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Shared Services Provider achieves NCC's IT Department Accreditation

IT Assist, the ICT shared services provider for the Northern Ireland Civil Service have become the latest organisation to achieve accreditation to the new NCC national standard.

Consolidating IT services and reducing costs in the public sector through Shared Services has been a government objective since the Gershon Review in 2004. Northern Ireland Civil Service have embraced this Shared Services vision and through the Department of Finance and Personnel have created an award winning ICT Shared Services Centre which has consolidated the previous seven IT teams and the associated core infrastructure that served the different NICS departments into one ICT shared-services centre.

The new service, which is named IT Assist, began operation on 8 May 2007, supporting five departments. The remaining six departments were brought onboard on a staged basis between October 2007 and April 2009. The last departmental migration, DEL, was particularly notable as it resulted in a government department bringing back previously out-sourced work from the Private Sector. IT Assist was designed to provide a cost effective means of delivering ICT infrastructure and common services to all Departments within NICS by simplifying technologies, sharing resources and achieving economies of scale in technology investment and licensing costs.

IT Assist provides common services such as E-Mail, Help Desk and Desktop support to some 18,500 users across all 11 NI Departments, their Agencies and some sponsored Non-Departmental Public Bodies. IT Assist provides services set out in a formal Service Catalogue to a standard set out in a Service Level Agreement. Both documents were agreed with, and signed off by, IT Assist’s customer departments and performance against SLA reports is routinely reviewed with stakeholder representatives. IT Assist has around 240 staff and an operating budget of some £23M (excluding non-cash). The organisation handles around 130,000 calls, 75,000 incidents and 20,000 service requests per year.

Barry Lowry heads up IT Assist and has been with the project from the start, “We set ourselves some challenging objectives and have risen to the task. What we do is very visible and we are used to being put under scrutiny – after all our objective is to provide a demonstrably better level of service for a reduced cost.”
As an NCC member, Barry was aware of the National Computing Centre’s IT Department Accreditation Scheme, “We are heavily ITIL compliant, promote continuous improvement and staff are encouraged to undertake formal qualifications, but we saw real value in having an independent accreditation that recognized the performance of the IT Assist as a whole.”

“From the beginning, we wanted to counter any apprehensions our customers might have had about the quality of service from the new shared services approach. Previously, the IT team was just around the corner and now they are in a different building. This is why bench-marking is so important to us and the ITDA is a great way for them to see that IT Assist has been independently endorsed and recognized as excellent.”

With a significant service portfolio, a large customer base and a good sized team, Barry himself was a little apprehensive about going through the ITDA process. “The ITDA assessment criteria is very thorough, as it should be, but our Assessor was very helpful and the pre – assessment Orientation Visit gave us a very good understanding of what we needed to demonstrate on the Assessment Day”.

“Because we have well documented processes, we were able to show we do what we said we do” continued Barry, “and the result was a ringing endorsement of our quality of service and how we go about service delivery and management which is great news for our customers and great news for the staff. In fact achieving the accreditation was a real boost for some of the IT Assist team who don’t normally gain a lot of visibility for their good work”.

Michael Dean, NCC’s Director of Advisory Services said, “IT Assist’s performance in the ITDA was outstanding, illustrating the professional way they plan, deliver and document IT solutions. Their customer feedback was excellent.”

All IT Departments who undertake an IT Department Accreditation also receive an Action Plan to help them focus continuous improvement, necessary for the maintenance of the Accreditation. For IT Assist, their Action Plan was shorter than most, but it did highlight an area that Barry recognized as not as mature as the rest of IT Assist, i.e. project support structures, which will be given priority focus over the next few months.

“I am actively recommending the ITDA process to other organisations,” enthused Barry, “The process is challenging, but it does enable you to get a very valuable independent and holistic view of the organisation’s strengths and weaknesses. The kudos of achieving the award is very motivating for the staff too. Even if you do not think you are mature enough to become accredited, the ITDA process will put you on the right track.

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