In conversation with Laurence Arterton, Head of Client Support and ICT Services at UNISON about working with Bespoke IT Solutions and how they have adjusted to providing an IT service during the Pandemic.

Background

UNISON is the country’s largest trade union with nearly 1.4 million members. Its membership is made up from people working in public services, private contractors, utilities companies and community/voluntary organisations. UNISON employs 1,300 staff across 32 sites in the UK. The head office is in Euston and is home to 300 people.

Bespoke IT Solutions (BITS) has been providing managed IT services to UNISON since 2017. The service it provides to UNISON includes desktop support, application support, WINTEL (server)
support, high-end architecture and project management. Service desk, server hosting and network support is provided by third parties, whom BITS work with closely.

Laurence has worked in IT, infrastructure and telecoms at UNISON for nearly 30 years. He starts off by saying: “Our relationship with BITS is four years old, but we have known Tally (Natalie) Alden
(BITS CEO) for over 15 years. She knows just about every component in the UNISON IT machine and is immersed in our culture. When we became aware that she was starting a managed IT services company, we made sure that we stayed in contact.”

Following a formal tender application and assessment process, BITS were appointed. “We have a strong and positive culture about how we behave and how we interact with each other here at UNISON,” said Laurence “and BITS have fitted into that ethos very well.”

“From day one, and credit to BITS for adapting to this, we needed their team to be UNISON’s IT department, not an external supplier. That was vital to their quick and successful integration. We wanted them to be part of our team, especially as they were onsite, and they were happy to be so. Even to the point of wearing UNISON branded ‘IT Team’ polo shirts.

“I’d like to think that both parties have taken and stuck to a pragmatic approach when working together. BITS has never hidden behind any contract clauses when we’ve asked them to do something. Similarly, we’ve understood their situation when they’ve been recruiting to fill vacancies. Credit to BITS as well here, they have been excellent in finding people who are a good fit for our organisation.”

Working together throughout the pandemic.

“When the early effects of the pandemic on working practices became apparent, we were working together on a large Outlook 365 rollout project. The project specification had to change quickly to re-focus on business continuity as our staff began working from home. We worked with BITS to understand the new priority technical components that would be needed. These were Teams, SharePoint and Email cloud migration. We then planned a revised roll out according to priority and need.

“Unlike some organisations urgently searching for computers and laptops for home use, we were able to repurpose our old Windows 7 machines from the rollout to supply to staff who either didn’t have a computer or perhaps had prioritised their family machine for a child receiving lessons at home.

“I’ve been particularly proud of how we’ve worked together during 2020 to make sure that UNISON can still function and serve its members. The 365 roll out has continued alongside meeting the needs of users. Like every relationship there has been strain at times. But with honesty and integrity to the fore, we work through our challenges together and remind ourselves who it is we are representing. “Many members are female and low paid. They will have suffered dis-proportionately during COVID. It’s important we can serve them when they need our representation most. A robust and reliable IT infrastructure is a key element of that service and BITS are vital to that.”

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