Re-making history with the cloud

Renovating one of the world’s most historic public buildings
by Charles Lennard
10-minute read
Columned building

Public buildings often play multiple roles in our society. As the sites of key historical events, they are an important part of our heritage, which, together with their architectural significance, often makes them a draw for visitors and tourists. At the same time, many of these buildings still play an active role in day-to-day life as official residences, government buildings, town halls, museums, libraries and other public amenities.

This story is about one particularly iconic building, which is both a huge global tourist attraction and a workplace for more than 2,500 people. First built in medieval times and last rebuilt over 150 years ago, the site has always been difficult to maintain. Major works can only be completed during brief vacation periods, which increases the cost and limits the scope of renovations.

As a result, almost every aspect of the building needs renewal: heating, ventilation, electrical systems, roofs, windows, stonework and more. From a health and safety perspective, asbestos needs to be removed and fire safety systems must be modernized. Disabled access and emergency evacuation procedures are also a concern because the building simply wasn’t designed for these needs.

In October 2019, the public body responsible for the site decided to act. It set up an independent organization tasked with comprehensively renovating the building and putting measures in place to make it easier and more cost-effective to maintain. This new organization was set up as a two-tier organization, composed of a Sponsor Body, which manages the scope, budget and timescales, and a Delivery Authority, which oversees and completes the work.

It was important for the new organization to move quickly; within six months of its initial announcement, it would become responsible for onboarding, managing and paying the restoration program’s suppliers. It would also need to ramp up its own internal team rapidly, from an initial skeleton staff of 25 people to a full-scale program.

Since the organization was set up as a completely independent body, it was not feasible to share any existing public-sector IT infrastructure. As a result, it had a window of approximately three months to find a solution that could meet its finance, procurement, HR and recruitment needs, as well as being flexible enough to evolve as the restoration program expanded.

Architect woman and construction worker discuss the building plans

Delivered a fully functional solution based on best practices in just

3

months

Ensured on-time delivery during the COVID crisis by pivoting to a

60%

remote working model

The organization was impressed by IBM’s approach in understanding the requirements and helping define a minimum viable product to ensure rapid availability of operational systems.
Construction worker plastering cement on concrete block wall
Even though more than 60% of the project had to be delivered remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team met its deadlines. The systems were online in time for new employees to start working productively as soon as they joined the organization.
Taking an agile approach
Even though more than 60% of the project had to be delivered remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team met its deadlines. The systems were online in time for new employees to start working productively as soon as they joined the organization.

Since time was of the essence, the organization decided to focus on the basics: create a solid foundation that would provide the absolute must-have functionality on day one, and then extend it as more staff and suppliers came on board.

Recognizing that they did not have time to build a complete IT infrastructure from scratch and wanting to embrace modern, future-proof technology, the organization decided to adopt a software-as-a-service solution. It wanted a platform with sensible, industry-standard processes that were ready for immediate use. It was also important that the platform should run in the cloud because this would allow the program management team to focus on designing their business processes, without worrying about the underlying software and infrastructure, whilst providing state-of-the-art data security.

After researching the options, the organization selected a suite of Oracle Cloud Applications as its preferred platform. With Oracle, the organization’s decision-makers could see a clear roadmap for expanding from an initial small-scale solution to the planned future state and understood how to grow in a scalable and modular way. They also recognized that Oracle had a large existing footprint among other public sector agencies, which gave them confidence that it was the right solution.

Next, the organization wanted to find an implementation partner with experience of delivering Oracle Cloud solutions under severe time constraints. Oracle recommended IBM Services®, which had recently completed a very similar project for another public sector organization in the same country.

The organization was impressed by IBM’s approach in understanding the requirements and helping define a minimum viable product (MVP). The IBM Design Thinking approach helped keep the project on track by focusing tightly on the scope, differentiating between core features that absolutely had to be in the MVP and enhanced features that the organization could deliver in a later phase of the project.

For example, supplier onboarding will be one of the most important processes for the organization when it begins managing large numbers of contractors to work on the building. However, on day one, the company only had to onboard a relatively small number of suppliers as it took on responsibility for a number of existing contracts and purchase orders.

The team therefore decided to handle the onboarding process manually for this first set of suppliers, freeing up time to focus on more urgent priorities for the initial Oracle implementation. As a side benefit, running this initial onboarding process manually will help staff clean the data and gain a deeper understanding of the requirements, which should help them build a more robust automated process in the next phase of the project.

Architect and a builder using a tablet computer to check data while standing on a network of reinforcing bars laid down to become a reinforced concrete floor on a large building site
Close-up of Architect engineer drawing plan on blueprint with architect equipment

One of the key lessons learned from IBM was how to communicate the MVP approach and the benefits of standardization to the organization’s stakeholders. During the design sprints, the combined IBM and client team used IBM® Blueworks Live to map out and embed the Oracle processes so everyone could see exactly how they worked. This helped people buy into a more standardized, best-practice way of doing things, instead of sticking to their preconceived ideas about how their processes should work.

Once the MVP design was complete, the team planned and executed the build and testing of the Oracle Cloud Applications to ensure delivery within the timeframe. Because the team had used built-in functionality wherever possible, most of the business logic had already been thoroughly tested by Oracle, which meant that the testing effort could focus primarily on areas where high volumes of transactions or high levels of risk were expected. This made it possible to fit the testing process into the time available without compromising on quality.

Even though more than 60% of the project had to be delivered remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team met its deadlines. The HR, procurement and recruitment modules went live in less than three months, followed by the finance module one month later. All of the cutover events were successful, and the systems were online in time for new employees to start working productively as soon as they joined the organization.

Maintaining public trust

With the Oracle Cloud Applications in place, the organization now has the tools it needs to manage its day-to-day business as it scales up its team and begins onboarding suppliers to support the design and delivery of dozens of vital renovation projects.

By adopting industry-standard solutions for finance, procurement, HR and recruitment, the organization now has a single set of clear and well-documented business processes, which will help it stay smart, efficient and scalable as it grows. Meanwhile, the underlying Oracle Cloud platform will evolve to keep pace with regulatory requirements and provide richer functionality, allowing the organization to focus on business-level concerns, not IT infrastructure.

The solution enables strong governance and complete transparency, which are critical priorities for an organization that is investing public money. Standardized reports from the Oracle Cloud Applications help the organization’s Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority understand where money is being spent and build commentary and analysis around contracts, requisitions and purchase orders. It is also easy to audit financial and operational decisions, providing full accountability.

As the work ramps up, the organization will be able to report on annual control totals at a corporate level and identify areas where the program is over-spending or under-spending. It will also be able to analyze the supply chain, ensure that the right authorizations are in place and check that suppliers are paid fairly, accurately and on time.

As the organization is ultimately accountable both to government and the taxpayer, it is critical to be able to account for every penny of the money spent on the restoration program. With help from IBM and Oracle, the organization is confident that it will be able to maintain public trust that the restoration program is being managed efficiently and providing the best value for public money as it brings one of the world’s most iconic public buildings up to modern day standards.

About this IBM client

This IBM client is responsible for delivering the renovation of one of the world’s most important historic public buildings. Formed as an independent company in 2019, the organization’s main role will be to procure and manage the contractors and supply chain for the project.

Solution components
About this IBM client

This IBM client is responsible for delivering the renovation of one of the world’s most important historic public buildings. Formed as an independent company in 2019, the organization’s main role will be to procure and manage the contractors and supply chain for the project.

Solution components