MLL fibre WAN solution enables major bandwidth improvements at significantly reduced cost.
Fife Council is the third largest local authority in Scotland and the 11th largest in the UK. It employs circa 18,000 employees who provide 900 different services to over 365,000 people and has achieved one of the highest overall customer satisfaction ratings for a Council in the UK. The services Fife Council provides range from education, social work, housing, and community services to transportation.
Following a competitive tender process in the late summer of 2018, MLL was awarded a 5-year contract from Fife Council. Commencing in December that year, this entailed taking over and transitioning the Council’s existing Wide Area Network prior to the expiry of the incumbent contract with Capita, and to then transform and enhance the aging infrastructure.
The existing network comprised:
- 392 sites connected by EFM technology
- 100 Openreach fibre circuits
- 26 sites connected by FTTC technology
- 3 Virgin Media Business fibre circuits
- 43 Openreach Exchanges
- 500+ items of Cisco and Adtran network equipment
- A mix of Exchange equipment, including DSLAMs, Switches, PSUs.
- Ensure a seamless transition of the existing WAN from the incumbent
- Upgrade the existing aging connections at all Council sites
- Deliver improved connectivity and increased bandwidth at less cost
- Provide a flexible, fully managed network service to accommodate new and improved technologies as they emerge.
Transition – Phase 1
MLL assigned an experienced Project Manager to lead the programme and establish a robust transition plan. This included tri-party governance structure with both Fife Council’s Project Lead and Capita’s Exit Manager and was based on regular progress meetings, open and transparent communications, and close working relationships.
MLL’s approach was to divide the WAN transition into two discrete projects:
- Commercial Transition – the transfer of ownership of network equipment, circuits and other assets from Capita to MLL. This required MLL to conduct a detailed due diligence exercise across Fife’s asset registers (approximately 3,000 data items) over a period of months, identifying and resolving discrepancies with both Fife and Capita, updating documentation to create an agreed list of assets for transfer to MLL.
- Physical Migration – migration planning work commenced months ahead of the planned migration date. MLL’s Technical Design Architect worked closely with both Fife and Capita’s technical teams to agree the technical migration process as well as detailed testing and acceptance plans. MLL’s NOC engineers also met with Fife’s network team to gain additional insight into the existing network, its stability and dependencies, including a review historic trouble tickets and change records to ensure that MLL could fully prepared to provide ongoing support, without impact.
The physical migration required Capita to provide MLL with access to all network devices so that these could be set-up and made visible on MLL’s SolarWinds monitoring platform and the asset inventory imported to MLL’s Cherwell ITSM.
The transition was scheduled to take four weeks to complete, with Pilots planned for the first two weeks. Pilots included the migration of a single ‘test’ Exchange and a small number of sites to demonstrate that once migrated, these sites, circuits and equipment could all be accessed, proactively monitored by MLL’s SolarWinds platform and supported by MLL’s NOC. Following a successful Pilot, the remaining migrations were scheduled to take place outside of normal working hours – based on individual Exchanges and approximately 50 site migration per day. Daily migration meetings were established to ‘mop up’ and resolve any issues or anomalies encountered the previous day.
The transition was completed and MLL’s service went live in April 2020. A major factor in the project’s success was the close working relationship forged between MLL and Fife Council, at all levels, to ensure that the migration was seamless to the Council’s end-users and that the network service continued, uninterrupted in-spite of a change in suppliers.
Transformation – Phase 2
Following on from the successful transition of the network from Capita to MLL, the transformation of the network commenced. This involved upgrading all the Fife Council sites to ensure improved connectivity and increased bandwidth, with a new redesigned core infrastructure.
During the transformation phase MLL encountered several challenges which required creative solutions. Working together as a single team with the Fife Council IT department, MLL was able to provide innovative and workable solutions for all issues, examples of which are shown below:
- COVID-19 – this of course had a major impact on delivery, but as MLL’s services were considered part of the Critical National Infrastructure, it was able to continue to deliver the transformed network even when the rest of the country was in lockdown. Migrating seamlessly to a Working from Home project environment, delivery continued through all the lockdowns and restrictions.
- COVID-19 Test Centres/Vaccination Centres – Several Council sites were converted to testing and/or vaccination centres. MLL was able to ensure that these sites had the required connectivity to allow staff (where able) to provide this essential service.
- Health & Safety – MLL had to adhere to strict COVID-19 measures to ensure all personnel (both MLL and customers) were kept as safe as possible, including H&S assessments of each site before entering or completing any work.
- Disconnection of Schools – One primary school, undergoing a programme of building works, was accidentally disconnected following damage to an external telecoms duct. MLL worked with Openreach, Fife Council IT Team, the architect and the contractor to find a new route for the duct, working around the planned extension to restore connection.
- Asbestos – A number of older sites had asbestos issues and MLL worked with Fife Council and Openreach to mitigate these risks so that work could go ahead safely.
“We had a number of hurdles to overcome at the outset in terms of information gathering and planning, but MLL’s staff worked professionally and closely with our team at every stage to fill in the gaps and ensure the right outcome,” said Charlie Anderson, CIO, Fife Council. “Projects of this scale and complexity always encounter issues and problems, but on this project MLL’s staff and our project staff worked as a single team to deal with the issues that could be predicted and planned for and respond quickly and positively to those that were unexpected.“
“Of course, none of us could have predicted the overwhelming impact of COVID-19, and although this did have an impact on delivery to some extent, it’s a credit to MLL that the degree of delay introduced into the project was relatively limited.”
This project is an exemplar of teamwork. MLL and Fife Council worked together seamlessly to achieve the desired objectives.
Having acquired an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the existing network and the Council’s evolving needs, MLL was able to refine its proposed transformation project. This included a reduction in the number of Exchanges within the network from 43 to 10, and the upgrading EFM circuits to FTTC and FTTP when available. This supports the Council’s objectives of enhancing the network service, whilst reducing annual expenditure.
Charlie Anderson, Fife Council: “Fife Council’s ICT network infrastructure is absolutely critical to service delivery – whether that is educating the learners and pupils of Fife or providing vital social care and key services to those most in need in our region. For that reason, we look for a service delivery partner who recognises the importance of this infrastructure and shares our commitment to delivery and continuity. Our experience of project delivery with MLL was a positive one at every stage.”
Completed in July 2022, the overall outcome of the transformation phase was the provision of a WAN which offers considerable bandwidth improvement at a significantly reduced cost.
The WAN service is now fully supported by MLL’s centralised Network Operations Centre based in Marlow, Buckinghamshire and regional team in Scotland, including Client Management, Technical Consultancy, Project Management, Service Management and local Field Engineers.
MLL has also instigated annual reviews with Fife Council to check for any sites that could benefit from upgrades (i.e. to FTTP) with reduced cost going forward.
Fife Council’s Charlie Anderson concluded: “We are now in the position we wanted to be in – we have delivered increased bandwidth to every site within our network, improved the performance of the core network, simplified the network physically and technically, and reduced costs. We have done all this with very limited disruption to the essential services we deliver.“
“We look forward to continuing development and improvement of our network in partnership with MLL.”
Stuart Wallis, MLL’s Chief Commercial Officer added: “We are delighted to have had the responsibility for delivering the new network to Fife Council. I am very proud of the MLL team in Scotland who have worked in close partnership with Fife’s IT department to ensure a successful outcome. We now look forward to a continued supplier partnership where we will look to layer on value added services that support and deliver improved digital services for Fife Council and its citizens.”