ACAS’s IT team has praised Microsoft’s cloud platform for helping them cope with a surge in demand from the public during the COVID-19 pandemic – one of the busiest times in their history.
The conciliation and arbitration service has seen the number of calls from people with employment concerns double from 3,000 a day before the first UK-wide lockdown in March 2020 to more than 6,000.
ACAS had switched from on-premise data centres to Microsoft Azure in 2019, which proved to be a crucial decision. The organisation was on the frontlines of helping people cope with employment issues as the pandemic swept across the UK, often being one of the first phone numbers that people called.
When pressure on ACAS’s systems was at a level they had never seen before, Azure was able to cope with the demand. It also rolled out Windows 10 laptops and Microsoft Teams so staff could collaborate as they worked from home.
Paul Dowse, Head of Projects and Analysis at ACAS, said: “We wouldn’t have made it through COVID-19 like we have if we hadn’t moved to Azure and rolled out Windows 10.
“We’ve seen a huge rise in the number of people needing advice and help. Every time there was a new announcement from the Government, we would update the information on our website and see a wave of calls. We needed robust systems to cope with that demand. Moving to Azure has definitely saved us valuable time in making changes to our environment and money, we have cut costs by around 50% compared to our previous data centre costs. We are now also using Teams to help resolve some employment disputes in place of face-to-face meetings, which has enabled us to maintain our service during the pandemic and is reducing costs for everyone.
“No one thought the implications of COVID were going to be as dramatic and long lasting as they have been, so if you’re thinking about moving to the cloud, do it now, because you never know what’s going to happen in the future.”
ACAS also offers online training for work related issues via, which has continued to be popular over the past year. To keep the service available for customers the back-end infrastructure was upgraded in Azure.
“Making infrastructure changes in Azure is so much quicker and easier than in a physical data centre environment and means my team can spend more time focusing on other IT projects that can help ACAS provide an even better service for the people who need us,” Dowse added.
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed how people do their jobs, with most staying at home and using tools such as Microsoft 365 and Teams to work, communicate and collaborate. Many companies have also used the Government’s furlough scheme to continue to employ staff on a part-time basis – at the initiative’s peak in May 2020, 8.9 million people across the UK were furloughed. ACAS offers advice and help to employees and employers on these topics.
ACAS staff can provide the latest information to callers by securely logging on to systems while working from home. Those systems, which are managed centrally in Azure, can be updated remotely by the IT team to ensure that the organisation’s services can continue to operate as normal.
“Everyone at ACAS has risen to the challenge over the past year,” Dowse said. “We have always been a trusted and friendly voice for anyone seeking employment advice, and our staff were committed to continuing to provide that service despite the lockdowns.
“It’s been a huge help – and a relief – that we haven’t had to worry about the IT side of our service, because we were very quickly able to get everyone up running effectively from home. We’ve been able to focus on helping people, which is what we want to do.”
Michael Wignall, Azure Business Lead at Microsoft UK, said: “Azure has helped many businesses and organisations transition to new ways of working over the past year. Microsoft’s cloud has the flexibility to handle sudden, large workloads, while also often being more cost-effective than on-premise solutions. Azure is the perfect tool for ACAS as the organisation continues to help those in need of employment advice and services.”