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Warburtons ITDA case study

"IT was able to quickly swing into action to support the business."

Michael Dean speaks to Damien Ghee and Paul Egerton about Warburtons’ Accreditation to the National Computing Centre’s Standard for IT Departments.

Warburtons LogoWhen you are the second most valuable grocery brand in the UK, you would expect the organisational statistics to be impressive and for Warburtons they are. The 135 year old Bolton based company produces a range of baked goods, sold as fresh for delivery the following day to all national retail chains including Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda. To fulfil the demand Warburtons bake 15 million units a week, at 13 bakeries and use a fleet of 1,000 vehicles to deliver the produce. Turnover is £0.5 billion and the company which is family owned and managed by the Warburton family, now in its fifth generation, employs over 4,800 staff, of which only 36 are in IT!

No pressure then for IT? Damien Ghee IT Director at Warburtons says, “In FMCG, if IT goes wrong, it can all go wrong.” Ghee who has an impressive track record in manufacturing has been at Warburtons for six years. When he first started, the company was in the process of bedding down a new SAP ERP system. “It was a significant investment, but well thought out, the problem was that the implementation was taking a long time and management were beginning to lose faith in technology.” Said Ghee. “I had to restore their confidence in IT and the value that IT could add to the business.”

Michael Dean, Damien Ghee, and Paul Egerton

Damien Ghee and Paul Egerton are presented with their ITDA certificate by NCC's Michael Dean

The SAP investment has grown, with for example third party e-procurement and e-sourcing applications and it’s paying dividends. In fact Warburtons are now an exemplar for SMEs and are certified as a SAP Centre of Excellence.

“It’s a tough market out there today,” said Ghee, “there’s more competition from cereals and other new categories. Recognising the need for change, the company has established a new vision. We are looking to diversify from baked bread, extend the range with baked snacks and grow outside the UK. We have evolved our positioning from Britain’s favourite baker, to one of the world’s best family food businesses. We now sell into the Czech Republic with other Central European countries to follow. We set up all this in 6 months. IT was key in enabling this growth. Our SAP system has been designed to accommodate multiple languages and the timely creation of export and shipping documents. IT was able to quickly swing into action to support the business!” Said Ghee.

Having the capability to swing into action is at the heart of Ghee’s approach to IT. “Over the last 6 years we have made strategic investments to professionalise IT, encouraging and supporting the team to raise the bar. Year on year we have been making a difference and because of our achievements the IT budget has increased and business confidence in IT is now higher. Our incident levels are the same as 6 years ago, but the user community has doubled.”

“Measuring and motivating is key to improving the capability of IT,” said Paul Egerton, Support Manager “and that’s what attracted us to the National Computing Centre’s IT Department Accreditation Scheme (ITDA). We wanted an independent appraisal of our strengths and weaknesses, but we didn’t just want a tick-box audit. We wanted something that measured what we did, but also gave us something to aspire to.” He continued, “We felt we were now a more capable department and wanted to test this. We use other companies to test discrete areas of our remit such as security and service management, but the ITDA is the only accreditation that provides a rounded benchmark which measures all of the aspects of the IT function in one holistic approach. Because of the inclusive certification scheme and the on-going commitment to continuous improvement, it’s a great tool to galvanise and motivate the staff.”

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 the 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.

Having achieved second place at the Real IT awards 3 years ago, Ghee was optimistic about the department’s potential to meet the NCC Standard. “IT are well positioned to enable the business, our programme and change management skills are well honed, but was there something missing, could we be better? The business needs to be reassured that their investment in IT is delivering a return and that the IT function at Warburtons is amongst the best.” He said.

“We took preparation for the ITDA seriously, and discussed how we would share the evidence gathering with the whole management team. The NCC Assessor was very helpful and gently guided us through the process answering any questions we had along the way. Having a deadline for assessment was a focal point for us, but we were able to set our own schedule for preparation. The final assessment was challenging but fair, well structured and consistent. We shared the presentational responsibilities across the team for the Assessment visit. In fact the whole exercise was a fantastic opportunity for team members to see what their colleagues do, breakdown silos and to better understand the inter-relationships between activities.” Said Egerton.

The outcome of the Assessment was a solid pass but the subsequent Action Plan did identify some areas for improvement. All ITDA applicants receive a bespoke Action Plan which identifies and prioritises areas for continuous improvement against recognised best practice. Ghee and Egerton were also pleased with the results of the Customer Perceptions Survey, an integral part of the ITDA process, which highlighted a good level of appreciation for IT from across the business.

“The IT team and the business are delighted with results and our next step is to start work on the areas identified in the Action Plan”. Said Ghee. The ITDA has given us external validation that we are doing a great job and has helped us increase awareness of what IT do. We are a lot wiser from the process and have a clear route map for IT. Finally, all those little fractions of extra motivation across the team more than outweigh the cost of the ITDA.”

Ghee is now taking on a bigger role at Warburtons as new business development director. I wish him well. His legacy in IT won’t be forgotten, not least because Ghee will continue to use IT to further enable the business whilst IT are set to continuously raise their game.

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