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Busy but very effective

Michael Dean meets Preston City Council, the latest organisation to achieve NCC’s prestigious standard for IT Departments.

Preston City Council’s ICT team are a busy and proud lot. The team of 27 are responsible for the end-to-end service provision for the Council’s 850 staff, 57 council members and ultimately 130k citizens. That includes agreeing strategy, development, project management, business analysis and transformation, provisioning desktops, support for remote workers, running a single point service desk and carrying out big infrastructure projects such as the recent server virtualisation programme and the consolidation of their storage requirements! They are also proud of the Department’s new accreditation to the National Computing Centre’s Standard for IT Departments.

Preston City Council ITDADeputy Director and Head of ICT Neil Fairhurst is especially proud of the achievements of the Department which is wholly in-sourced, “We have a good reputation within Preston City Council, we regularly demonstrate value for money through national benchmarking and our results in Socitm’s biennial user satisfaction survey put us in the top 20% of UK council ICT Departments. That said, we don’t want to rest on our laurels and we are constantly looking for ways in which to add value and deliver business improvement in line with our customers needs.”

Neil is ably supported by Sharon Thornton (Strategy Development and Business Transformation) and Greg Skellorn (Desktop, Infrastructure and Telephony Support) both of whom recognise that to continue to be excellent the ICT Department needs to ensure that it is always fit for purpose and that the processes which underpin service delivery are appropriate, best of breed and robust. When the team heard about the National Computing Centre’s IT Department Accreditation Scheme they found it a very useful tool – something that they could use to independently validate their systems, processes and practices to ensure that they were on track to achieve their objectives and something which could lead to the department receiving further endorsement of the teams good work. “Although we are modest about our successes, attaining endorsement from a highly regarded body gives our customers further re-assurance that we are doing things properly and effectively.” said Sharon, “The endorsement is also highly motivating for the ICT team who don’t often get recognition for important work that is not always visible.”

The IT Department Accreditation is based on the independent IT Department Standard developed by NCC with its wide community of IT decision-makers. IT functions going through the assessment process have to meet appropriate standards in business management and direction, business generation, delivery and operations and customer relationships. The assessment scheme which underpins the ITDA is not a pass/fail audit, it is a unique business performance improvement programme which delivers a bespoke Action Plan post assessment to help the IT department focus continuous improvement. Positioned above the plethora of technical and functionally orientated standards, the National Computing Centre ITDA is an evidence based assessment of all aspects of an IT department’s business performance.

The process of Accreditation starts with the Orientation Day when the NCC assessor meets with the ICT team to explain the requirements of the Standard, how they can be evidenced and answer any questions about the process. According to Greg the process was clear and concise from the outset, “Our Assessor was very helpful and professional - at the end of the session everybody knew what evidence they needed to gather.”

For PCC this wasn’t too difficult as Greg explains, “After the initial visit we spent some time prior to the Assessment Day ensuring that we knew where to find the evidence we needed for the Assessment itself. This wasn’t too much of a problem as we follow methodologies such as ITIL and already have many mature processes in place.” The Assessment Day itself was more challenging, “I can’t deny it was a tough day and there was a thorough examination of what we do,” commented Sharon, “but proving that you do what you say you do was strangely rewarding and we were extremely pleased with the positive outcome.”

Indeed the NCC Assessor noted that Preston City Council ICT Services amply demonstrated widespread and consistently applied good practice in all areas of the NCC ITDA Standard. The management team were found to be proactive in maintaining effective linkages between the Council’s corporate vision and strategies and ICT Services strategies, planning and delivery, making good use of diverse formal and informal networks, notably mutually consultative co-operation with the corporate audit function. Service performance management systems were well established and in routine operation. The results of the survey of Council Officers’ ratings of their experiences of ICT Services in practice were all weighted towards satisfactory or better, with the ratings of service staff competence being the most highly scored service attribute.

“The feedback from staff has been great,” said Neil,”The award has given us a real sense of achievement and has provided us with a great opportunity to recognise the good work of the team”. Neil is also happy with the areas identified for improvement in the post-assessment Action Plan which encourages ICT Services to do more to spread the message about its good work within the authority and to prepare itself for challenging times ahead in which effective and efficient ICT Services will undoubtedly play a significant part.

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