Michael Dean talks to Peter Kent of JANET(UK) about its recent accreditation to the National Computing Centre’s IT Department Standard.
JANET is well known in IT circles. It is the network dedicated to the needs of education and research in the UK, connecting the UK’s education and research organisations to each other as well as to the rest of the world through links to the global Internet. In addition, JANET includes a separate network that is available to the community for experimental activities in network development. The JANET network connects UK universities, FE colleges, Research Councils, specialist colleges and Adult and Community Learning providers. It also provides connections between the Regional Broadband Consortia to facilitate the DfES initiative for a national schools’ network. Over 18 million end-users are currently served by the JANET network.
The range of activities facilitated by JANET allows individuals and organisations to push back the traditional boundaries of teaching, learning and research methods. For example, JANET’s videoconferencing and video streaming capabilities are being used to deliver lectures to remote groups of students.
Headquartered in Harwell, Oxfordshire, JANET(UK) manages the operation of JANET on behalf of JISC (the Joint Information Systems Committee for the UK Further and Higher Education Funding councils). JANET(UK) has an enviable reputation in providing high bandwidth and high availability to its customer base. These are uncertain times for public bodies, continuing Government funding isn’t a given, and JANET(UK) must continue to develop to meet the needs of its diverse customer base.
The internal ICT Services team of six are headed up by Peter Kent. “Although there are only six of us in ICT Services, serving a staff of 130, we’re fortunate to be able to draw on the technical expertise that exists across the organisation.” explained Peter.
Given these challenges, and a desire for continual improvement, Peter felt it wise to take stock of the strengths and weaknesses of the ICT function as this would enable him to devise future strategies based on a realistic appraisal of the performance of ICT, its capabilities and its potential. “The future presents us with many challenges and opportunities. I’d like to see us do more exciting things to allow our staff to deliver excellent services to the JANET community,” he enthused.
“I know we are good at some things: our disaster recovery procedures were recently challenged by the severe snow and proved effective, for example, but I wasn’t sure of the picture in ICT across the board, or of our potential to realise, new exciting opportunities.” He continued, “After a discussion with our CEO who had seen a presentation about the National Computing Centre’s IT Department Accreditation Scheme (ITDA) we realised that this scheme would be able to give us a truly independent view of our existing performance and help us plan for continuous improvement.”
The assessment scheme which underpins the NCC ITDA examines an IT department’s performance against 110 common controls, enabling the department to compare and understand its own strengths and weaknesses. The ITDA is also an accreditation scheme, so those IT departments who meet or exceed the Standard will be awarded with a recognised accreditation to the NCC Standard. The ITDA provides a framework for Business Management, Business Direction, Business or Service Generation, Delivery and Operations, and Customer Relationships.
JANET(UK) is used to being audited, and is already accredited to ISO 9001 and signed up to the FAST Standard for Software Compliance. It was pleased to see that NCC’s approach to accreditation was not dissimilar and allowed it to gather supporting evidence at its own pace.
When Peter first got sight of the 110 Lines of Enquiry he felt a bit daunted by the depth of the Standard. However the supportive NCC Assessor explained that JANET(UK) only need comply with the parts of the Standard that were relevant to it (the Standard is scalable to organisations of all sizes). The Assessor then discussed the type of evidence he was expecting to see for compliance so JANET(UK) had a clear view of what it needed to demonstrate. To assist in its preparation, Peter chose to use an online collaboration application called Huddle, which is regularly used to securely share information with project partners working with JANET(UK). Using Huddle allowed Peter to provide the NCC Assessor with an early heads-up of ICT’s work and documentation, and made the assessment day go very smoothly as all the documentation required was put in one place. This was recognised by NCC as a good way of working in partnership.
Assessment days by their nature are never stress free, but Peter felt that the Assessor put him at ease on the day. “Generally one avenue of questioning led to another, so pretty soon we were covering multiple Lines of Enquiry by discussing one headline point, which made the assessment process a lot less scary.”
Given Peter’s preparation, perhaps it is no surprise that JANET(UK) succeeded in meeting the Standard and indeed exceeding it in some areas. All including the CEO were delighted with the news. “Accreditation proves we have many robust business processes in place and a solid foundation on which to develop our service portfolio in line with the wider demands of the organisation. We consider ourselves pro-active and we wanted to avoid just being a reactionary ICT function, answering only to those who shout the loudest. The NCC endorsement proves we are professional in every respect,” said Peter.
All ITDA applicants, whether they pass or fail, also receive a bespoke Action Plan which identifies areas for improvement, and in JANET(UK)’s case, whilst the list isn’t long, there are some issues to be addressed by the time of the ITDA Annual Review in 2011.
“The Action Plan identified processes that we don’t do in established ways: sometimes we get there by roundabout ways and that isn’t always the best route. We will use the Action Plan, combined with other sources of feedback from staff, to develop a strategy that will allow the team to do things better and ultimately provide a better service to the staff of JANET(UK),” said Peter, concluding that, “the ITDA is an invaluable way to get an independent benchmark of the department’s performance and potential. It has a great value to the business.”