How a Gloucestershire tech firm rescued a much-loved museum from IT disaster

When the Soldiers of Gloucestershire museum suffered a total IT loss, it was a devastating blow to the charity. Thankfully, with some careful repairs, a complete system review and a much-needed funding award, Cheltenham-based tech firm, ReformIT, soon helped the museum get back up and running and better than ever before.

By Sarah Kent  |  Published
Cheltenham-based ReformIT successfully managed to bring the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum back from the brink of an IT disaster. Image © John Ord Photography.

The Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum was set up over 30 years ago in remembrance and celebration of all the brave soldiers from the county who have served, or are serving, in the armed forces. 

The museum, which is also a not-for-profit charity, exhibits fascinating displays, stories and artifacts from the lives of Gloucestershire soldiers over the past 300 years.

At the museum, housed in Gloucester's historic docks, visitors can try on army uniforms, look into a first world war trench and learn all about medals and how soldiers won them. But behind the scenes, the museum relies heavily on its IT system, using a vast database to track all of Gloucestershire's past army personnel, detailed logs of all the artifacts it holds, not to mention its members and trustee databases and its day-to-day back office administration comms. 

And all of this was contained on one old server. Having never encountered any significant problems before, the museum hadn't considered the need for any help with IT, and had certainly never considered using the services of a managed IT service provider. Until disaster struck. On a quiet weekday in August 2021, the museum's server went blank, taking down the whole IT system and everything it contained and managed.

Matthew Holden, the museum's director, said: 'A museum's collections database is its very heart. This was a disaster for us as the database held information on more than 100,000 objects. A museum object without its information may as well not exist at all. Decades of work would have been undone.'

Staff scrambled around trying to find a solution, to no avail, until one of the museum's trustees remembered that a local IT firm had given a talk at a business event recently. The firm was Cheltenham-based ReformIT and the talk was on disaster recovery plans. It was invited to bid for the contract to overhaul the museum's IT — and won. And recovery work soon started.

Justin Richmond, senior account manager at ReformIT, looked after the museum during its IT crisis and said: 'We went over to the museum in Gloucester and looked at its whole system. It hadn't been backing anything up and its server had completely failed. But we managed to get the old server working long enough to get it across to our own offices, where we could transfer all the data on to a new cloud-based server. It's now working better than ever.'

ReformIT, in successfully resuscitating the old server so that all of its recovered data could be transferred on to a cloud server, saved the museum around £10,000 to £15,000 on the cost of a new one, with the cloud-based one also providing far superior functionality and longevity.

Richmond said: 'We also did a full IT review of the museum while we were working on getting its system back up and running. This is what's called a Stop Plan Review process; and it looks at what needs doing now and for the future. This provides us with a template that we can go back to each year, to keep things functioning effectively.'

This type of review helps a business to understand its IT needs and budget. And this can be especially effective in planning for when things go wrong. They can and will do at some stage; and this IT 'downtime' — meaning when a business's technology systems have failed and it can't access emails, servers, databases or any computer-based documents — can cost a lot per hour.

'Charities are still businesses. Having tech support on hand is like having an insurance policy, to help when you need it,' added Richmond.

Since ReformIT's initial rescue and restore plan was put in place, the museum is now fully up to date with new PCs, a new infrastructure and SharePoint software; and it also provides the charity with wraparound IT care, with patch support, security updates and solutions in place for any potential phishing and cyber attacks. 

A business, and especially a charity, might ask — can we afford this type of service on a regular basis? The answer is 'yes, you can'. ReformIT are partnered with the Microsoft Tech for Social Impact team, which is focused on helping the not-for-profit sector access funding and free training to help keep its systems secure. The firm applied for and successfully managed to secure $3,500 worth of funding for the Soldiers of Gloucestershire museum, plus free 365 business premium licences. And this wasn't just a one-off payment. This amount is awarded to the museum every year — a huge help to its annual budget. 

Not only that, switching off the old server and system and transferring it all over to a cloud-based set up has saved the museum an incredible amount of money on electricity bills; alongside helping it find a new broadband provider that will also cut its monthly outgoings. 

Holden added: 'IT security is one of those things you never realise you will need until it is too late. Although ReformIT helped us with our hardware issues, they also educated us on the need for good security. Charities are one of the most attacked, yet most vulnerable, sectors. Protect yourselves whilst you have the opportunity.'

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