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NCC ITDA Case Study

Vp Group shines under ITDA spotlight

How do you know whether your IT processes are ‘best practice’? The NCC’s ITDA scheme is the acid test – and fortunately Vp plc passed.Vp plc

When you have worked for many years in the same IT department, it can be difficult to judge – and to justify to ‘the business’ – how well you are doing compared with other organisations’ IT functions. Are the apps you are building as good as rival companies’ offerings? Are your IT staff’s skills up-to-date? Are you still managing your IT team as keenly and competitively as you could be, or have you fallen back over the years? And how do you find out?

These were the issues facing Tracey Wilson, group IT director at Vp plc, the £160 million turnover Harrogate-based equipment rental specialists with around 1,400 staff and customers in heavy industries like civil engineering, rail, oil & gas exploration and construction.

Tracey has been an IT professional for 25 years, 17 of them spent at Vp. As she explained: “Sometimes you worry if what you think is best practice is still pertinent in today’s world. Here we think we are doing a good job – but we also know there is always room for improvement, things we could do better.”

To objectively test Vp’s IT department, Tracey and her team turned to the ITDA (IT Department Accreditation) service provided by the National Computing Centre. They believed they were doing the right things in IT, but the ITDA would enable the team to find out for sure.

Challenges

One major challenge faced in establishing whether Vp still offered high-quality IT services was that, during Tracey’s time, the business had changed dramatically. As she explained: “The organisation had 30 PCs when I joined, now there are 1,400. The business shape has also changed fundamentally. We have grown through acquisition – for example, in the late 1990s we went into tool hire, then into events management.”

Because of this growth through acquisition, Vp took the far-reaching decision in 1998 to bring all its software development in-house, so it could quickly integrate the new businesses and directly manage the migration of fresh end users onto its corporate systems.

“We have had to put in systems that are scalable as the organisation grows and we developed our own SOP (sales order processing system),” she said. To maintain that scale of in-house IT operation, Tracey’s team has grown strategically to 21 people, 10 of them working in development.

But in fact It was the knowledge that the IT team gained through Vp’s acquisition policy that led them to believe their IT processes reflected best practice. They had witnessed the IT operations running in the other businesses Vp had bought, and “had not seen better systems than we had”.

In addition, a few years ago, Vp benchmarked its SOP application and found it was better than other systems it had seen. This not only persuaded Vp to migrate its tool hire business onto the SOP software in early 2010 (350 users in 68 locations were moved across in the course of one weekend), it also reinforced the team’s faith in Vp’s IT systems.

When Tracey heard about the NCC’s ITDA scheme, she realised it offered a golden opportunity to test that faith.

ITDA examination

 Tracey Wilson
 Tracey Wilson, group IT director

To achieve the ITDA standard, Tracey – together with her training manager, helpdesk team leader, support team leader and development manager – needed to present evidence of what they were doing across more than 100 separate areas of IT operations (see ‘About ITDA’ box).

This evidence, and Vp’s IT department generally, was examined by the NCC in the shape of lead ITDA assessor Cliff Mills. “Cliff was pleasant but asked pertinent questions,” Tracey judged. “It was not a box-ticking exercise – when you put evidence in, it is real evidence, rather than a process of ticking boxes.”

But Vp passed the test and achieved the standard required by the ITDA. The company also received an action plan of IT areas where it could focus more. “We had our own 70-odd page IT strategy document, but the ITDA process made us look at the actions we still had outstanding,” Tracey said. “Through the ITDA, as a senior team we learned more about what we do and why we do it.”

Benefits of ITDA

Vp was one of the first commercial firms to sign up for the ITDA, whose early adopters have mainly been in the public sector. That proved to be a competitive advantage.

“For us it is not something that our competitors have done and that’s quite nice,” Tracey said. “It enabled us to prove that we were delivering best practice, and it felt nice that no-one else in our sector was at that level.”

Now when Vp tenders for work, it offers the ITDA as proof of its IT service quality in support of its bids. “As we are looking after other people’s assets, we need to prove that we are capable of doing that, and that our IT systems support that capability.”

Another benefit is that in her dealings with Vp’s end-user management, Tracey now has hard evidence that her team are running sound IT processes. “For me the difference the ITDA has made is that what we are doing has been verified as best practice. That means we can now talk with authority. You need to have your IT policies nailed down and, having been accredited as best practice, we can now stick with our way of doing things.”

The reaction from the business has been very positive. “The team have had very good comments back from the senior management team about the leadership and drive IT has shown, and acknowledgment that we are always looking for ways to improve.”

Thanks to the ITDA, the team’s own position has been strengthened by proof that they are doing the right thing, and they have an action plan of areas to work on to make the IT processes even better. “The ITDA has helped us to look at how we put best practice, into practice,” Tracey said.

About Vp

Vp headquarters
 Vp's Harrogate headquarters

Vp plc is a specialist rental company, providing products and services to civil engineering, rail, oil & gas exploration, construction, outdoor events and other industries, primarily within the UK but also overseas. With a turnover of £163.6 million and pre-tax profit of £16 million, the Group has 1,400 IT end users across 110 locations, including four overseas.

Over the years, Vp has grown through acquisition, and its 22-strong IT department currently provides services to six distinct business units – Airpac Bukom, Groundforce, Hire Station, Torrent Trackside, UK Forks and TPA.

The IT department delivers the majority of IT services to the organisation but an external service provider, InTechnology (housed in the same headquarters building), offers co-location, managed WAN, managed backups, internet, firewall and Unity VoIP services.

About the ITDA standard

The NCC’s ITDA scheme assesses IT departments across 105 distinct areas of best practice, under the headings of business management, business direction, business generation, delivery & operations and customer relations. This enables an IT department to compare and understand its own strengths and weaknesses.

The ITDA is also an accreditation scheme, so those IT functions who meet or exceed the required level are awarded the NCC standard. The standard is based on current best practice and created with the input of the wider NCC membership community. The ITDA assessment approach is evidence based, which means the actual assessment typically takes only one day.

All ITDA applicants, whether they pass or fail, receive a business improvement ‘action plan’ to ensure that any recommendations are seen through.

The NCC (National Computing Centre) is an independent membership organisation for IT decision makers. Founded in 1966, it provides independent advice, guidance, best practice and experience-sharing to help those responsible for IT make the right decisions.

Read more about NCC IT Department Accreditation

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