Brentwood Borough Council’s Journey to the Cloud

Brentwood’s “Phases of Modern” project aims to transform desktop and business systems and make them fit for purpose for the modern workplace. The project originally went to committee in 2015 and involved a relatively minor uptake of Cloud technology for Disaster Recovery (DR) purposes.

At the time, Brentwood needed to replace a shelf in their ageing Storage Area Network (SAN). Three options were considered:

  1. do nothing and sweat the asset
  2. buy a replacement or
  3. do something different.

The “something different” approach was selected, with the plan being to use StorSimple backed up to Azure.

This was Brentwood’s first step into Cloud technology and the cost-effective solution had the added advantage of providing a manageable introduction to a form of technology expected to be the direction of travel at that time.

The aim was to invest in a highly-available platform which could survive any incident affecting the Town Hall, a decision that was to be fully justified in due course. Brentwood knew that moving to a new platform presented risk as well as opportunity. They put their ability to manage risk down to having good working relationships with key partners.

Brentwood Borough Council’s Journey to the Cloud

Whilst dipping a toe in the waters of Cloud technology, a complete office relocation pushed Brentwood in at the deep end. It was time to sink or swim.

Tim Huggins ICT Manager at Brentwood recalls,
“We were fortunate in being able to turn to Hytec Information Security. We wanted high availability and DR built-in by design rather than as an afterthought. Hytec gave us constant change management and we were able to tell Hytec what we were intending to do and they would sense check it from a security and compliance perspective which gave us the confidence to make these significant changes.”

Fast forward to 2016 and plans for gradual adoption of Cloud technology were overtaken by the announcement of the final decision to redesign and repurpose the entire Town Hall. Brentwood IT was to be made temporarily homeless. Plans for migration to a hybrid data centre were shelved and the strategic decision to stay ahead of the game and elevate all IT services above changing and evolving building plans were made.

Tim Huggins Brentwood Borough Council immediately saw the potential,

“The impending move gave us what we regarded as an opportunity to implement a new vision by drawing a line under the old technology and making a clean break for a well-designed Cloud-based environment. The mindset within the team was good because of the support we had in place from Hytec, we had a support mechanism around us and were able to consider the art of the possible rather than thinking that everything was a complete threat.

Hytec allowed us to take away some of the details and complexities of creating a secure environment which allowed us to make the right decisions, rather than being dragged down into the details."

Hytec enabled us to recognise and understand that our threat landscape would completely change when we moved to the Cloud. How could we mitigate risk and manage information security? How could we create a solution that hovers above those challenges? Something that could shape and change as Brentwood knew more about requirements. Brentwood needed a degree of agility within the organisation.”

Hytec Information Security

Tim Huggins Brentwood Borough Council recalls,

Hytec enabled us to recognise and understand that our threat landscape would completely change when we moved to the Cloud. In 2016 Cloud services had started to become increasingly popular and the investment in this space by the key players meant that Cloud technology was changing almost on a weekly basis. The risk of investing in a volatile technology wasn’t necessarily a good idea but it was exciting.

Tim Huggins was clear about risk management and focused on one of the phrases that came out of the Hytec workshop, which was, “accept the risk or control the people’, with senior management needing to understand that policy informs technology and not the other way round. We had to create a set of clear policies that dealt with a sliding scale of risk. We had to accept more risk due to the controlling factors of speed and amount of change required. If we restricted people too much it would never work so we had to accept that risk and then put more people controls in place.”

Detailed plans were in short supply as the situation was changing rapidly prior to the office relocation. Brentwood was guided by Hytec on what was feasible from a security and PSN compliance perspective and invited Hytec to represent the authority to other suppliers and challenge some of the choices being made.

Brentwood’s overall transformation project was called New Ways of Working and to deliver that priority was given to digital identity and digital channels for members and residents via an online portal. Cloud desktop and Office 365 provided the workspace for offices and digital technologies supported all of that with an Azure tenancy and Structure as a Service and Platform as a Service.

Considering the current situation Tim added, “We are now in the process of tightening things up a lot more and we consume a lot more of the readily available threat management systems but we have also invested in Hytec’s managed cybersecurity service which demonstrates how mature the organisation has become. We are now in a really flexible position with that service looking at our infrastructure and ability to react to cyber incidents very quickly.

Moving to the Cloud has enabled me to become a lot more transparent with the business and enable senior managers to understand how IT is being consumed and the resultant costs. They can then take ownership of transformation to a greater extent.”

The present

Brentwood’s ICT infrastructure is now far more settled.

Investment in Hytec’s managed cybersecurity service allows valuable staff members to focus on their core work rather than struggling with large amounts of log data.

Brentwood receives highly filtered alerts from the Hytec Security Operations Centre which are known to be genuine issues. Any vulnerabilities are dealt with by on-site infrastructure experts working in conjunction with Hytec cyber consultants allowing Brentwood to focus on service delivery, which is what Tim Huggins believes the service is about,

“Investing in a managed cybersecurity service allowed us to change from being reactive to proactively thinking about what we can do for the future rather than firefighting.

With Hytec we know if it is a genuine problem early on and can nip it in the bud before it escalates into a major problem which causes downtime.

So Hytec’s cybersecurity service really has helped us. It has become one of the fundamental building blocks of managing a service in the Cloud and I don’t think there is any other way of doing it without this. We have out-tasked rather than outsourced, which is about looking at what is right for you on specific things that can be done better elsewhere. This allows you to retain the right staff, to mould them into the New Ways of Working”