Despite its single location in Cornwall, the Eden Project enjoys surprisingly high brand recognition throughout the UK. In fact, says Jon Curry, its head of ICT, three out of every four individuals in the country know of the pioneering,
large-scale environmental complex. That puts brand awareness of the Eden Project just ahead of the time-honoured breakfast cereal Weetabix, Curry adds wryly.
Many, however, do not know that the Eden Project, a 500-strong organisation, is in fact a public education charity and, as such, is restricted by the financial constraints and public scrutiny that this status confers. For this reason, the organisation historically attempted to limit its in-house IT resources by using a range of outsourced providers.
In fact, when Curry first arrived at the Eden Project in 2005, he explains, the charity was “completely reliant” on third parties. That was due, in no small part, to the long-standing assumption among the management team that outsourcing was a vital function despite “blatant evidence” that it was not working and that the charity was receiving a poor service.
“As a young and rapidly growing company, we didn’t have the volume or consistency to use packaged services. So the service provider had to customise services for us, which was increasingly driving up costs,” explains Curry. When the contract came up for renewal, Curry decided to bring the service back in-house – a move that “dramatically improved” service levels. What’s more, says Curry, the charity is on target to save around £1.2 million over five years as a result.
In any growing M business, at which many processes are still being defined or evolving, it is important that the IT team is able to determine its own priorities and adjust to contingencies, he believes. In this environment, inappropriate outsourcing can sometimes do more harm than good and, as the Eden Project experienced, create unnecessary costs that in turn undermine the IT function. “The view to move forward [at the Eden Project] is that IT must absolutely not be seen as a drag or an overhead on the business,” says Curry.
Curry now heads up a relatively large core IT team of 14 people. Ten of these individuals are devoted to the upkeep of the basic IT infrastructure, which includes Cisco CallManager for its 300 phones, 300 desktop PCs and 70 point-of-sale tills. A further three staff are dedicated to the web, and another takes charge of information management. While Curry still uses third-party providers for select functions, the expanded in-house capability affords Eden greater availability of resources, he explains, while simultaneously reducing the charity’s operational costs.