of digital transformation. The behaviour of people in your organisation has a massive influence on your ability to change and has been the subject of research by Microsoft, now available to read for free, see the link at the end of this blog.

Let’s cut to some data points from the research. Businesses are worried, with 53% saying they expect to be disrupted within two years, and we’re talking about significant impact. 47% have no digital transformation strategy, so aren’t able to work out what to do about it. For some big organisations ‘wait and see’ has translated into ‘wait and fail’. Once the disruption hits you, it may be too late to overcome and get back in the game. Much of this is driven by cultures and behaviours that are used to working in ‘execution mode’, they get stuff done. That’s very different to transformational thinking. Only 23% have plans to address those cultural issues. We also see evidence that in three years, 50% of the global workforce will be mobile and need to be better able to cope with that. Further research from several sources indicate many job functions will shrink massively or vanish, counterbalanced to some extent by people coming through the educational system now who will be performing jobs that don’t even exist today.

Bringing things back down to the practical, here now, and useful level, did you know that you can use Skype Translator to perform live translation during your phone calls into your choice of eight languages. You may also like to add a live text box to your slide deck that types your words as you present, into your choice of fifty language(s). This uses machine learning and improves as you use it.

At the opposite end of the scale we heard about developments in Microsoft’s approach Quantum Computing, which sounds like science fiction. I won’t dwell on the technology as the whole point is about what it can do and how it could be used. Microsoft aims to use it to tackle global warming, security, and develop new antibiotics for example. With the best traditional computing it is estimated to take billions of years to work out complex molecule behaviour, but that may take hours or days on a Quantum system – a massive boost to the efforts to synthesise new antibiotics for example. Imagine what it could do for simpler business analytical challenges. To make this practical it will be made available to organisations through a new Quantum programming language that will be incorporated in Microsoft Visual Studio, to democratise access to levels of compute power never even imagined before. This forms an extension to Azure. That facility will be available by the end of this year (www.microsoft.com/quantum).

You might be interested that tomorrow is ‘World Paper Free Day’. The Intelligent Information Management community is celebrating that and sharing some useful education http://www.aiim.org/Events-Section/VEvents/WPFD-2017-DigitalOffice

Microsoft have also just published a free eBook on Uniting your workforce, which helps with the digital journey and tackles the new ways people want to work, all of which helps your organisation improve performance. You may find you are already entitled to use a lot of the thing you will need, depending on your software agreement with Microsoft. Sword can help you on that journey.

Download the Microsoft research
stpaul
At the event, Microsoft announced the release of their research on ‘Creating a culture of digital transformation’, highlighting the importance of the role of people and culture in adopting change.
Download the report now

eBook on uniting your workforce

uniteworkforce

Download the e-book.

Intelligent Information Management drives Digital Transformation

Blog by Neale Stidolph

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13-14th September 2017 in Minneapolis & 5th October 2017 in London

Here’s a summary of discussions at the ELC USA and EMEA meetings about digital transformation. One of the first themes is the use of deep learning to displace the need for metadata, and records management being replaced by automation to a large extent. One of the big drains on information management has been the need for people to classify information and store it appropriately. This feels like it has become harder as the volume and diversity of information has accelerated. People aren’t good at organising content. The industry built systems that required considerable manual intervention, asking a lot of the people that used them. Real progress is now being made and that has the effect of making data more valuable.

In healthcare there have been many initiatives such as telemedicine, emergency room avoidance techniques, insurance and healthcare at home. They all helped to varying degrees but never delivered their full promise. In the U.S. healthcare cost $3.2 Trillion in 2015, and much of that relates to hospital services. Smarter use of data is making big inroads into those costs, and parallels can be drawn with many other sectors with lots of people, assets and resource constraints.

So what areas are bringing the improvements?

Great insights provided by Optum Technology that generated ideas for everyone.

The presentations moved on to consider legal implications of handling and analysing data. This is a vital subject to tackle due to the personal rights, financial risks and legislation that is having to adapt fast to a digital age. Business models need to be based on using data in a valid and legal manner, then ensure that it is protected. We heard in detail about the Equifax breach and this just underlined how vulnerable many organisations can be, and the risks they may expose us to. Technology won’t fix all this but the potential exists to shift information ownership and control more in the direction of the people the information belongs to. Such shifts rely on systems that can be made sufficiently open on the one hand, but extremely secure on the other. This isn’t just about protecting access to information, it’s about the trust and truth of the information. Blockchain technologies are developing fast and hold great promise in this area. It is highly appealing to avoid dependence on any specific agency when it comes to our information. Even the largest corporations can get into bad information handling situations, we need people to be able to take back more control and restore faith in our information. That gives us a more stable basis for value and benefits through applying AI and other smart technologies to that data.

Further thoughts on the rapid emergence of Blockchain-based services:

Corporations won’t have to build all these things, they will start appearing within services and solutions.

The shift from Enterprise Content Management to a more federated, agile and open model continues – which we refer to as Content Services. This concept is worth looking into for your organisation as it moves away from dependence on a few centralised systems into a more app-based architecture where information can be more freely shared across systems. This model enables more rapid delivery of value, can be more iterative, at lower costs and permits lower risk evolution. The point of all that is to let businesses transform and adapt to new operating models more effectively.

So, we can all get carried away with the marvels of new technology. One effect we looked at is the lag in customer experience. The tools may be awesome but people are confused as there are so many in use in our day to day lives. Apart from line-of-business apps it is common to be using LinkedIn, Yammer, Teams, Skype, Twitter, Outlook, Webmail, GoToMeeting, Evernote, Box, Dropbox, OneDrive, Office365 apps, perhaps Google apps too. People are jumping between a bewildering array of apps to ‘get stuff done’. Those apps change, often fast and get replaced by end users themselves not just via IT. The big pushes are going to come in overall user experience, which starts to pull things together way more effectively. That’s something Facebook has worked on with its internal Workplace tech, now available to everyone. They are all about the experience, but all the other vendors are working hard on that too. If you aren’t putting your focus on customers and users then the tech will fail to make the impact you expect.

If you want to discuss any of these themes or find out who could solve specific problems you can contact me via LinkedIn, Twitter or mail me at neale.stidolph@sword-group.com

 

Further information:

If you are interested in participating in the ELC, go here for more details http://www.aiim.org/elc

To learn about Intelligent Information Management, get the free ebook here http://info.aiim.org/the-next-wave-from-ecm-to-intelligent-information-management-aiim

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and http://info.aiim.org/intelligent-information-management-defining-a-new-age

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Blog by Barry Milligan, Head of Public Sector Sales

Public sector bodies are under constant pressure to ensure they deliver a high quality service to their citizens, while at the same time making certain that taxpayers are getting value for money. However, at a time when many organisations are dealing with austerity measures and restricted budgets, the need to do more with less is greater than ever.

That is why having the right technology is so important for public sector bodies. Whether it is local councils or the NHS, having the most appropriate tools available makes critical processes much more efficient, and gives employees the power to make the best decisions faster, with the benefit of all available information.

For local councils, Windows 10 solutions offer employees better flexibility and productivity. 2-in-1 tools that combine tablet and PC capabilities into a single device ensure that personnel are able to access the same high-quality experience and apps wherever they are, so whether they are in the office or out in the field, they will always have the most up-to-date information at their fingertips.

When workers are out of the office, they will still need to keep in touch with their colleagues, so a strong communications and collaboration solution is essential.

Most organisations are beginning to understand that Windows 10 is not just another Microsoft operating system release.  Taking full advantage of Windows 10 is drastically different than just installing the new operating system and making sure that applications still work.  If implemented correctly, it’s a fundamentally different approach for users, IT, and security that represents a key part of your transformation to a digital workplace.

Organisations now looking to adopt Windows 10 will have usually already identified shortfalls with their traditional end user environment and are unable to introduce new services or are perhaps concerned about the on-going vendor support for their legacy systems. Combined with the timescales regarding end-of-life support for Windows 7 organisations are now reaching out for advice and help to plan and execute their Windows 10 upgrade programme.

Using a proven set of tools and procedures our consultants have successfully delivered production pilots, upgrading 500 devices to Windows 10 to Public Sector organisations over an eight week period. In addition to migrating the initial batch of devices our approach incorporates knowledge transfer to existing staff, which in turn allows them to continue the migration process.

Here is some customer feedback from Marius de Munnink (NHS NATIONAL SERVICES SCOTLAND). “During March and April of this year the NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) engaged with external consultants, Sword IT Solutions to deliver a Microsoft sponsored accelerated Window 10 production pilot deployment. The scope of work included the planning, a technical solution design and the migration of 500 devices to Microsoft Window 10 Enterprise.

The engagement proved to be hugely successful and beneficial in enabling the NSS to enhance our capabilities to automate our Windows 10 rollout. Not only in terms of a viable reference image but also incorporating this into a revised SCCM task sequence.

Notwithstanding the tight timescales this very successful engagement with Sword IT Solutions exceeded our expectations of what was possible within the framework allowed under the Microsoft program. The work was completed on time and achieved all of the objectives and more.

 The NHS NSS has no hesitation in recommending Sword IT Solutions for any work in this regard.”

 

You are welcome to get in touch for a no-obligation discussion about how to tackle this key aspect of your digital workplace journey.

You can contact me via email at barry.milligan@sword-group.com

By Steven Black, part two of a series of three technical blogs that focus on Windows 10.

Microsoft added the SCCM servicing feature for Windows 10 to manage Windows 10 upgrades. Using the feature in production environments has raised a few issues with its deployment method and the inconsistent scheduling of Windows 10 upgrades.

This article presents an alternative method of deploying upgrades that put you in control of scheduling and the production configuration of the upgraded Windows 10 operating system.

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Microsoft’s Current Servicing Model for Windows 10

Windows 10 upgrades will, apparently, be made available twice a year. The exact month each upgrade is available are likely to vary from year to year if Windows 10 releases to date are indicators of what is to come. This leaves you largely at the mercy of Microsoft in planning update cycles for Windows 10.

When Windows 10 upgrades are available and deployed directly from media or using the Windows 10 servicing feature in SCCM, the resulting upgraded operating system may have re-installed many of the modern Windows applications you may have previously removed.

Both of these scenarios are far from ideal, requiring business buy-in, communications, and flexibility throughout the year as well as re-working of upgraded operating systems to remove what was re-installed.

Our Alternative Windows 10 Servicing Model

The alternative model we propose will allow you to control both the schedule and the final configuration of the upgrade when it is complete. It comprises two distinct parts – scheduling and deployment.

Scheduling

Microsoft plan release two Windows 10 upgrades per year, each upwards of 3GB in size, with deployment times of between 45 minutes on SSD equipped devices to over 2 hours on older devices. If your estate has upwards of a few hundred devices this is a significant workload to add to what you already do. The upgrade releases presently have no set monthly release schedules. Asking the business to tolerate this could be a difficult task, as proving business value for each upgrade means re-evaluating afresh the features of each upgrade package.

An alternative approach is to set a schedule to deploy whatever version of Windows 10 is available in a consistent period each year. For example, if you select between beginning of June and end of August as the period and Windows 10 1703 is the latest version available then you deploy 1703 to your estate. Once deployed, you wait until the same period next year to do the same, but with the newer Current Branch for Business release version of Windows 10 available at that time.

The reasons for suggesting this approach are threefold. Firstly, the upgrade is a huge undertaking that requires considerable planning, communication, scheduling, and support. To do this twice a year is unrealistic in resource terms in many organisations. Secondly, the business impact of the upgrade is significant: network downloads to each workstation of over 3GB, users having to logout for an hour or more, and the service desk typically dealing with increased support calls following the upgrade. Repeating this twice a year is an enormous task. Lastly, Microsoft are not committing to set months for releases of Windows 10 upgrades. Consider the first two reasons and factor in the randomness of when they might occur and you have a highly undesirable situation that you probably want to avoid – twice a year.

Our suggested approach is in the diagram below. It is part of a yearly operate and maintain cycle for a Windows desktop operating environment. When the Windows 10 upgrades are complete, normal security patching services will resume. All of this is possible through SCCM.

win10upgrade

Deployment

Ideally, the deployment of Windows 10 upgrades should be via an SCCM task sequence. This puts you in control of the upgrade’s delivery and configuration.

In contrast, Windows 10 Servicing in SCCM is similar to WSUS – it will deliver the upgraded operating system as it comes – out of the box. Any customisations you have made to the existing build following the upgrade could be lost, and any applications you may want to remove or upgrade will remain as is.

Our approach upgrades Windows 10 using an SCCM task sequence. This allows you to uninstall applications prior to the upgrade, deliver the upgrade, and then customise the build by, for example, removing modern Windows applications, upgrading existing applications or installing new ones. Adding these and other customisations to the task sequence improves management and control of the build and the user experience.

Creating a task sequence for upgrading Windows 10 is something we have successfully carried out for many customers to date. You can use this for future Windows 10 upgrades to deliver a reliable and repeatable upgrade experience….once a year!

 

Steven Black

Principal Consultant

steven.black@sword-group.com

Blog by Neale Stidolph

Celebrating Corrie J. Green’s achievement in winning the BSc (Hons) Computing Application Software Development prize today. Corrie has been developing software for years, publishes games of his own and collaborates with established games developers. It is great to see such enthusiasm, skills and motivation. His interests include augmented reality and security – at a time when these fields are highly dynamic and show great promise. I’m sure his career will be fascinating and rewarding.

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I’ve remained close to Robert Gordon University for many years as they do a fine job and encourage organisations to help guide their programmes through the Industrial Advisory Group.

Here’s an overview of the computer science BSc (Hons) showing just how much ground is covered. This builds solid skills that enables businesses to innovate, allowing for later specialisations.

BSc (Hons) Computer Science

If you are in a position to work with a local University, sponsor students or give prizes then know how much they appreciate it.

Neale and Corrie

You can contact me via LinkedIn, Twitter @nealestidolph or mail me at neale.stidolph@sword-group.com

If you work in Information Management in the Oil & Gas sector then you may be aware of some changes coming along. Yes, GDPR is coming along and we all know that, but what else?

The Oil & Gas Authority is carrying out a consultation on proposed changes to the Energy Act 2016 that have a bearing on what information must be held and introduces a specific job function that must be put in place.

Quick recap – the OGA came about following Sir Ian Wood’s review and the report ‘UKCS Maximising Recovery Review Final Report’ in 2014. The OGA exists to drive maximum economic recovery of oil & gas in the UK, and has increasing powers to ensure this happens – for the benefit of employment, energy security, taxation and supply chain.

The Energy Act 2016 will include key provisions for information:

  1. Regulations about retention of specific oil & gas information
  2. Enforce the reporting of information and timing of responses to written notices
  3. Define when the OGA will disclose information
  4. Requiring that Information & Samples Co-ordinators be appointed by oil & gas companies
  5. Require that information & samples plans be provided for specified UK license events

The purpose of this isn’t to make life more difficult, but to create better conditions for information sharing and analysis that will result in better economic production of oil & gas resources. This approach has been highlighted by initiatives such as the OGA’s involvement in new seismic data being gathered for the benefit of the industry, stimulating exploration.

What sort of information will be covered in the Act?

Now is the time to let your views be known in this consultation, and to assess how the proposed requirements might affect your organisation.

The Oil & Gas Authority link for the Energy Act 2016 consultation is here:

https://www.ogauthority.co.uk/news-publications/news/2017/proposed-regulations-for-the-retention-and-disclosure-of-information-and-samples/

Responses are invited by the OGA before 25th August 2017 and the response will be published by 17th November 2017.

If you are interested in this topic you can contact me via LinkedIn, Twitter @nealestidolph or mail me at neale.stidolph@sword-group.com

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