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Leeds City College

NCC ITDA Case Study

Off the blocks and into the record books

The first further education college to achieve the National Computing Centre’s IT Department Accreditation standard has done so in style – Leeds City College recorded one of the highest ever scores for customer satisfaction when it secured its ITDA status in January.

Leeds City College is one of a new wave of super-colleges created by a government driveLeeds City College to extend educational efficiency. It was formed in 2009 through the merger of Thomas Danby College, Park Lane College (which had already incorporated Keighley College and Airedale & Wharfedale College) and Leeds College of Technology. Then in August 2011, it merged with Leeds College of Music and Joseph Priestley College – making it the country’s third-largest FE institution, a large-business amalgam of seven institutions with a £90 million turnover and 1,700 staff serving around 45,000 students.

This integration presented a major challenge for incoming IT Systems & Strategy (ITSS) department head, Graham Eland – previously IT manager at Thomas Danby College, who was promoted to his new role in January 2010.

Eland’s main concern in a £150,000 project was to unite an IT team of over 30 staff and build a single IT network supporting close to 47,000 end users – staff and students – stretched across six main campuses, some of them 25 miles apart.

“My priority was to create a single IT department,” he said. “We basically had three legacy IT teams working well, but the set-up was not consistent across all campuses. I looked at best practice, looked at other colleges who had gone through a similar merger, and took time to draw up a new organisational structure, with the learner and customer service at the heart of the structure – which we introduced in November 2010.”

He explained: “We needed to integrate all the IT networks together, the telephone systems and the business support systems in terms of finance, HR, student records and so on – all had to be integrated into one system and operational from all campus locations. The key thing was managing this under a PRINCE environment to make sure there was the minimal downtime for users, staff and students.”

Eland and his team achieved that aim, moving all six campus systems onto the single college network over a period of time, rather than risking a ‘big bang’ switchover. “There were some key challenges there, in terms of bringing it all together and it was all done inhouse by the ITSS team – it wasn’t outsourced,” he said. “We achieved integration without extra downtime or any fall in customer service levels.”

ITDA drive

The result was that Leeds City College had a single ITSS team running a single college-wide network. But one nagging concern for Graham Eland was that there was plenty of external evidence to suggest that in typical large organisational mergers, IT service levels drop.

He didn’t feel this was the case at Leeds City College: in fact service levels, efficiency and customer satisfaction had increased not decreased. But how could he prove it? And how could he find out how good an IT service they were providing, compared to other organisations? To get the evidence, he signed up for the NCC’s IT Department Accreditation scheme.

He explained: “Our key drivers around the formal ITDA certification was that this was an opportunity for us to review all our existing IT processes, our structures, our procedures, and benchmark them against external factors. We felt we were doing a good job internally – but how did that compare externally, particularly in terms of customer satisfaction?”

So in early 2012, Eland and his team looked at the different IT accreditations available, and decided NCC’s ITDA was the most practical and directly beneficial.

The ITDA examines an organisation’s operational IT department, how good it is and how it could improve – rather than simply outlining a series of processes to introduce in order to gain approval.

As Eland commented: “There are various quality kitemarks out there in terms of ISO and others, but we felt that the ITDA was looking at what we did already in terms of the operations side – rather than looking at the quality aspect of it and trying to invent new practices and procedures just to gain the accreditation.”

“The ITDA allows us, where there are any weaknesses or room for improvement, to focus on that. It means this accreditation is a benefit to the department – we have an action plan to work on these weaknesses, so we gain something out of it, rather than just a tick-in-a-box.”

ITDA accreditation is, however, still rigorous. When Eland chose this route in March 2012 he recognised that the scheme measures an IT function against 105 areas of operation, including a number of ‘must-pass’ key lines of enquiry.

His reaction? “We looked at the spreadsheet, we looked at the 105 lines of enquiry and we thought this is very very comprehensive, and the margin for failure is very small – one failure with a key line of enquiry. It was very rigorous and there were three or four areas where we thought, we could potentially fail here.”

However, as part of the ITDA process, NCC helps organisations prepare for their assessment by identifying what’s needed and where any gaps may lie. As a result of this ‘Orientation Day’ and its own internal review, Leeds City College strengthened its change management and release management processes, and also introduced a public-facing service catalogue.

Eland saw an immediate benefit from this, saying “we got added value as part of the accreditation”. Then, following a pause while the college enrolled its new intake of students last autumn, Eland’s team opted to be assessed in October.

He described the experience: “It was a very challenging day, but to me it comes down to how much preparation you put in place, the evidence you have gathered. The evidence we had was good, so although the assessment was comprehensive and rigorous, if we have not done the preparation then it would have been problematic for us, but our amount of planning worked very well.”

 Leeds City College ITDA award
Leeds City College receives its ITDA certificate: from left to right, Jason Byrden (ITSS Service Desk Manager), Martin Birkett (ITSS Network Infrastructure Manager), Michael Douglas (ITSS Service Support Manager), Peter Roberts (Principal & Chief Executive), Cliff Mills (National Computing Centre Lead Assessor), Graham Eland (Head of IT Systems & Strategy), Jane Pither (Deputy Principal) and Dave Newsham (ITSS Service Delivery Manager)

The college was unsure of the verdict until the very end, when it got the results of NCC’s survey of its end users, another part of the ITDA process. “If we had failed on that we would have failed on the whole process,” Eland said.

Of course he needn’t have worried – the college’s level of IT customer satisfaction was among the best NCC has ever seen.

The ITDA survey asks end users about their IT team’s responsiveness, reliability and technical knowledge, and even their ability to understand users’ concerns – their ‘empathy’. At the time, the average score among organisations achieving the ITDA (and who are therefore, by definition, above average) was 3.6 on a scale of 1-5. In comparison, Leeds City College benchmarked 3.98 – a striking 10% above the average for everyone else, and especially impressive given this was a newly formed team in a newly integrated organisation.

Eland attributes this level of customer satisfaction to a number of factors.

Firstly, LCC’s ITSS department bases its operations on ITIL and PRINCE2 models of best practice and continuous self-improvement. Eland and his team have set up a call centre within the ITSS service desk area, which routes support calls from staff and students to the relevant IT team on each of the college’s campuses. The result is the caller will have an IT person in their room ready to fix the problem within 5-10 minutes.

Anyone requesting support also gets a follow-up questionnaire, checking how responsive ITSS were and their knowledge level. Eland’s team have developed key performance indicators and dashboard reporting that can present the results of this from a staff member, campus or departmental point of view.

In addition, the IT team complete a comprehensive annual self-assessment, where they judge themselves against criteria including end-user feedback and performance against SLAs. This is moderated by the college’s Quality Department who also run a Mystery Shop exercise, where they visit the six campuses and randomly stop staff and ask them what they think of ITSS.

The end result of all this effort is that, against a target of 95% customer satisfaction, over the last 12 months ITSS has never dipped below 97.5% for any month.

In summary, the college’s IT team have rapidly gelled and – helped and benchmarked by the ITDA – have reached a high level of attainment, most clearly shown in their end-user customer satisfaction.

Eland’s final word on the ITDA’s contribution to this is: “It is a very, very positive process – and the value for money of the ITDA is exceptional. I would recommend other companies to go through it, to see where you are, to benchmark and also to inform improvement wherever it is required.”

“The ITDA accreditation opens up a lot of new opportunities for the college. We can start to work with partners like Microsoft and IBM (see Boxout). Going forward, the ITDA will allow us to continue with that work. And from an organisation point of view, the reaction has been very positive. The customer satisfaction – to realise how we compare against other companies – the reaction has been excellent, and the fact that we are the first FE college to do this has been significant as well.”

Anytime, anywhere, any device

Alongside achieving the ITDA standard, Leeds City College’s ITSS department is demonstrating its leading-edge capabilities through a BYOD initiative called ‘Classroom in the Cloud’.

The pilot project, which began last October after the college successfully bid for a £60,000 award from the Association of Colleges, involves enabling 100 staff and students to connect to the college network using any device of their choice – laptop, tablet, iPhone, BlackBerry.

Eland said: “It doesn't matter where staff or students are, what device they’re using or what time they are using that – they can get access to college resources.”

The project, which runs until August, is being carried out in partnership with IBM and Microsoft and has identified issues in areas like security. Eland explained: “We are now looking at services and solutions from our service desk manufacturer as to how we manage mobile devices from a central location, and how we allow student devices to access various resources, linking to data protection issues and data leakage.”

He concluded: “The concept is there but we have to ensure the security systems are in place and the management of those systems is in place before they can be rolled out more widely.”

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