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ITDA Case Study: Benenden Healthcare Society

“Now we are independently recognised as a high performing team, we just want to push the boundaries even further.”

Michael Dean meets Benenden Healthcare Society, the latest organisation to become accredited to NCC Standard for IT Departments and finds out what makes a high performing team tick

Benenden LOGThe organisation that is now Benenden Healthcare Society was founded in 1905 by ordinary Post Office workers who wished to help their colleagues suffering from tuberculosis. Today, Benenden Healthcare Society is one of the largest health and wellbeing mutual organisations in the UK, serving a membership of over 900,000 people across the country. The Society provides a range of discretionary healthcare services for current or former UK public sector workers and other like-minded organisations, as well as members of charities, credit unions and co-operatives.

Members who benefit from low cost healthcare (£1.50 a week) and great quality of service (98% member satisfaction rates) have access to 13 Regional Treatment Centres in addition to Benenden Hospital in Kent – a subsidiary of the Society. The business is growing and there are ambitious plans to double income over the next five years. “It won’t be an easy ride” said Gareth Baxendale, head of IT at Benenden. “There is more competition now and the public sector is shrinking in size, reducing our potential customer base. There is also uncertainty in the future of healthcare but Benenden Healthcare has been engaged with the Government’s NHS Listening Exercise regarding GP provisioning. Despite these challenges we have a ‘can-do’ attitude and IT will do all it conceivably can to enable the business to hit its targets.”

The IT Management team at Benenden Healthcare is made up of Baxendale and his colleague David Haynes, head of IT programmes, who (at the time of publication) share management of IT equally as acting directors, ably supported by team managers Jamie Kerwick and Tim Clarke, making an IT team of 14.

Benenden Healthcare Society

“18 months ago the IT team went through a period of change which offered the opportunity to improve our processes and implement new ways of working to address our weaker areas. The business should just expect IT to work, to be available, to be problem free, and it is now.” Said Haynes.

“We couldn’t have made the changes without a real commitment from the whole team.” Said Baxendale. “We are a small department – efficient and lean so every contribution counts. Our IT budget is just 1% of turnover, yet we support 180 staff and one million customers.”

The Society’s IT philosophy is to invest in quality services and systems. They are on the road to desktop virtualisation, are part way through their latest three year technology refresh cycle upgrading to Windows 7 and Office 2010, have delivered a business planning project to facilitate the delivery of the society’s business plan and have reduced costs by way of a new printer consolidation strategy. For a small team they are very busy and very productive! Plans for a new membership application and document management solution are already well developed, as is a project to migrate to IP telephony.

So why did Baxendale and Haynes choose to apply for accreditation to the NCC Standard for IT Departments, the ITDA, especially when they were so busy? Baxendale explained, “In addressing our weaker areas, we have reviewed and changed many of our processes. We wanted to make sure that our processes were ‘fit for purpose’, that our direction of travel was right and that we had the right attitude. We sought external validation of what we were doing and NCC’s ITDA fitted the bill perfectly.”

The assessment scheme which underpins the NCC ITDA examines an IT department’s performance against 110 common controls (Lines of Enquiry), enabling IT departments to compare and understand their own strengths and weaknesses. The Standard covers five 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.

The ITDA is also an accreditation scheme, so those IT departments who score well are awarded with a recognised accreditation to the NCC Standard. Another feature is the identification of a bespoke Action Plan which helps the IT function prioritise continuous improvement.

“We looked at other alternative benchmarks, but felt they were too ‘cold’, clinical even and wouldn’t galvanise the team to do better. Yes we wanted to understand where we were, but we also wanted to get the team engaged, to focus on continuous improvement and uniquely, the ITDA process covered all of the key areas we wanted to benchmark - all with a focus on alignment with the business. This is what we wanted to focus on and to improve.” Said Haynes.

“Everything IT does impacts the business and the individual in IT has to align themselves to the business too. The ITDA process enabled individuals to see how their actions affected and enabled the business. It wasn’t a top down decision to apply for accreditation, we simply feel it’s what an IT function should do as part of good practice. It’s the business focus and continuous improvement elements of the ITDA that set it apart from just being an audit.” Added Baxendale.

Kerwick added, “It did take a bit of time to collate the evidence, but the process was nicely balanced and wasn’t intrusive, even the assessment day. The ITDA looks for consistently applied processes, then checks if you follow them through and validates how far you have travelled. It’s a good discovery process, cathartic even.”

The outcome of the assessment was accreditation to the NCC Standard! “We can now demonstrate to the business that they have a high performing IT team and that IT and IT programmes are tightly aligned to fit business requirements. Importantly, they know that we are driving performance improvement with a clear strategy and vision in mind. With the NCC accreditation, the business can be reassured that IT is at a high standard and wants to be even better.” Said Baxendale.

The assessment however did identify some areas for improvement and these have been included in the ITDA Action Plan. Progress in the areas highlighted will be assessed at the annual Light Touch review. Baxendale has prepared an information pack for the Benenden board to help them understand what accreditation means, and this includes the Action Plan which contains the areas for improvement. “Passing the assessment was a real morale boost for our small team and we are proud to be able to display the certificate.” David said, “We have improved many things over the last year or so, including our alignment with the business. Now we are independently recognised as a high performing team, we just want to push the boundaries even further.” Enthused Baxendale.

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