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'We were keen to demonstrate that ICT is a quality organisation and could meet the requirements of both internal and external audit.'

ITDA CASE STUDY: Bedford Borough Council ICT Services

Michael Dean talks to Sharon Hayes, Quality Manager and Project Officer, Bedford Borough Council and finds out why the Unitary Authority applied for accreditation to the National Computing Centre’s Standard for IT departments and what they got out of the process.

Bedford Borough Council (BBC) became a Unitary Authority on 1 April 2009 and is responsible for all local government services within the Bedford Borough area, including Adult Social Services, Children’s Services, Council Tax and Housing Benefits, Education, Environmental Health, Planning, Road Maintenance, Parks and Open Spaces, Refuse Collection and Disposal, Recycling and Trading Standards.

ICT is headed up by Larry McArdle who manages a team of approximately 70 staff. ICT support the 2,500 PCs and laptops at Borough Hall as well as the ICT for the elected Councillors. They also provide broadband facilities and support to over 80 schools, provide ICT desktop support to 50 schools, youth centres and the People Referral Unit and to several corporate sites and 6 libraries!

The Infrastructure Team ensure all ICT corporate support functions operate efficiently and effectively in serving the Council’s requirements including maintaining the integrity and security of ICT systems, voice and data networks, Data Centre, Service Desk and support functions.

The Applications and Development Team ensure that the Council maintains the best use of the latest technology to facilitate efficient and effective service delivery, ensure business requirements are accurately reflected in future technology plans and that senior decision-makers are aware of the opportunities presented by any investment in new technology, manage the integration of external software solutions and, where feasible, develop, integrate, implement and maintain application software solutions, including third party software. The team is running two major projects during the next year, the implementation of a corporate Electronic Document Record Management System and the updating of the Adults Social Services System.

As with all local authorities, BBC is running a Delivering Efficiency In The Corporate And Transactional Services” (DECATS) Programme and it has been identified that ICT have to save £800,000 of the Council’s £7 million ICT spend over three years.

The challenges

In becoming a Unitary Authority BBC took responsibility for the services previously provided by the former Borough and County Council. In many areas this meant creating a single service where two might have existed under the previous structures. Sharon Hayes the Quality and Project Manager at BBC took a key role in helping the new Authority ensure that quality was maintained during the transition period, “As you might imagine becoming a Unitary Authority involved at lot of work and presented many challenges, for example, in ICT we had to consolidate two data centres and two service desks. Yet this was also an opportunity to identify and take the best practices and use them as a baseline standard for the services delivered by the new authority.” BCC set up a Steering Group to oversee quality of service and change management during the transition. “We spent a lot of time looking at what was done and deciding which processes we would select.” said Sharon, “We wanted to achieve, an appropriate level of quality and consistency for our stakeholders as soon as practically possible and the Steering Group helped ensure that we did this and that we documented procedures and had good governance in place.”

The reason to apply for accreditation

After all the effort put in to create the Unitary Authority, BBC felt happy that their hard work had paid off and the newly merged ICT service provided a high level of service quality, however, the management team recognised that stakeholders would be looking for re-assurance that this indeed was the case. “We were keen to demonstrate that ICT is a quality organisation and could meet the requirements of both internal and external audit, and software suppliers such as Microsoft.” Said Hayes, “We sought independent validation that we were doing the right things in the right way and chose to apply for accreditation to the National Computing Centre’s Standard for IT departments.”

In fact, BBC is committed to transparency and no stranger to submitting to external accreditations. They were re-certified to ISO9000:2008 in April, are voluntarily working in the spirit of ISO 27001 and are subject to regular IT management and control audits from external governing bodies.

“We felt that after all that hard work creating a quality system, there should be some payback. We were ready to be put to the test of independent scrutiny. What’s more, recent legislative changes meant that local authorities can bid for work outside of their regional boundaries, so having independent accreditation would only help in demonstrating that ICT at BBC was fit for purpose and that we are a quality services provider.” Said Hayes. “Whilst the areas reviewed by the two Standards are different, the work undertaken to build the quality management system for ISO 9001:2008, helped us gain accreditation to NCC’s Standard. The two standards dovetail very well.”

About the IT Department Accreditation Scheme

The National Computing Centre’s IT Department Accreditation Scheme (ITDA) is a unique business improvement programme with a certification scheme that recognises excellence and effectiveness. The assessment scheme which underpins the NCC ITDA examines an IT department’s performance against 110 common controls (Lines of Enquiry) enabling the department to compare and understand its own strengths and weaknesses and make improvements if necessary. The ITDA is also an accreditation scheme, so those IT departments who demonstrate excellence are awarded with a recognised accreditation to the NCC Standard. The Standard has already been awarded to over 30 organisations including Tameside MBC and Preston City Council.

The accreditation process

The process of the NCC Accreditation started with an Orientation meeting when the NCC Assessor met with Larry McArdle, Head of ICT and his management team to explain the process, outline the Lines of Enquiry covered by the Standard, discuss how best to present the evidence required to support compliance to the Standard and explain how to complete the assessment workbook.”

After the initial Orientation day McArdle delegated evidence gathering to his team and they set about completing the assessment workbook. Once completed this was sent to NCC in advance of the Assessment Day.

“The assessment day was challenging as we went through all the relevant Lines of Enquiry but the process was greatly assisted by the fact that the documented processes were all available on the ICT Team Quality Management System Intranet, to which the NCC Assessor had access.” said McArdle. At the end of the assessment, the assessor’s decision was a pass recommendation. This was subsequently endorsed by the NCC Moderator who said, “The evidence presented at assessment was impressive and underlines the work BBC have put in to ensure that ICT is aligned to the needs of the business. The fact that BBC subject themselves to external validation has helped them define and implement a cohesive, robust and comprehensive set of policies and procedures.”

The benefits

“The ICT Accreditation did not necessarily uncover anything unexpected.” Said Hayes, “However, what it did do was to emphasise the importance of existing documentary evidence procedures and the need to ensure that these are maintained”.

The BCC management team are delighted with the outcome and the accreditation is strongly regarded as an indication of the effectiveness of the ICT Service but it is recognised that the Accreditation is not the only “weapon”, the greater need is to ensure that their procedures and services are consistently maintained at a high level.

McArdle believes that going through the ITDA process has been very valuable. “The benefit of both the Accreditation and the ISO 9001:2008 registration is that staff maintain an awareness of the value of following documented procedures and providing supporting evidence.”

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