Southend Borough Council is the local government authority for Southend-on-Sea in Essex. The council has around 2500 users, 1900 of which use laptop computers. It began a transformation project in 2019, which included overhauling its IT department of around 70 staff. Its IT project manager Rhys Taylor joined the council in April 2020 from the banking sector.
The organisation purchases its IT products and services under a Crown Commercial Services agreement.
The council needed a more efficient laptop procurement process. Traditionally, each purchase involved quotes from multiple suppliers and selecting based on cost. This took considerable time and effort while making pricing unpredictable. The lengthy approval process also sometimes led to stock availability problems.
Laptop setup and asset management also needed improvement. The council maintains a large in-house support operation that would set up devices manually in a build room. Each setup run would take two hours.
The council was also eager to migrate away from its legacy laptops, 700 of which were still running Windows 7, recalls Taylor.
Getting users to adopt and use new machines was already difficult, with many users unwilling to devote time to switching machines. The increase in remote workers during the pandemic exacerbated that problem.
Another item on the council's procurement wish list was enhanced support. It wanted additional services including accidental damage coverage and three-year warranty cover on Surface devices.
In 2020, the council decided to appoint a single supplier to streamline its laptop procurement, and tendered the three-year contract using an electronic auction that it ran in October under the CCS Framework RM6068 TePAS.
The winning bid would supply four types of laptop; 30 high-spec Surface Books for power users like CAD engineers, another 30 medium-spec Surface Book devices for advanced work such as data manipulation, 900 HP EliteBook devices for office workers, and 300 high-mobility Surface Pro devices for employees such as social workers that needed agility in the field. The contract also allowed for the procurement of more devices over its three-year life span, including 1200 more EliteBooks. The council also retains the option to renew it for an additional year.
Probrand stood out as the top provider in the auction, says Taylor. "Probrand's responses to our non-standard questions were more detailed. It came out very favourably," he recalls. The service provider's financial records and business history also gave the council more confidence in the company than in other bidders, he added.
One advantage of working with Probrand was its use of bonded stock. The council pays for stock in advance, and Probrand stores it until needed. Even during extreme equipment shortages, Probrand used its Marketplace platform to source up-to-the-minute price and stock data, satisfying the council's equipment needs. Probrand also planned its own procurement to take advantage of vendor promotions, optimising the council's pricing.
The company also helped the council streamline its procurement process through the use of temporary purchase order IDs. That enabled Probrand to ready laptops for delivery on its side while the council went through its internal approval process.
Probrand couriers laptops directly to users where necessary, making it easier to upgrade equipment during lockdown. It integrated this with the council's new Microsoft Intune management system, providing a code for each device for fast enrolment.
The streamlined procurement and device roll out has delivered several benefits to the council, not least of which are the cost savings. Taylor estimates that Probrand has saved the organisation 10% per unit on average.
The contract has also saved the council time. Microsoft's Windows Autopilot feature streamlined the setup process, taking just 20 minutes at the user's location and reducing the IT department's workload.
This faster, easier delivery and setup has accelerated the migration from legacy laptops, allowing Taylor and his team to build a business case for a proactive replacement programme. It has almost entirely replaced its fleet of Windows 7 laptops since the contract began. This in turn has enabled it to switch out some legacy client-side software applications and even decommission legacy desk phones in favour of modern VoIP software.
"Probrand enables us to do all that thanks to its fast, efficient provision of modern laptops," Taylor says.
The switch to new devices has also reduced the breakage rate from one in five devices each year to almost none, further reducing the IT department's workload.
The council's team has also been impressed with Probrand's commitment to customer service. "When it comes to account management, Probrand has always been willing to go above and beyond," Taylor says, adding that long-term relationships are extremely important to the council. "We know that we'll always get a same-day response from Probrand. I can just call my account manager directly. That's not something you can do with most suppliers."