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Accreditation keeps Action for Blind People aligned to the business

Michael Dean catches up with Graeme Hollocks, head of ICT at Action for Blind People, the third largest charity for the visually impaired in England, and finds out why Action values its accreditation to The National Computing Centre’s standard for IT Departments.

Action for Blind People“We’re delighted to be the first charity to receive the NCC award,” enthused Graeme Hollocks, head of ICT at Action for Blind People, which provides practical help and support for people with sight loss throughout England. “The accreditation has made a big difference at Action for Blind People. It has publicly reinforced the good things we do which has been great for our reputation and morale, and it has provided us with a framework for continuous improvement that’s aligned to our needs and circumstance.”

Action for Blind People offers visually impaired people a wide range of services to help them live independently, including help with finding a job, applying for benefits, housing issues, aids and adaptations, holiday breaks, and information on local services. It helps nearly 30,000 visually impaired people annually. “We have 700 staff, of whom 600 are computer users, and about 15% of our staff are, themselves, visually impaired,” said Hollocks. “We’re quite diverse too, we run four hotels, two housing units, two supported employment projects and provide assistance with access technology for visual impairment.”

Hollocks heads up the ICT team of 17, three-quarters of whom are full-time staff and the rest volunteers. For a small team they are very busy. As Hollocks explained, “We are at the beginning of an investment cycle and have initiated many projects, most of which need to be completed this year because of contractual requirements. The number of projects is high and diverse and includes: disaster recovery, security, business continuity, upgrading to Windows 7 and Office 2010, and replacing our CRM system with a bespoke inhouse development. We are also evaluating VDI, especially the capability of the available technology to work with existing accessibility solutions.”

Action for Blind People - Certificate

Graeme Hollocks receives the ITDA certificate from NCC's Steve Potter

With so much activity, Hollocks wanted to ensure that service levels weren’t going to be adversely affected by the focus on projects and, at the same time, he wanted to ensure that the projects themselves were aligned to business benefits and delivered according to plan. “We have adopted ITIL and have the processes in place that underpin good customer service, nevertheless last year we experienced problems with a supplier and this led to some end-user dissatisfaction with ICT,” he said. With service quality and reputation at stake, Hollocks was keen to avoid this situation recurring.

In considering his options Hollocks opted to put ICT at Action for Blind People through The National Computing Centre’s IT Department Accreditation (ITDA) scheme. “The scheme offered us a convenient and timely opportunity to independently benchmark our strengths and weaknesses against best practice and make any reparations if required. This would put us in a better position to deal with the increased volume of work in a professional manner, enabling us to maintain the service level agreements (SLAs) we’d agreed with the rest of the business, while delivering the project outcomes.”

The assessment scheme which underpins the NCC ITDA examines an IT department’s performance against 110 common controls (lines of enquiry), permitting 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 that 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.

“When I was introduced to The National Computing Centre’s IT Department Accreditation scheme, I immediately felt that I had found something that ticked all the right boxes for us,” said Hollocks. “Firstly, the scheme fits perfectly with the ethos of the charity in that we are committed to following industry best practice and continuous improvement. Secondly, the ITDA would provide us with an independent appraisal of our performance which could be used to support and develop the team and, finally, attaining the certification would strengthen the business case for Action for Blind People to invest further in ICT. With so many demands on the charity’s resources, it can be challenging to persuade the management team to invest further in ICT. Accreditation would show the CEO that ICT is doing the right things to the right standards and not wasting money, and would help position ICT as a strategic enabler, rather than as a cost. We have a £25 million turnover and IT plays a critical role in keeping the charity running. IT has the capability to enable and we want to realise that potential for the good of our clients.”

Action for Blind People went through its ITDA assessment late last year and as part of the process a number of actions were identified to bring it up to the level of the NCC standard, prior to final accreditation which took place in May. Action for Blind People was duly awarded accreditation to the NCC standard. “Before we embarked upon accreditation we knew we weren’t perfect, but that’s the whole point of going through the ITDA,” said Hollocks. “The initial assessment and action plan were very useful in helping us prioritise work to align processes with the latest best practice. The accreditation process went smoothly and fitted well with our ethos of QA, ITIL and good change management. We are delighted with the accreditation; the CEO is also pleased that Action for Blind People is the first charity to have achieved the NCC standard. This is independent validation that ICT is doing the right things, and doing them well. It now means that we have an appropriate framework in place which supports our governance model.”

One of the major benefits that came out of the ITDA action plan was the recommendation to set up an ICT user forum. Now in place, the Forum provides regular useful feedback which informs improvements and is helping to ensure that ICT remains tightly aligned to the business. For further information about Action for Blind People, visit the website at

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