THE CHALLENGE:

Ark St Alban’s Academy in Birmingham was searching for a reliable partner for a substantial installation project of over 50 Promethean ActivPanels across its school premises.

For managed service providers, First Class Technologies, this was the perfect venture to assist with. Experienced in dealing with large-scale implementation projects like this, First Class Technologies was able to work with Promethean to oversee the project from concept to finish.

THE OPPORTUNITY: support wider edtech strategy

Ark St Alban’s Academy was looking to upgrade the Promethean interactive whiteboards that had been in place since the new school opened in 2013 and replace them with a cutting-edge technological solution. The academy chose the Promethean ActivPanel following a detailed evaluation process, due to its advanced visual display and ability to deliver captivating learning experiences for its students.

As an authorised Promethean partner, First Class Technologies managed the installation and commissioning of 50 ActivPanels, and was also able to support Ark St Alban’s Academy with its wider educational technology strategy.

Promethean ActivPanel


THE SOLUTION: installation of new interactive flat panel touchscreens

First Class Technologies helped Ark St Alban’s Academy develop a new infrastructure, by refreshing the powerful audio visual systems in school halls and installing campus wide digital signage screens that could support the pan-school implementation of ActivPanels.

Kassim Ahmed, Operations Manager at Ark St Alban’s Academy was delighted with the service provided by First Class and the attention to detail that guided the project. Kassim explained: “First Class Technologies has been instrumental in facilitating the upgrade of the IT infrastructure across the school. The company offers an efficient service and the whole team is incredibly reliable. “

Due to the rapidly approaching autumn term, there was a short timescale in place for the installation. First Class Technologies was able to act quickly, delivering the impressive results promised, without encroaching on the new school term.

First Class Technologies prides itself on its ability to nurture long-term, positive working relationships by providing a professional and trustworthy service and specialist after-sales support. Once the installation stage of the project was complete, First-Class Technologies worked with Promethean to provide access to essential orientation sessions.

Delivered as a key part of the project, these value-add sessions equipped teachers with the fundamentals of using the ActivPanels, helping them get to grips with key features and utilise them in lessons.

Milly Smart, an English teacher at the academy is making significant use of the preloaded essential apps on the ActivPanel. Milly uses the various tools available to support the content of her lessons and provide further assistance for visual learners. Milly explained: “I use the Annotate App to comment on the students’ work in real-time or the texts we are covering in the class. It’s a great tool to emphasise why certain things are important. I find duplicating the screen and the split-screen functions are excellent for bringing learning alive for the students. We can also connect our classroom visualiser to the ActivPanel, which is a creative way of sharing the students’ work to the front of the class and highlighting their achievements.”

Interactive whiteboard

IN CONCLUSION: upgraded IT infrastructure

For First Class Technologies, the commitment to providing an excellent service doesn’t end as soon as the hardware is installed. The managed service provider is dedicated to building meaningful relationships with its clients, as well as with dynamic organisations that share its values of collaboration and excellence, like Promethean.

Managing Director of First Class Technologies, Richard Hinton, commented: “We have enjoyed working at St Alban’s Academy in partnership with Promethean. We’re committed to building long-established relationships that work on trust and understanding from which everyone can benefit.

“The project with Ark St Alban’s is a great example of First Class Technologies’ extended capabilities. We were delighted to have been given the opportunity to facilitate and manage such a large operation. We’re looking forward to providing the academy with long-term technological support for years to come.”

Kassim Ahmed says: “The service First Class Technologies provided is way above what we envisaged. We really love working with a local Midlands based company like First Class and the team has come back time and time again to help us and share their expertise. Whenever we’ve needed any support, they have always been on hand to assist.”

The overall impact of having the ActivPanels in place has been overwhelmingly positive. Not only has the brand-new technology provided a great teaching resource that supports the delivery of lessons, but the teaching staff are now equipped with skills that will allow them to evolve academic approaches in years to come.

First Class Technologies is proud to work with five Ark academies across the Birmingham area, as well as many other schools, colleges and other educational and commercial organisations.

THE CHALLENGE:
Veriserv helps businesses maintain workplace safety standards, by verifying all critical elements meet electrical, fire, security and mechanical compliance standards. The company is based in Cannock but assists businesses of all sizes and sectors across the UK.

In 2007, when Veriserv had outgrown its existing IT support, the business needed to find a new Managed Services Provider and was recommended to speak to First Class Technologies (FCT).

THE OPPORTUNITY:
FCT offered everything Veriserv was looking for, being a local, trustworthy and professional IT support provider who could supply off and on-site IT coverage and support to manage, maintain and future-proof Veriserv’s IT infrastructure.

David Quarmby, MD of Veriserv explains: “Having a local provider was very important to us. Whilst these days many issues can be fixed remotely, we wanted an IT partner who was local enough to just ‘pop in’ if required, to allow IT issues to be fixed quickly and efficiently. “

FCT ticked the boxes for all of Veriserv’s requirements, and an excellent working relationship between the two companies built from there.

THE SOLUTION:
Once a week, one of FCT’s Senior Engineers attends Veriserv’s Head Office to liaise with the office staff and confirm all the IT is working efficiently and effectively. The team also checks whether any of the Panasonic Toughbooks used by Veriserv’s remote engineers are in need of updates or repairs, and First Class manages this process when required.

FCT has also helped Veriserv with its business continuity, by improving its back up and security protocol. The days of Veriserv relying on a human to change the daily tapes on its back-up system are long gone. Now the company runs half-hourly internal back-ups, plus a secondary back-up to a hosted cloud solution for extra protection.

During the 2020 pandemic, the FCT team was instrumental in keeping Veriserv running when lockdown forced all staff to work from home. FCT acted quickly to keep everyone operational during the first lockdown, giving staff remote access to enable them to work from home safely and securely.

When the second lockdown hit, Veriserv asked FCT to provide more robust home-working solutions, which involved replacing computer hardware and providing other equipment such as dual screens and security tokens.

Apart from general day-to-day IT support, FCT has also assisted Veriserv with a number of more specific IT projects, such as aiding in compliance with annual audit and review requirements for ISO 27001 Information and Data Security accreditation.

FCT was also heavily involved in Veriserv’s office relocation when the business moved to larger premises in June 2020 and all of the IT equipment was moved from the previous Burntwood site to the new office in Cannock.

In Spring 2021, FCT managed Veriserv’s migration to Microsoft 365 to improve its business resilience and also help with home/hybrid working, due to the collaboration options that Microsoft 365 offers with its suite of software, such as Teams.

With the increase in hybrid meetings, FCT has installed a couple of large touchscreen TVs into Veriserv’s training and board rooms, affording the business the flexibility it needs to keep communication channels open during these uncertain pandemic years.

IN CONCLUSION:
David Quarmby says: ”We’re delighted that FCT was recommended to us back in 2007. At the time, our business was growing beyond the capability of the freelance IT support provider we were using, so we knew we needed to find a business that could grow with us and support our increasing IT needs as Veriserv continued to thrive.

“As our business has grown, so has our reliance on IT. Our field engineers previously worked with paper systems, but now they have mobile technology because it’s much more efficient.

This increasing dependence on IT to keep our team working, both in the office and out in the field, makes the relationship with our IT support provider even more important. The bonus of working with FCT is that they not only understand our business, but the team has also got to know our other suppliers. So, if any issues occur, the FCT team can jump on a call with our IT software suppliers to work together and get any issues fixed without us having to get involved, which is hugely beneficial. And because of the remote monitoring systems they run, sometimes FCT notices problems before we do!

“The team has helped future-proof our business by keeping us up-to-date with the latest technology, which has been so vital for communication during periods of lockdown. The team at FCT are such a friendly bunch and always have our best interests at heart. In fact, it’s easy to forget that they’re actually a separate business, not just part of Veriserv’s staff! We’re so pleased we’ve got them on board.”

Managing Director of First Class Technologies, Richard Hinton, says: “It is amazing when we recall that our partnership with Veriserv is now in its fifteenth year. The senior management trust First Class, enabling them to concentrate their efforts on developing the Veriserv business whilst having the confidence that our team is there to ensure their computing infrastructure is fit for purpose and running smoothly. Advanced monitoring tools are used to manage both servers and computers (PCs and laptops) with other key security features to maintain the integrity and resilience of the
network. Our relationship with Veriserv is typical of the connection developed with other business clients we support. ”

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THE CHALLENGE: Whitman Gowdridge is a chartered independent insurance broker based in Leicester, providing commercial insurance to a variety of UK businesses. For the last 30+ years, Whitman Gowdridge has built a reputation for creating innovative and unique insurance schemes for a range of industry sectors.

In 2006, when Whitman Gowdridge needed IT support, a business associate recommended First Class Technologies (FCT).

With that one phone call to Richard Hinton, Managing Director of FCT, the start of the 15+ year client/supplier relationship began.

THE OPPORTUNITY: After a review of the existing IT systems, it became apparent that a few upgrades were needed in order to support the office and its 10 users.

THE SOLUTION: First Class Technologies’ first job was to review Whitman Gowdridge’s servers. These were refreshed over time to incorporate a new Microsoft Small Business Server in 2011.

As FCT reviewed and improved Whitman Gowdridge’s set-up to allow the business to work more efficiently with less downtime, improvements were made to the company’s overall IT infrastructure. FCT utilised a server with Network Attached Storage (NAS) for local and off-site backup, plus other features required by a modern 21st Century office, including wireless access.

Nick Gowdridge, Director at Whitman Gowdridge explains: “We’re delighted we were recommended to speak with Richard Hinton at First Class Technologies. We needed a team who could handle all the general hardware and software that is part of running a business, but that also had an affinity with the industry insurance-broking systems that we use as part of our day-to-day operations.

“The software we use has to dovetail into traditional software packages such as Microsoft Excel and Word, so the team at FCT helps us ensure this process continues to work seamlessly, as sometimes some of the software upgrades can cause some unexpected disruption to the processes!“

As part of the continuous improvements, 2019 saw Whitman Gowdridge migrate to Microsoft Office 365 to take advantage of the extra security, greater storage and new features that the upgrade offered. As a result, the business took the opportunity to undertake a complete network refresh, to set up a new server domain and upgrade the PCs from Windows 7 to Windows 10 so all users were working on a common platform.

In March 2020, when the worldwide pandemic hit and all Whitman Gowdridge staff had to suddenly work from home, First Class Technologies helped make that possible by ensuring everyone could remote access the server and work safely and securely.

IN CONCLUSION: Nick says: “I don’t know what we’d have done if we’d not had FCT to call upon during the 2020 lockdown. The First Class Technologies team made it possible not only for everyone to work from home using our existing hardware resources during lockdown, but also helped us keep the day-to-day business running by assisting us with other aspects of software and technology, such as sorting out how we could handle inbound communications and run virtual team meetings. The FCT team continued to support us throughout this difficult period. For example, once our staff started to return to the office for work, FCT helped us assess the operational logistics, such as reviewing the number and location of printers and setting up wireless connections so that everyone could continue to work safely. As a result of these IT improvements, our staff can now operate from wherever. Whenever they need access to Whitman Gowdridge systems they can connect, even from the other side of the world if necessary!

”Everyone at First Class is helpful, friendly and knowledgeable, which makes FCT a fantastic company to work with. We don’t think of them as an external supplier and, in fact, we often forget that’s what they are! If we have a problem, we just get on the phone and ring them as if they were our internal IT support team. Quite often, because of the clever monitoring systems they have access to, they’re aware of any IT problems before we are and, in most instances, are either well on the way to fixing it or have fixed it already! That’s what you call great service!”

Managing Director of First Class Technologies, Richard Hinton, says: “Supporting Whitman Gowdridge has been an absolute pleasure for First Class. We appreciate how critical IT is to the smooth running of the business, and over the years a strong bond and understanding between the two companies has developed. We know their staff and they ours, which cultivates a relationship based on mutual trust and empathy.”

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Award-winning Lichfield IT Managed Service Provider, First Class Technologies (FCT), helped to preserve the memory of more than 50,000 Allied WWII servicemen captured by the Japanese.

FCT, based on Britannia Enterprise Park, Lichfield installed touchscreen displays and a projector displaying the names of all the prisoners in the exhibit building at the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, Staffordshire.

The work was carried out by FCT as part of its longstanding partnership, dating back to 2007, with the charity that runs the Far East Prisoners of War Memorial Building.

Managing Director, Richard Hinton, said it has been one of the most unusual, but rewarding projects the company has been involved in since taking on the technical support of the exhibit.

He said: “We spend the majority of our time installing, supporting and upgrading computer networks and audio visual solutions in schools and businesses so, for our staff, this was a unique project. We’ve been working with the Children and Families of the Far East Prisoners of War charity (COFEPOW) for around 14 years now. It’s given us a personal insight into how these men suffered so terribly. They were cruelly beaten, starved and forced to work as slave labourers, with thousands losing their lives.”

Richard continued: “It’s vital this story is not lost on future generations. One of our engineers, who is only 24, had never heard about what went on in the Far East. It was a sobering experience for him to learn about what happened in Japanese prison camps during his visits to the exhibition.

“COFEPOW has done an incredible job ensuring people will fully understand what these soldiers, sailors and airmen went through simply for serving their country. It’s been a privilege helping them keep the subject fresh in the minds of the public and we’ve been pleased to offer our services at cost.”

FCT set up two new touchscreen enquiry kiosks, enabling visitors to search for prisoners and locate graves from an electronic database. The names of the POWs are continuously beamed onto a wall by an enhanced powerful projector which gives a bright and sharp image.

The project also involved installing five new display screens featuring newsreels and footage of prisoners recounting their harrowing experiences. Each screen is operated at the touch of a button and the sound quality has been improved.

COFEPOW trustee, Keith Andrews, whose father, Robert was one of the prisoners of war, said: “The installation of the new equipment was done in time for our annual VJ Day celebrations on the nearest Sunday to August 15 when the Japanese capitulated, and September 2 when they formally surrendered. That was really important to us because we have lots more visitors then, including families searching for information about relatives who were imprisoned. We’re very grateful to First Class Technologies for waiving their usual rate. It’s comforting to know we can call on a local company for help.”

A total of 50,016 United Kingdom forces personnel were captured. Out of this number, 12,433 died (25 per cent) from starvation, diseases and mistreatment while under the control of the Japanese army between 1939 and 1945.

The FEPOW building is the only memorial of its kind in the UK and is designed to look like a typical Thai hut, complete with bamboo poles and jungle birdsong to create an authentic feel.

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THE CHALLENGE:  
Oxfordshire based Ace Training provides quality pre-apprenticeship programmes and apprentice training in brickwork, bench joinery, construction operations (groundworks), maintenance operations and site carpentry as well as introductory and part-time courses, OSAT and schools programmes.

When Ace Training needed to upgrade the systems at its Kidlington training centre, Managing Director, Adam Marsh contacted First Class Technologies for assistance.

 

THE OPPORTUNITY:  
Ace Training has suites of workstations for apprentices to use to develop their skills, including all the latest technology such as large screens and interactive white boards.

There are classrooms containing 12 PCs per room, each running Windows Thin Client.

First Class has supported the computer network infrastructure for Ace Training since 2007. During that time, FCT has deployed and supported servers to form a robust and resilient network, creating ICT suites with audio visual teaching aids such as interactive white boards and large format screens to enhance the learning experience of their apprentices.  

 

THE SOLUTION:  
In 2018, First Class Technologies remodelled and refreshed the network infrastructure, installing a new Dell Computers PowerEdge T440 server running a Microsoft Server 2016 operating system. The network incorporates three virtual servers for Terminal Services, File Server and Domain Controller (all Microsoft Server 2016), utilising licenses via Microsoft Open License scheme.

Moving forward to 2020 as part of a building refurbishment project, a new structured cable plant was conceived and designed using Excel Category 6 technology to replace an existing Category 5e solution that had evolved and extended over the years.  

The new cable plant not only tidies up the cable harness that had grown inexorably in the centre over the past decade or more, but is also capable of handling up to 10 Gigabits of data compared to 1 Gigabit for the original Category 5e system. Cables that adhere to category 6 specifications offer significantly lower levels of interference and near-end crosstalk, improving resilience and offering a future proof system capable of supporting new and emerging computing technologies.

The Excel Cabling system was chosen by First Class Technologies as long ago as 1997 as the base end-to-end cabling solution. There have been tens of thousands of outlets created in the ensuing 24 years, in both commercial office, industrial and educational settings across the length and breadth of the UK.

The new Excel Category 6 cable plant radiates from a central communications cabinet to two satellite cabinets serving the suites of training computers. The cable plant supports both data and voice solutions for Ace, a system they depend upon to support developing technology needs into the 2020s and beyond.     

In 2020, Ace Training refurbished and expanded its facilities, adding in new teaching rooms and refreshing facilities. Later that year, whilst the UK was in national lockdown because of the pandemic, First Class Technologies was able to redeploy some of the student PCs with built in web cams in the ICT suites to allow lecturers to deliver training remotely. This worked well on a daily basis and allowed the business to continue delivering its services and keep trading despite working through a pandemic.

 

Project component schedule

Excel CAT6 U/UTP 24 Cable x 305M
2 off Excel Environ WR 6U 390mm Deep
1 off Excel Environ WR 26U 560mm Deep
4 off Excel CAT6 24 port 1U patch panels
76 off Excel CAT6 UTP modules
50 off Excel single gang bevelled face plates
76 off Excel CAT6 1M UUTP Low smoke zero halogen patch leads
76 off Excel CAT6 2M UUTP Low smoke zero halogen patch leads
3 off Excel six way Power Distribution Unit – horizontal
3 off Excel four way fan trays (communications cabinets)

 

IN CONCLUSION:  
Director, Vanessa Cover said: “The team at FCT is an integral part of our business which ensures our systems keep working effectively, our trainers can train, our delegates can learn and our data is kept safe. We’ve been delighted with and appreciate the service we’ve received from First Class Technologies. They’ve made some major changes to our IT infrastructure, but yet it’s been such a seamless transition that we’ve hardly noticed it happening around us. First Class Technologies has helped us build the strong technical platform our business needs in order to continue to provide our clients with the excellent service they have come to expect.”

 

Richard Hinton, MD of First Class Technologies commented: “We strive to build up longstanding relationships with our clients, to help them through the changing stages of their businesses – and especially the changes caused by the pandemic in 2020. Ace Training’s business changed dramatically when apprentice students were unable to visit the training centre during lockdown, and we were pleased to be able to support the team through it, to enable the business to continue growing and thriving.”

 

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First Class Technologies worked with Chartered Accountants’ Wynniatt Husey to upgrade their computer systems making working across offices, and from home, easier. Our Seamless Transition into the new system avoided costly downtime for the business.
Learn more about the work we completed and their thoughts on our service below.

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THE CHALLENGE:
Wynniatt Husey Chartered Accountants and Business Advisors has been providing businesses with accounting, VAT, tax and payroll services since 1983.

Wynniatt Husey’s management team regularly review the company’s IT requirements, knowing that efficient technology is essential to business success.

Aware that its current Windows 7 technology was due to lose support and security updates from Microsoft in January 2020, Wynniatt Husey started planning early in 2019, contacting IT companies to find one to help the business upgrade to the latest digital technology.

THE OPPORTUNITY:
Alan Durose, CEO of Wynniatt Husey had met Richard Hinton, MD at First Class Technologies (FCT) through business networking, and asked FCT to submit a proposal for consideration to help Wynniatt Husey bring its computer network into the 21st Century at its three offices in Rugeley, Uttoxeter and Stone.

THE SOLUTION:
FCT audited all three of Wynniatt Husey’s sites and had detailed discussions with Alan Durose and Rob Murdoch (Accounts Manager). The team then submitted a comprehensive plan to upgrade the technology, improve staff confidence in the IT infrastructure and provide the business with a robust and resilient network that had regular local and off-site backups for business continuity.

Richard Hinton was delighted when FCT were announced as Wynniatt Husey’s chosen IT partner, and the team set to work on the upgrade in time for the January 2020 changes.

The first task was to look at Wynniatt Husey’s three servers, which were running an end of life Microsoft Server operating system and similarly outdated Microsoft exchange server.

Wynniatt Husey’s staff had been noticing some performance constraints, which the experienced FCT team realised was due to the servers needing more capacity. Some of the other legacy, operational and maintenance issues that required attention were affecting performance, and there were improvements to be made regarding the company’s licensing and back-up procedures.

FCT started the upgrade by installing two new Microsoft Hyper-V hosts so the business now has six virtual servers to spread the load, with each application/service having its own virtual server.

Wynniatt Husey’s network is now running the latest version of the software, Microsoft Server 2019. It’s also running the current version of Microsoft Exchange, which is more secure.

All Wynniatt Husey’s servers are now monitored remotely by FCT’s experienced team to enable them to spot issues before any have to be reported.

FCT helped Wynniatt Husey replace all its old Windows 7 PCs, and resolved some other ongoing issues, so the whole business now operates more efficiently on Windows 10.

As well as traditional Microsoft Office software, there are two other key software packages used at Wynniatt Husey, namely IRIS accountancy suite software and Virtual Cabinet document management system software. FCT worked with the developers at both these companies to ensure access and use of these key tools weren’t affected during the upgrade, to guarantee a seamless migration.

In addition, FCT rolled out Veeam backup to a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device for onsite and replicated offsite backup.

FCT also installed a secure remote desktop gateway to allow easy and safe remote working, which was extremely beneficial as the IT refresh was completed just as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK marketplace.

As a result of all these improvements, users have noticed a discernible increase in IT performance since the upgrade, allowing them to work more efficiently with less downtime.

FCT hasn’t just helped with the technological aspect of Wynniatt Husey’s IT, but also the internal strategy element too. Over the years, some IT responsibility had been passed to one of the members of Wynniatt Husey’s staff, affecting his day-to-day role with the acquired additional IT responsibility. With the FCT team on board, that additional workload has been able to be taken away, giving him the time he needs to concentrate fully on his own job within the practice.

IN CONCLUSION:
Alan Durose says: “We’ve been delighted with the service we’ve received from FCT . They’ve made some major changes to our IT infrastructure, but yet it’s been such a seamless transition that we’ve hardly noticed it happening around us. FCT has helped us build the strong technical platform our business needs in order to continue to provide our clients with the excellent service they have come to expect.”

Richard Hinton comments: “We’ve really enjoyed working with Alan and the team at Wynniatt Husey. The pandemic has added a few additional challenges to the project but nothing insurmountable for our self-motivated FCT team! We quote our projects based on each company’s IT requirements rather than the number of staff they employ, and we’ve really enjoyed helping in excess of 40 employees across the three Wynniatt Husey sites. We’ve been pleased to be able to support Wynniatt Husey through this crisis, applying additional software updates to ensure the practice gets the best possible return on investment, and we know the team has appreciated the extra support and service we’ve been able to offer.”

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The Lichfield Garrick is a modern purpose built theatre at the heart of the community in Lichfield, Staffordshire which hosts over 400 performances each year.

First Class Technologies has worked with the Lichfield Garrick theatre for a number of years, saving the theatre time and money by allowing the staff to work more efficiently and improving flexibility.

When Garrick Executive Director, Karen Foster was searching for a new IT partner, First Class Technologies came highly recommended.

FCT replaced the IT infrastructure with a suite of up to date PCs running Microsoft Windows 10, and all data was migrated onto an Office 365 platform using MS SharePoint to facilitate file sharing and Exchange Online for email.

As the partnership developed, the Garrick’s WiFi network was upgraded to ensure that all public areas were bathed in a strong signal.

FCT partnered with Guest WiFi to install a customer-engagement tool into the existing WiFi network, allowing the Garrick to encapsulate customer data and build relationships with its clientele, including the ability to capture consent in order to be able to use the data acquired to promote forthcoming events.

Karen Foster says: “We were recommended to speak to FCT and we’re pleased we did. The team has helped us to make significant cost savings, and also helped us to save time in many ways, through system efficiency and reduced IT downtime. Having a more robust IT infrastructure gives us more business assurance.

“It’s important for us to contribute to the local economy and partner with Lichfield businesses where we possibly can. Working with FCT has brought us into the 21st century, looking at the most modern ways of working. It’s making a big difference and is helping the public-facing team welcome our patrons with the knowledge that they can rely on our new technology to process their bookings quickly and efficiently.”

The theatre now also has the reassurance that, should any computer crash occur, the team can quickly call on local experts for help. FCT is on standby before and during performances virtually every day of the year to ensure the show goes on.

Richard Hinton, Managing Director of FCT, says: “In simple terms, we’ve helped the Garrick move from the computer equivalent of a giant room full of hundreds of files to being able to press a single button and have everything at their fingertips. This doesn’t just include making the box office booking system much slicker, it covers all the financial documents for shows plus all the diaries and scheduling. We’re delighted to have established this relationship with the Garrick.“

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The Challenge:
Lichfield based Rycroft Associates LLP is one of the UK’s largest independent brokers covering the trade credit insurance needs of over one billion pounds of clients’ insurable turnover, offering a nationwide credit insurance service via a network of associate partners throughout the UK.

The company recognised that it was falling behind the times in terms of its IT infrastructure, so started a search to find a reliable and affordable IT partner to assist the business with upgrading to the latest digital technology, and help with remaining abreast of changes and increased efficiency.

The Opportunity:
Steve Parsons, Associates Partner at Rycroft Associates, was recommended to speak to First Class Technologies (FCT) by a trusted associate and, at the first meeting, was impressed by the knowledge and dedication of the team.

Steve says, “They just seemed to understand what we needed in terms of IT support for the business, presenting sensible solutions at the right price.”

The relationship started from there and Rycroft Associates appointed FCT in March 2016.

The Solution:
First Class Technologies identified a number of IT projects that needed attention in order to increase Rycroft’s IT security and operational efficiency.

Firstly, Rycroft needed a centralised point for the storage of all company data, ensuring the availability of back-up copies (should the business ever need to restore data from an earlier point in time) if an unplanned event occurred. FCT installed a Dell T20 server on-site, complete with an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). In addition, a CloudBerry back-up solution (which automatically backs-up the server once a day) was installed to ensure no loss of important data. As well as data being backed-up on Rycroft’s network, the system allows back-ups to the cloud so that, even in the event of a complete disaster, the server can be restored to new hardware to allow the business to be up-and-running again in a new location within just a few hours.

The Rycroft team also needed new hardware to replace the mix of home-grade and self-built PCs that existed around the office. These were replaced with Dell and HP hardware, giving peace of mind with manufacturers’ warranties and easier maintenance if required.

Each machine was built to a standard Rycroft specification, ensuring every employee had access to all necessary software, as well as giving the added advantage of allowing the team to hot-desk and work from each other’s machines if required. Office 365 software was installed to ensure everything stayed secure and stable, and the systems have since been upgraded from Windows 7 to 10 to keep Rycroft using the latest versions of technology.

FCT uses a live monitoring system that allows the team to be alerted of any issues on their dashboard screen at FCT HQ. Should an alert appear, an IT support person can call one of the Rycroft team to ensure everything is still working as needed and nip any potential issues in the bud.

To stay safe from the increasing threats of cyber security, FCT supplies Rycroft with BitDefender Antivirus, which is also managed and regularly checked by FCT’s monitoring system.

After taking time to understand Rycroft’s business and how the team members work, FCT also implemented a secure Virtual Private Network (VPN), to allow staff to work from home when required, as the VPN connects staff into the network to allow them to work as if they were actually at their desks.

Rycroft’s Lichfield office is in an old bakery which is a beautiful building but the thick walls and steel beams caused issues with the WiFi signal. As the router provided by Rycroft’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) was not powerful enough to cover the whole office area, FCT installed an Ubiquiti WiFi access point to provide an enterprise-level WiFi service at minimal cost, allowing the team to enjoy access to the WiFi from anywhere in the office.

Rycroft has taken a support contract with FCT, allowing the team to call for IT help whenever required, with no limit on the number of calls made or IT tech time used. For the team at Rycroft, it provides peace-of-mind that they can call with any queries or problems, no matter how big or small, to ensure everything continues working as required.

When it comes to any malfunctioning technology, FCT is on the ball with break-fix support. If they get a call from Rycroft to say that a piece of hardware has a fault, FCT can usually be on-site to review it within 2 hours, and a replacement can usually be organised for the next day should the equipment be unrepairable.

Finally, FCT’s structured cabling keeps Rycroft’s unique office looking tidy at all times, blending the necessary wires and cables seamlessly in with the characterful aesthetics of the old building in a way that is easily manageable by FCT should any changes be required. For example, when Rycroft had a new phone system installed, no new cables needed to be run in the office because of the existing structured cable plant that was in place.

In Conclusion:
Steve Parsons concludes, “We’ve been using FCT for around 4 years now, and, as a business, we wouldn’t want to be without them! At the first meeting, Managing Director Richard Hinton promised they’d deliver excellent service, and they’ve been true to their word. The team has never let us down – they are the perfect service company. They’ve brought Rycroft Associates into the 21st Century in terms of technology, getting us where we needed to be one step at a time, so we didn’t feel overwhelmed with all the changes.

“It’s great to have just one point of contact to deal with all our IT queries. Most of the time, FCT phone us as their monitoring system identifies a problem before we’ve even noticed! All the people in the office have FCT’s number to hand, so if there are any problems, or if they receive a suspicious email they’re not sure about, they just contact the IT team. FCT has even come to the rescue of some of the directors when they’ve been working at home – nothing is too much trouble. We call FCT just like we would an internal IT department – in fact, most of the time I think we forget they’re not our in-house provider as we get on with them like colleagues, which is the sign of a great customer/supplier relationship.”

Richard Hinton, MD of First Class Technologies comments, “FCT strives to establish close partnerships with our clients. Typically, one of our engineers becomes the first point of contact to encourage the development of a trusted relationship, thereby enabling us to have a better understanding of a site and the client staff so they, in turn, have confidence that, when an issue arises, it will be promptly sorted. Whilst Rycroft is still a reasonably new client, this process is already well-established, and we’re really enjoying working in conjunction with the team.”

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First Class Technologies upgraded a computer network of 500 computers at a secondary school in a deprived area – giving pupils valuable tools and skills to improve their future job prospects, with a pool of laptops used by the students aged 11-18.

ICT support specialists migrated classroom PCs at Washwood Heath Academy from Windows 7 to Windows 10 and updated other essential software.

First Class Technologies won the contract after a competitive tendering process, completing the project on time and to budget.

The upgrade is crucial for the 1,400-plus pupils at the academy as it enables them to keep up to speed with the latest technology.

Nearly two-thirds of the students speak English as a second language and live in a part of the city where 57 per cent of children are growing up in poverty.  The Windows 10 upgrade means students in a disadvantaged area are using more advanced software than most UK schools.

The up-to-date system would help prepare the youngsters for working in an IT-driven economy and also allow them to work more efficiently. FCT Managing Director Richard Hinton said, “Upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 10 will benefit the pupils greatly. They will be learning how to use computer programmes and systems commonly found in the workplace and at home. The vast majority of businesses we partner are running Windows 10, so it’s essential the pupils know how to use it when they leave school.”

Robert Bruce, FCT Project manager added: “Many schools are still running Windows 7. Washwood Heath Academy is in a disadvantaged area, but as far as their computers go they now have a head start. We’ve also installed the latest version of Microsoft Office and updated the servers to create a state-of-the-art platform. This will give them a leg up the employment ladder later on. Day to day, they’ll notice a massive increase in the processing speed of the computers and they will be able to use all the latest apps in class as well.”

First Class Technologies routinely works in schools, providing technical expertise and ICT solutions in the primary and secondary sectors. This was the latest of many contracts the firm has won at Washwood Heath Academy. Previously it has extended the structured cable plant, installed many interactive white board and projector solutions and more recently Smart Touch Panels. In addition, ten years ago the company designed an original wireless network to give staff access anywhere on the campus to information about pupils, including details of academic performance, medical records and any truancy patterns.

Washwood Heath Academy’s strategic ICT manager praises FCT’s friendly and efficient service. Acting Head, Lynn Petrie said: “The advanced system will help our students in a number of areas of the curriculum including maths, English, writing and communicating. We have gained an excellent reputation locally, nationally and internationally through our academic success. We want the best for our young people and we are proud to be at the forefront of IT education. This will be a great asset to all our pupils.”

The latest project was planned with the guidance of Joanne Lea, Washwood Heath Academy’s strategic ICT manager. Joanne said: “I wanted support in migrating our PCs to Windows 10 from a company that had done it before and has a lot of experience in the school environment. I found Robert Bruce, the engineer who led the project to be friendly, personable and very efficient in carrying out the upgrade and ensuring my IT Technicians know how to maintain the new set-up.”

Technical specifications of the project:
• Upgrade 3 x virtual Domain Servers from Windows Server 2008 to the latest
version, Windows Server 2016
• Build new Windows Server 2016 Physical DC Server
• Upgrade AD to Windows Server 2016 functional level
• Replace Windows Server 2008 Print Server with Server Windows Server 2016
• Build Windows desktop deployment solution
• Implement 2016 Group Policies for Windows 10
• Configure and test Classroom station types for Windows 10 deployment
• Configure & test all Windows 10 related GPOs for student profile lockdown

Deployment Solution
Washwood Heath Academy requested a tool that could deploy Windows 10 efficiently and with the least amount of manual intervention.

First Class Technologies implemented a new Windows Server 2016 solution based on Windows Deployment services. It built, customised and prepared a ‘one-size fits all’ master image which can be deployed to every PC in the school. This simplifies the management of the network and means students have the same experience wherever they are in the school. A solution has been put in place to streamline licence management for Microsoft Windows and Office products, reducing the manual input required from IT staff when classrooms and PCs are deployed with the image.

This applies to all classroom PCs and a pool of 10 student laptops. There is also scope to extend it to staff laptops when staff return from the summer break.

The project has been an opportunity to upgrade from 32-bit to 64-bit Windows and increase the RAM on each PC which will greatly increase computer speed, allowing students to work more efficiently.

The deployment solution (including KMS activation management) will allow the school’s IT staff to easily upgrade and manage all PCs simultaneously – or individual computers if required.

Washwood Heath Academy’s domain servers and print server have been updated to the latest version of Windows Server, to help keep the school’s network secure as it will benefit from the latest updates & support from Microsoft.

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