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Walsall Housing Group

NCC ITDA Case Study

A blueprint for an outstanding future

Walsall Housing GroupPhil Pettifer, information services manager at Walsall Housing Group, speaks to Michael Dean about IT’s role in helping the organisation become truly outstanding. Phil tells us why whg chose to seek accreditation to The National Computing Centre’s Standard for IT Departments and highlights the benefits of joining the programme.

The organisation

Walsall Housing Group (whg) is an organisation with a mission, indeed it wants to become “a truly outstanding housing organisation dedicated to the success of our neighbourhoods and people”. whg is one of the largest and most successful providers of high quality housing in the West Midlands. Formed in 2003 following a housing stock transfer from Walsall Council, whg now manages almost 20,000 properties and has achieved its original vision on time, spending in excess of £270 million since its establishment, to bring its housing stock up to Decent Homes standard. That’s a lot of kitchens, bathrooms, insulation and windows! 

Phil Pettifer

Phil Pettifer, Information Systems Manager

whg is ably assisted by an IT team of 21 (there are 650 staff), headed up by information systems manager Phil Pettifer. “From its inception back in 2003, the IT team have been responsible for the design, procurement and implementation of all information systems and telephony projects. Recently, IT has played a crucial part in maximising the productivity of our repair teams. We have 270 staff using a combination of PDAs and smartphones linked to our wide area network, driving efficiencies. We are also trialling the use of iPads and tablet computers with a small group of customer-facing staff, as the benefits of having access to relevant data on the move are huge,” said Pettifer. IT’s responsibilities are split between maintaining the fibre optic network infrastructure that links whg’s seven offices, system support (mostly thin client), service desk, and strategy development and realisation. Big projects this year include the provisioning of a new office and data centre, and restructuring the wide area network, as well as implementing a new electronic document management system.

The reason for seeking accreditation

“Having made such significant changes over the last few years, I felt it would be a good time to hone our overall processes and procedures so that the organisation was deriving maximum value from IT,” said Pettifer. “We looked at ISO standards such as 27001 as a route to good practice in security and it is good but by its very nature its scope is narrow. We really wanted to review all of our processes in the context of the value they add to the business.”

Pettifer chose The National Computing Centre’s business improvement programme, the IT Department Accreditation Scheme (ITDA) because it offered an independent review of all of the areas of activity of the IT function, with a focus on business benefit.

About the IT Department Accreditation

The National Computing Centre’s 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 103 common controls (lines of enquiry) 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.

“I wanted to be reassured that we were doing the right things well and I wanted to give the business that reassurance too. The ITDA is a perfect fit for us as it isn’t just a one-off audit, it is a continuous improvement programme and provides you with a blueprint for the future, helping you to overcome your weaknesses and develop your strengths,” said Pettifer.

Being subject to rigorous internal review, Pettifer was confident his team already used appropriate good practice across the department, but he also felt it very useful to revisit processes and procedures with a fresh pair of eyes, and update when and if required.

The process and outcome

Following the initial visit by the assessor to introduce the Standard and explain what evidence is required to achieve compliance, Pettifer set about gathering and reviewing the evidence. “I’m sure preparation times vary according to your level of adoption of formalised processes and your maturity, but we spent just over two days collating the evidence and in identifying and addressing any gaps we found. I think that the assessment day was more gruelling for the assessor than us. We were captivated by the process, enthusiastic and determined to show him the evidence of compliance for all of the appropriate lines of enquiry,” said Pettifer.

The result was a pass recommendation from an exhausted assessor who said: “The team was well prepared for the assessment which is designed to be the initiation of programme of improvement rather than a one-off benchmark. From the outset, it was apparent that the number of projects the team is managing, delivering and is involved with, relative to the size of the team, is impressive. Of particular note was the sandbox R&D capability which is a better arrangement than most companies have been observed to work in. This is used commendably, not only to improve the knowledge of the team but also to get value for money for whg in a number of areas.”

The outcome of the assessment has been very well received within the business. “It is comforting to know that you adhere to a common standard rather than working in isolation,” concluded Pettifer. “We have made the first steps on a longer journey. For the organisation to become truly outstanding IT needs to be truly outstanding too and we now have our own blueprint to help us achieve that.”

All in all, it has been a good news week for Pettifer and his team. Alongside achieving NCC accreditation, whg has recently been placed amongst the finalists for a national contact centre award and has also been cited as ‘best in class’ during a recent audit of its business continuity processes. It looks like IT at whg is well on its way to being outstanding.

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