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Nottingham Trent University achieve the gold standard in IT

Michael Dean speaks to Ian Griffiths, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Information Systems at Nottingham Trent University about their accreditation the National Computing Centre Standard for IT Departments.

Nottingham Trent UniversityNottingham Trent University (NTU) is one of the largest universities in the UK with a student population in excess of 24,000. One of the contributing factors to the success of NTU is their focus on student employability. 95% of NTU graduates from full-time first degrees are employed or studying further within six months of leaving, placing NTU in the top five of UK universities for employment prospects. Despite the size of the organisation which employs almost 4,000 staff and is split across three main sites, NTU has been named as the most environmentally friendly and ethical university in the UK. The University has now topped the People & Planet Green League for the second time in three years.

As you might imagine, NTU has a large IT infrastructure and provides a variety of services to its clients (staff, students and third parties). The Information Systems department has always been innovative and seen as a sector leader both regionally and nationally. Regionally NTU is the strategic lead for EMMAN (East Midlands Metropolitan Area Network).

“We’ve not been too troubled by recent events in Higher Education, our student numbers remain buoyant.” said Griffiths, “The reason? It’s because we are student focussed, provide a gold standard service and help them start their careers successfully.”

The senior IS management team work hard to ensure that IS is constantly evolving to provide the gold standard service to the students and staff. Following a recent review, IS initiated a programme of improvements. “I felt we could manage projects better, get more buy-in from the business and get the business more involved in prioritisation.” He said. “At the same time we wanted to move the emphasis of the work of the department from being mostly ‘business as usual’, to a more innovative position. New projects now account for about 50% of IS time compared to only 30% a few years ago. Routine tasks have been automated and the IS team can now concentrate on innovation, delivering value, improving standards and becoming more efficient.”

IS challenged, debated, agreed and documented their updated processes, and in doing so recognised that they did a lot of things well. What they lacked was a measure of how well. Whilst the IS Senior Management Team wanted to change the direction of travel for IS, they also wanted to ensure that, in the midst of making improvements, risks were not being overlooked and that governance was in order.

“We wanted an independent review and initially looked at ISO Standards, but felt that they were too regimented. We didn’t want to write a whole new set of procedures just to get a certificate. The National Computing Centre’s IT Department Accreditation Scheme (ITDA) fitted us down to the ground. The ITDA recognised the need for formal procedures across the IT department, but wasn’t too prescriptive. If an NTU process followed best practice, delivered value and was efficient the ITDA would recognise that in the assessment.”

The NCCs IT Department Accreditation Scheme (ITDA) is a unique business improvement programme with a certification scheme that recognises excellence and effectiveness. 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 and make improvements if necessary. The ITDA is also an accreditation scheme, so those IT departments who demonstrate excellence are awarded with a recognised accreditation to the NCC Standard. A number of academic organisations have become accredited including Imperial College London, JANET (UK), AQA and UCAS.

“The process was good, straight forward and reassuringly comprehensive.” Said Griffiths, “We are a busy department and my challenge was to manage the assessment. At first this did require a bit of effort to get everybody off first base, but because the framework requires feedback from the department as a whole, the ITDA became a great stimulus for inter-departmental communications, something we were looking to improve as part of our Investors in People submission.”

The whole of the management team were involved in the presentation of evidence on assessment day, which meant that the assessor was able to cross-reference particular Lines of Enquiry where they cut across the various aspects of IT. This all helped in team building according to Griffiths, “The whole process had a benefit beyond that of accreditation, it helped us understand each others’ concerns and brought us together, it was a good internal communications exercise too.

Griffiths thought that the assessment was rigorous, “But all the more meaningful for it. Although having the certificate is nice, it’s the better understanding of our strengths and weaknesses that is really important for us. We are now better able to assess the progress of our journey against best practice, and in the meantime we have the independent recognition that we are doing a good job. We aren’t perfect but there are only a small number of points to address and mostly these are in writing up procedures we already adhere to but haven’t fully formalised.”

“In comparison with alternative approaches to independent assessment the ITDA represents real value for money. I’d certainly recommend other institutions in the sector to apply. As they say in the marketing materials the ITDA isn’t tick box exercise, you get a rigorous, well rounded, constructive and independent appraisal of where you stand, whilst the process reinforces and demonstrates the value of team working.” said Griffiths, “We are very pleased to have made the grade and our stakeholders can feel reassured that the changes we are making in IS are well founded and underpinned by department-wide adherence to best practice.”

Congratulations go to IS at NTU, they have achieved the gold standard in IT.

(Ian Griffiths is Director of Strategic Partnerships within Information Systems at Nottingham Trent University. His responsibilities include Chief Executive of EMMAN (a company owned by the 8 Universities of the region, that provides and runs the JANET educational network in the East Midlands), and overseeing ESCUK (national Education Support Centre for Microsoft) and the relationships with strategic partners including NCC).

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