In this latest article, Adam Miller, Group Head of IT, Markerstudy, takes a look at how companies can manage acquisitions, and the lessons learned from onboarding during the pandemic.
The Covid pandemic had an unprecedented impact on IT, catapulting it to the top of the priority list for businesses large and small as they focused on enabling home-working and minimising disruption for their customers and partners. The challenge created something of a Dunkirk spirit amongst IT professionals as they pulled together to deliver innovative and secure remote working solutions as quickly as possible.
Of course everyone was in the same boat when it came to setting up people to work remotely – but how do you manage that at the same time as onboarding hundreds of new employees from newly acquired businesses?
For IT teams working for Markerstudy Group – a dynamic collection of insurance-related businesses now employing more than 3500 people – this created a further layer of complexity during the pandemic. The business continued its drive for acquisitions unabated, completing a series of major deals with all the additional IT/integration requirements that brings.
In 2021 Markerstudy acquired the Co-op’s underwriting business and Brightside Insurance, followed this year – subject to regulatory approval – by Lloyd’s Broker Clegg Gifford, and the insurance operations of BGL Group. To look at just one of those, integrating the Co-op Insurance underwriting business meant onboarding 750 staff and kitting out four new office floors – a project which was completed exactly at the time of the first lockdown and the workplace exodus that created. So we had to find IT solutions to tackle the double-whammy of Covid coupled with major integration programmes.
Markerstudy had used a Citrix Virtual Desktop environment for some years, but this wasn’t a group-wide solution and only a limited number of users were enabled to work from home on Citrix. So for a complete group-wide transition we moved most staff onto a Citrix desktop using Citrix Cloud Gateway to enable quick, seamless, secure access from home.
The other key component to delivering a home working and supporting the integration of the new companies was standardising our thin client devices on IGEL OS. This provides a powerful, secure and fast way to reimage devices and allow remote access virtualised cloud workspaces. We’ve used it to convert laptops, desktops and third-party thin client hardware into ‘locked down’ encrypted and centrally controlled devices.
The software is written and optimised for remote management and support, which is crucial given we have a geographically dispersed workforce, with premises in Bristol, Chesterfield, London, Manchester, Portsmouth, Southampton, along with hundreds of Auto Windscreens fitting centres around the country.
There are other benefits too:
· We can recycle hardware inherited from the companies we’ve acquired, extending its lifespan, saving money and meeting our sustainability commitments to minimise electrical waste. If you
take Co-op, for example, we’ve been able to repurpose around £1 million worth of hardware – that’s over 1,000 devices – which we would otherwise have had to purchase.
· We can onboard staff quickly as devices can be preconfigured and shipped out. A build server is created and any devices connected to a network can be re-imaged in one single batch. We’ve managed the Co-op integration like this and took a similar approach for around 350 staff who joined from Brightside Insurance.
· We’ve standardised IT within the group. The combination of Citrix Cloud Services and IGEL OS means we’ve created a template for our desktops so that each time we buy a company, we have a consistent end-user computing platform onto which we just add more people. It’s very elastic and means that we don’t have to scale-up IT support either.
· We’ve enhanced security, enabling us to meet Cyber Essentials certification and other compliance obligations.
Historically, Markerstudy has been seen very much as broker-based organisation. With our recent acquisitions, the business is moving into a direct B2C engagement model.
To support this, we’re focused on enhancing our application development and engineering capabilities to drive exceptional digital customer and employee experiences – it’s a really exciting time to be leading the technology function.