Clark Thomson’s IT Evolution
Managing risk for the risk managers
Clark Thomson Chartered Insurance Brokers is the largest independent insurance broker in Scotlandwith 9 offices across Scotland. We’ve been working with them since 2005, but that relationship really progressed when Sean O’Reilly joined Clark Thomson as their Operations Director in 2013. Sean has spent a considerable part of his career working for the likes of The Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest, so he’s no stranger to the financial services industry.
The scope of the Operations Director role changes from company to company, but in Sean’s case, a significant focus is the technology that facilitates the operational running of Clark Thomson. And, with a user base of over 200, many of which spend the majority of their day in front of a computer screen, you can see why their IT infrastructure is fundamentally so important to them.
A Fresh Perspective
When Sean joined the Clark Thomson team, his first task was to understand the current state of play. Here’s Sean’s early impressions.
“IT is critical to what we do. Whether it’s transmitting data or communicating with our clients, we need IT systems we can rely on. If they fail, we grind to a halt. To be without our systems for an hour or two damages our bottom line. More than that though, it damages our reputation with our clients, our team and our competitors.
IT had been seen as a bit of a necessary evil. It was a cost. It wasn’t viewed as a business enabler. As a result, our IT systems weren’t where they needed to be. In IT terms, we were behind our competition. And while Steve, Chris and the rest of the Shackleton team had supported the business for a number of years, as a business, we really weren’t making the most of their knowledge and expertise.”
The IT Strategy Paper
Sean challenged us early by asking us to prepare an IT Strategy Paper that would review the current situation and recommend an IT strategy to help move Clark Thomson forward. It was a large and detailed paper produced by our technical lead Chris Thornton.
The core aims of the strategy were to:
- Improve the experience of the Clark Thomson team.
- Reduce the support burden on the Clark Thomson IT team.
- Improve security and reliability.
- Use technology that can grow with Clark Thomson.
The paper identified a number of key projects. These were added to as the situation changed. As a result, the projects we delivered and supported included:
- New Servers & Data Network
- Moving from PC’s & laptops to Thin Clients
- Relocating sites to new premises
- Integrating newly acquired companies into Clark Thomson
- New offices in Glasgow
- Change of Line of Business Provider (now hosted)
- Security Improvements
- Business Continuity Implementation
- Implemented an in-house support ticketing system (via Shackleton)
The first two projects were the most critical. This was about building an IT infrastructure that was fit for purpose and scalable. It was about giving Clark Thomson a solid foundation to build on.
Building the Foundations
In Sean’s own words, Clark Thomson’s data network was previously ‘a bit of a patchwork quilt affair’. This meant that different systems didn’t talk to each other, and more significantly, it was impossible to use data and technology between the different Clark Thomson offices. They needed a network that was fast, reliable and easy to maintain. We identified the need for a fully managed wide area network to improve performance & reliability. We supported the management of the project from planning, right through to implementation.
But putting in place a more robust network is pointless if the machines you connect it to aren’t fit for purpose. The Clark Thomson PC estate was long past its use by date. Much of our time and Clark Thomson’s budget was spent on helping solve individual PC machine issues. The reality is that while the software and demands had moved on, the PC’s hadn’t. It meant they simply couldn’t cope with the demands placed on them.
As a result, it sometimes took more than fifteen minutes for PC’s to start up. This was frustrating for the team and obviously this inefficiency was costing Clark Thomson money in lost productivity. We recommended moving to a Thin Client model. This means that there is less demand placed on the individual PC workstations as the real computing power is driven by the servers. And, with the combination of new servers and network, we had the capacity to support all 150 users with a healthy amount of redundancy built in. That means if more users are added to the network, we can easily support them.
The real benefit though is that it now takes users less than a minute to get logged onto their systems. And, if there is a problem with one of the machines, we simply replace it with one of the backup terminals that Clark Thomson have onsite. This is possible because the majority of their data and software is cloud based. Taking advantage of a ‘plug and play’ model has increased service levels across the business.
Supporting the Internal Team
Our work on any project is always done in collaboration with the small IT team at Clark Thomson. When the IT manager announced that he was going to be taking early retirement, Sean asked us to help with the recruitment of his successor.
“When our current IT manager told us that he wanted to go in 6-9 months, I knew I needed Chris’s help. I’ve interviewed enough people in my career to make a judgement based on someone’s personality, but the technical element was beyond me. We didn’t have the internal skills to make an assessment on who would be right for the role. Chris created some problem-solving scenarios and led the interview process, which led us to the stand out candidate. We hired him, and four years later we’re delighted that he’s still here.”
The Changing Face of IT at Clark Thomson
A lot has changed in the years since Sean joined Clark Thomson. Here’s how Sean sums up the changes at Clark Thomson.
“The Shackleton Technologies team have moved our business into the 21st century. We were languishing with the wrong mindset for IT and consequently had an IT setup that wasn’t working for us. They’ve given us a strategic focus and opened our eyes to where we need to be. It means we get what we need today, but we also have a plan for the future.
As a business that’s in the risk management business, we were vulnerable, so, in many respects, Shackleton are our technology insurance provider. They protect our IT and our reputation. It’s why they’re one of our trusted advisors and key supplier partners. It gives me and the rest of the Clark Thomson team peace of mind knowing that Shackleton is there to support us.”