Realise Futures had been contracted by a local authority to deliver a Coaching contract, to provide coaching and support to long term unemployed or economically inactive adults with barriers to learning and employment. The contract was awarded in late 2019 and the new service, the details of which were still evolving, had to be ready to launch by April 2020.
For Realise Futures, this meant recruiting a whole new coaching team and establishing rigorous processes and controls that would satisfy the needs of the contract itself and also regulations such as GDPR. All this had to be achieved in a very short time frame.
At this stage, DPS Tech’s Managing Partner, Dean Willingham, suggested looking into the possibility of using the Microsoft 365 platform, which Realise Futures was in the process of adopting. Could the technologies and services available with Microsoft 365 be used to build a tailored solution to support delivery of the “Coaching” contract?
The answer was yes and, as an agreed approach for collaborating on the project, DPS Tech engaged Simply Office 365 (‘SO365’) to design and build a custom Microsoft 365 solution to meet Realise Futures’ requirements.
Working closely with the Realise Futures’ management team and with DPS Tech, SO365 held a series of workshops to scope the processes and features that had been identified as initial requirements, and to document key assumptions on requirements for a final solution, based on Realise Futures’ extensive experience of delivering similar contracts.
The initial meetings were held in February 2020, less than 2 months before launch date, and a design for the solution, using many of the services available from Microsoft 365, was quickly identified.
By the end of February, a final design had been agreed and work could commence on development of the solution.
The development of the solution was undertaken remotely, working closely with the Realise Futures’ management team, making use of Microsoft Teams to demonstrate each stage of the build and to ensure changing requirements were captured and incorporated into the final release.
The build was undertaken directly within the Realise Futures’ Microsoft 365 environment, so the Realise Futures’ team had instant access to each phase as it was released, enabling parallel testing to be undertaken.
During the implementation phase, the challenges of the Covid pandemic and lockdown emerged, preventing any further face-to-face workshops or meetings. During this period, Realise Futures was also building and recruiting the new coaching team, which required training in both the new Coaching solution that was being implemented, and more generally in the use of Microsoft Teams and SharePoint.
The availability of tools like Microsoft Teams for communication and collaboration, and the phased rapid development approach adopted by SO365, both enabled the project to progress within the agreed timeframe and costs. This meant the solution could be delivered in its entirety by the end of March 2020, prior to Realise Futures’ important deadline.
Over a period of just 3 months, Realise Futures was able to successfully launch the new Coaching service, using a new software platform, with a new coaching team, and ahead of its contractual deadlines.
Although Covid lockdowns had been imposed, this did not end the need to continue to support locally disadvantaged individuals. In fact, the numbers of participants joining the scheme grew quickly. As the solution was built entirely around the specific needs of delivering the Coaching contract, the new coaches were able to adopt the new technology and their use of the platform quickly and with minimal support, whilst Realise Futures has been able to fulfil its contractual obligations, including service levels and costs.
The rigorous record keeping, enforced by SharePoint and the Power Automate workflow audit trails, has also enabled Realise Futures to meet new reporting and management information requirements that have developed over time.
Since initial implementation, SO365 has provided minimal ad-hoc support to the Realise Futures Coaching team. Much of this has been to deliver minor enhancements to further improve the capture of information so that more accurate reporting and management information can be provided. Due to the stability of the solution delivered, there has been no need for long-term support contracts.
The complete end-to-end solution was delivered in a little over 6 weeks and was launched on the agreed date.
In the first 12 months, approximately 300 disadvantaged individuals have been coached and managed through the service.
It was an absolute pleasure working with SO365 on a new system for the Coaching service contract. They produced a well thought out plan from the beginning. Working alongside our trusted IT Provider, DPS Tech to ensure this would fit with our existing IT infrastructure, SO365 were able to produce exactly what we required. What stood out was how they listened to our brief, learned about our company and how we work and were always adaptable when changes beyond our control had to be made. Their knowledge of the Microsoft 365 system and capabilities meant they could deliver training to the newly formed team and ensured we could get the best from the system to support the delivery outcomes of the contract. They made the whole process enjoyable.
Jane Sutton, Business Systems Director, Realise Futures CIC
Working with DPS Tech and Realise Futures was one of those almost perfect projects. Realise Futures trusted us to use a range of Microsoft 365 services, knowing that the solution would be fully integrated to their environment and supported by their long standing and trusted IT provider, DPS Tech - with whom we have since built a close and strong working partnership. The expertise and knowledge within Realise Futures of delivering contracts such as the Coaching service, enabled a fit-for-purpose solution to be delivered in an incredibly tight timeframe, even during a period of national lockdown and with evolving requirements that were outside of Realise Futures’ control.
Chris Kaye, Director Consultancy Services, SO365