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Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust

NCC ITDA Case Study

“...it is much better when a respected third party says we’re good too!”

Vale of Aylesbury Housing TrustMichael Dean talks to Rick Smith, IT manager at the Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust, about its successful application to become accredited to The National Computing Centre’s Standard for IT Departments and the benefits it is getting from the programme.

The organisation

The Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust (VAHT) is a registered charity and social landlord providing affordable homes for people in Aylesbury, Buckingham and the surrounding villages of the Vale.

The Trust was formed in July 2006 following the transfer of 7,250 tenants’ and 600 leaseholders’ homes from Aylesbury Vale District Council. VAHT also manages over 2,400 garages and 40 commercial properties. Since being established, VAHT has invested over £100 million improving the standard of all the homes in its care. As well as the day-to-day activities of a social landlord, the Trust has been very active in refurbishing properties. To date, over 25,000 work packages have been carried out, such as installing central heating systems and kitchens, or rewiring a property.

Of the 180 VAHT employees, 35 are remote workers mostly using PDAs linked to the central scheduling system. Given the volume of refurbishments, the PDAs have improved the efficiency of the trade teams significantly. Remote staff are now better able to deal with emergencies and avoid wasted time through cancelled appointments.

The challenges

 

Rick Smith IT Manager

Rick Smith, IT manager

Value for money is always a serious matter for the housing sector, driving organisations like VAHT to deliver excellent performance while keeping a close eye on budgets.

Rick Smith is IT manager at the Trust. He was tasked with creating the IT department from scratch five years ago. Today, Rick is responsible for ensuring that the IT strategy supports the Trust’s business objectives and for managing a team of five, whose responsibilities are split between technical support, helpdesk, and data and applications. “The IT function has performed well over the last five years,” said Smith, “but although we have reached a satisfactory level of maturity, I felt it was timely to get a second opinion, to make sure that we were developing our IT functions in the right way and operating effectively. Some areas of IT are very specialised and it was good to bring in an organisation who could provide independent challenge on technical issues.”

He continued: “Our main challenges are to stay on budget and to keep up with business need – putting all these reasons together we felt accreditation from The National Computing Centre would give us a valuable independent appraisal of where we stood and also help us ensure that we were following current best practice.”

IT Department Accreditation

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 103 common controls (lines of enquiry), permitting IT departments to compare and understand their own strengths and weaknesses. The Standard covers the key aspects of an IT function; business management, business direction, service generation, delivery and operations, and customer relationships – all with a focus on their contribution to business goals.

“It is one thing believing that everything is being done properly and that we have the appropriate governance is place, but it is much better when a respected third party says we’re good too,” said Smith. “I was also personally keen to see where we stood against current best practice and to identify any areas where we could improve.”

Once the ITDA application was accepted, an introductory meeting took place at the Trust. Smith told of the visit: “I brought in the whole team so they could all get behind the process; when we saw the long list of accreditation criteria there was a sharp intake of breath.” But the initial shock was soon replaced by a growing feeling of confidence as The NCC assessor described the 103 controls in the Standard. “I thought, that’s a long list and we are a small IT function, but we actually do all this,” smiled Smith.

He then agreed a schedule with two senior members of his team to collate the evidence required for assessment.

The assessment visit took place two months after the initial meeting. It was a busy day and the assessor explored a lot of areas, asked a lot of questions and shared experiences with the team. The result was a solid pass. The pass verdict was firmly endorsed by the results from the survey of customer perceptions to IT, which was robustly positive in all criteria. This makes the Trust one of the first housing associations to achieve this recognition, along with some of the UK’s biggest users of business IT, such as UCAS, British Transport Police and Imperial College London.

The outcome

The assessor did identify a small number of areas where enhancements would benefit the organisation going forward – such as minor improvements to change control procedures. “Overall the assessment confirmed what we thought about IT – but the whole point of going through the ITDA is to make sure that your assumptions are correct and that you haven’t missed anything important. We now have the reassurance that we haven’t overlooked anything. Going through the ITDA has given us the impetus to make sure we do everything right in IT and the action plan provided by The NCC is a useful tool to help us prioritise continuous improvement. Working practices constantly evolve and the annual ITDA check-ups will help us stay focused.”

Smith concluded: “This is a fantastic result for the Trust, and not only recognises the hard work that has gone in to developing the Trust’s systems, but confirms that our business plan for IT represents best practice. We hope the ITDA will help us deliver even more value over the coming years.”

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