ENGLISH HERITAGE is a non-departmental government body which acts as the main guardian of the UK’s historic environment, protecting some 400,000 historic monuments such as Stonehenge and 300 listed buildings.

This month, its ICT director Mike McElwee, spoke to MIS UK about the organisation’s management of its outsourcing relationship.

What is the nature of your relationship with your outsourcer?

It is a good one, based on sound commerce. We are halfway through a seven-year deal where Atos Origin looks after our desktops, infrastructure, wide area network and telecommunications. It also looks after all our 2,000 users.

It recently completed a successful £7 million technology upgrade for us. Overall, system performance levels and user satisfaction feedback is consistently higher now.

Why outsource?

We were getting reasonable but not very good performances before that from our ICT. We kept IT strategy, contract and project management in-house, as well as application development.

We also have some specialised application needs due to the nature of our business.

Why are you so sure you are doing the right thing?

We are delighted to say that we have just been certified to the BS 15000 IT service management standard and we believe we are the first non-governmental body to achieve this. Atos Origin also won the same accreditation, based on its work for us.

We see great value in IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) based processes – it really helps point out the realities of your operating situation.

Has it always run smoothly?

Yes, because we set very high service level agreements right from the start. We had to charge them £17,000 worth of service credits within the first six months of the contract as targets hadn’t been met – we now see that as teething trouble.

We regularly have third parties independently audit the work done to make sure we are getting value for money. While Atos still made an honest dollar, we were assured we were getting a very good deal. Things like that help develop a relationship of trust on both sides.

This was recently underlined for me when we approached KPMG to do a technology audit. As Atos Origin bought KPMG Consulting in 2002, I was interested to see if the ‘Chinese Walls’ really were holding up. I have to say they are – the audit gave both sides a run for their money.

The future?

Though there’s a lot of talk out there about selective outsourcing I really do prefer to have as few suppliers as possible.

That way I can say, ‘the network is broken, you fix it’, which is a lot less hassle. We push them hard sometimes, but I think it’s working.

Where do you want to go next IT-wise?

There’s the ongoing issue of getting better value, obviously. We saved £50,000 from our telecoms spend by smarter purchasing and we are just getting involved with things like reverse electronic auctions.