IT Assist have been working incredibly hard to enable thousands of civil servants to adapt to new working environments and to allow them to continue to provide vital services to people across Northern Ireland. Find out more about what they have been able to achieve.

What has IT Assist achieved?

COVID-19 has changed everyone’s plans and strategies during the last number of weeks and for the coming year. We all have had to face unprecedented challenges in providing critical functions and optimal service delivery. It has called for different working practices, a more agile approach to business priorities, and a reliance on technology that no one would have anticipated. IT Assist has addressed this unprecedented situation with a coordinated response at pace.

The purpose of this communication is to update you on the extra-ordinary measures taken by IT Assist since the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19) to help support all business areas. This additional work has been facilitated by IT Assist invoking business continuity and redeploying approximately 60 staff to front line services from across many other IT teams. They are working out of Craigantlet Buildings and the Data Centres, urgently providing devices for home working and resolving issues affecting service delivery. 

Highlights include:

  • IT service desk staff have handled double their usual volume of calls and emails over March and April to date
  • IT teams have worked together to provide 1,327 additional laptops and 1,100 new mobile devices to allow essential staff to work from home with many more on order from suppliers
  • we have upgraded and increased Secure Remote Access (SRA) capacity from 5,000 to 15,500 concurrent connections
  • Internet bandwidth has been increased from 1GB to 5GB, and
  • the number of Audio/Video conferences taking place has increased from 140 per day to 530 per day

We have risen to the challenge

A full IT Service desk provision has been maintained by 43 staff working remotely from home and they have handled 10,000 calls during March, more than double the usual volume of queries. Despite these volumes, service levels have remained at 99 per cent, an amazing achievement!

The IT Service Desk has also handled over 10,000 emails in the last  number of weeks compared with handling an average of 8,000 to 10,000 emails per month during normal business. There have been over 8,500 Service Requests assigned to IT Assist staff during March 2020 compared with 4,253 Service Requests during the same period in 2019.

We are supporting teams working remotely

Many service users are now working remotely where possible and this change has required immediate changes to the current IT infrastructure. IT Assist has now increased the capacity for Secure Remote Access (SRA) from 5,000 to 15,500 concurrent connections. The peak usage last week was over 9,600 concurrent users when previously the highest numbers online was 1,100.

The teams have worked hard to provide over 1,300 additional laptops to allow essential staff to work from home with many more laptops ordered to meet requirements. IT Assist has also reconfigured over 300 desktops to allow essential staff to work from home where laptops were not available.   In addition IT Assist has also provided 1,100 new mobile devices (IPads and Smart Phones) to individuals. IT Assist is continuing to operate a Drop-In Centre for staff to drop-off and/or collect equipment by appointment. 

Please be assured that if you are still waiting for IT equipment, we are working hard to source more laptops and other devices from suppliers. It is anticipated that a further 1,500 laptops will be built and issued over the next month, along with up to 3,000 Desktops for SRA access. 

We are providing new tools to keep in touch

We are all adjusting to new ways of working and new ways of keeping in touch with our colleagues, teams and customers during the COVID-19 emergency. IT Assist has provided additional Cisco Jabber softphones with the number increased from 4,000 to 7,000 users. Work has also been completed to increase the internet bandwidth capacity from 1GB to 5GB.

IT Assist has provided access for all NICS users to use Cisco Jabber, BTMeetMe, WebEx and TMS video conferencing to keep in touch with colleagues and customers. There is now additional Audio Host Conference capacity using BTMeetMe and IT Assist has also rapidly expanded the available Video/Audio Conference facilities using WebEx Cloud.

Whilst ITAssist has also facilitated access for all users to a range of other collaboration tools including for example, Zoom, it should be noted that NICS Cyber Security colleagues recommend that all NICS staff use the supported tools ie, Cisco Jabber, WebEx, BTMeetMe and TMS video conferencing where at all possible. These are the only supported tools available for NICS use that are fully licensed and monitored/managed by IT Assist. 

It is recognised that many other collaboration tools are available to maintain team and customer relationships. In these exceptional circumstances, cyber security risks that might not be acceptable in normal times could be tolerated temporarily in specific circumstances. It will be for business areas to evaluate and manage the circumstances and associated risks in using other collaboration tools such as Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, GoToMeeting etc but it is recommended that these should be limited to exceptional circumstances.

We are seeking your co-operation

Our COVID 19 response has placed greater demands across all IT resources and we are seeking everyone’s co-operation to ensure the most effective use of IT systems. Please follow best practice guidance to help the IT systems cope with the loads and work as effectively as possible for everyone. 

Following the network upgrade work, the internet capacity has been greatly improved and is much more resilient, however, the numbers of individuals using SRA has also significantly increased and continues to do so. There are also greater pressures across the entire mobile and broadband network and local Wi-Fi signal may also impact on the performance of services experienced from time to time.

IT Assist is managing unprecedented volumes of calls and service requests whilst working to provide more laptops, mobile devices and desktop facilities for home working. To allow IT Assist to prioritise support where it is needed most, please continue to follow the engagement protocols below if you require support during this period.

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