The company, which has offices around Australia and in several Asian cities, found itself in a situation where it had three separate IT teams - one supporting CAD, another for finance applications, and the third for general IT matters. These teams were competing with each other rather than effectively sharing information, said Bill Rue, Hassell's CIP.
Hassell wanted IT to support the more effective delivery of projects to clients, so Rue was given three weeks to generate a plan to reorganise the operation.
A traditional outsourcing arrangement was not attractive, as Hassell wanted to keep the focus on design. Rue's solution was to set up a service desk operating from 8am to 9pm (reflecting normal working hours in the time zones where the offices are located) with an escalation mechanism for urgent and important after-hours issues. A few IT staff remained in the individual studios to provide on-the-spot support, but most of the team was reorganised around the service desk. In addition, the company appointed regional delivery managers to take care of compliance issues that vary in different countries.
The service desk approach means that Hassell's staff always know who to phone regarding IT issues. If the person who answers the call cannot help, they can find someone who can.
Rue also engaged key vendors to work on a partnership basis to provide additional support as required. In return, Hassell acts as a reference site for those vendors.
"Being a partner means there's no arguing about who owns an issue," explained Wally Eastland, principal operations consultant at Microsoft.
The changes have allowed the IT group to shift from a break/fix mentality to a service improvement strategy. Projects must meet at least one of three criteria (improve profit and loss, improve corporate reputation, or make it easier for staff to do their jobs), and ideally all three.
A lot of previous break/fix work had gone undocumented due to the geographically and functionally distributed nature of the IT group. Centralising issue management through the service desk has made it possible to identify common problems that can now be fixed systematically.
Another example of the benefits of centralisation is that Hassell previously kept running out of licences for a certain application that was used to produce documents for clients. By rearranging things, the company has been able to halve the number of licences needed.
The group is also better placed to engage with the business (which can see that changes are being made for good reason) and to cater for the needs of each speciality within the group (eg, landscape design or interior design).
Satisfaction with IT has improved, performance and availability has been maintained or improved, and operational costs have been reduced. Costs relating to project delivery have increased - but that's in keeping with current thinking about spending less on 'keeping the lights on' freeing up funds to spend on innovation.
Every IT job at Hassell changed except for Rue's, and he now reports to a director from one of the design disciplines rather than the finance director.
A number of jobs (and in most cases the incumbents) have been transferred to outsourcers, and in some cases people chose to leave the company rather than work under the new arrangements. The headcount has been reduced from 37 to 25 plus outsourcing, at a "significant saving."
Understandably. the project caused "fear and uncertainty" as people expected the worst. Rue spent a lot of time reassuring his colleagues of the benefits, and the scepticism started to fade as the results began to materialise. Non IT staff were also concerned that support levels would fall if specialists were removed from their studios.
Other benefits include more agile responses to changing business needs, and better prioritisation by the board. Rue explains that he is able to tell the board what IT could do to improve various areas of operation and what the cost would be.
"That's almost nirvana behaviour" for IT to be successful, observed Eastland.