Change is the watchword as businesses strive to react to market demands, develop commercial opportunities and keep up with new regulations.
Increasingly, IT is seen as an enabler for these initiatives, which is why IT directors group the Corporate IT Forum (Tif) chose business change as the subject of its annual conference. Here, two IT leaders who presented at the conference speak to Computer Weekly about their different experiences of business change.
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Nick Masterston-Jones: implementing change for competitive edge
Automated clearing house Voca provides an outsourced service to the banking industry, offering an infrastructure for direct credit and debit payments. In the past year it has revolutionised its business, changing its operations, market, customers and positioning.
The organisation, formerly known as Bacs, has had changes forced upon it following recommendations from the Cruikshank Report in 1999, which demanded more competition be brought into the market.
"Whereas before we had a virtual monopoly in some areas, processing 90% of UK salaries, we are now a commercial company having to compete with other providers that may come into this space," says commercial business manager Chris Dunne.
"It also means we have to look at other opportunities and we now have European ambitions to offer our clearing services in foreign markets."
Voca processes 4.5 billion transactions a year, with a record daily peak of 71 million recorded just before Easter this year. But Dunne says the number of transactions are continuing to increase and he expects the peak to hit 100 million soon.
These conditions pointed to a need for a technology renewal, says Dunne. Voca's old mainframe systems, connected to user companies over fixed-line connections, were expensive to maintain and did not provide the flexibility to add new customers quickly.
So, over the past few years, the company has been rolling out an IP-based payment submission channel at a cost of about £100m. This means users can access Voca's services over inexpensive extranet or VPN internet connections, and new customers can be included just by adding more servers to the system.
"Unlike with mainframes, there are no big step changes required to bring on new users," says Dunne. "We now have Sun servers linked in a cluster architecture and we just add more boxes if we require more processing power."
Other technology providers involved in the project include BEA, Oracle and Perot Systems. IT programme director Nick Masterson-Jones says, "We chose them because they showed a readiness to work with our existing partners and technology; also because of their ability to innovate, and because they possessed a shared vision of where future developments can take the relationship."
Masterson-Jones says security is also a paramount issue, with annual payments via the system currently totalling £3tn.
"We addressed this by taking leading public key infrastructure technology and adding our own innovation to allow multiple trust schemes to work together in a single environment," he says.
"Alongside the technology development we also worked with the banking industry to agree the legal framework that surrounds this service."
All this means Voca has one of the most advanced payment submission systems in the world, which has been the focus of much interest from other European banks looking to line up behind the leaders in the new deregulated market.
"We now have a platform to allow us to go out and seek business in other markets," says Dunne.
Meanwhile, all current customers must migrate to Bacstel-IP, the new automated payments system, by December 2005.
"Corporate customers need to take on the appropriate connectivity and security services," says Masterson-Jones.
"Only software that has passed rigorous testing and approval processes is able to connect to Bacstel-IP."
Britannia Building Society
Mark Gater: communications strategy for smooth transition
Obtaining user buy-in and ensuring different suppliers pull together are perennial headaches for any IT head charged with overseeing a major IT project.
So when embarking on a four-year systems overhaul, Mark Gater, programme manager at Britannia Building Society, put in place a series of initiatives to keep users on side and ensure his suppliers worked for the best interest of the project.
The £60m programme, which started in 1999, saw the company replace all core systems, which Gater says will save Britannia £120m over the next nine years.
At that time, Gater says the firm possessed old and varied systems, which were difficult to maintain and required hard-to-find skills. Also, each customer database for distinct areas, such as mortgages and life assurance, stood separately; they were only integrated by batch uploads.
Over the next four years, the company replaced all its customer facing systems with Windows-based programs and integrated its back office using IBM MQ Series middleware.
Suppliers chosen for the task included consultancy LogicaCMG, financial services software specialist AttentiV and banking software group Fineos.
But Gater was keen to demonstrate to users that this project was not just about IT - it was about changes that would benefit the business. To emphasise this, the project team formed to steer the programme sat outside the IT department and was headed by someone from the business side.
As part of the pre-implementation phase, the team devised a communications strategy to inform staff of the changes they should expect. They garnered opinions from people throughout the company on how they would prefer to receive information about the forthcoming changes.
The result was a multi-pronged communication strategy: updates were posted on the intranet and members of the project team led roadshows at branches throughout the country where regional managers and staff working in retail outlets were told what to expect as the programme progressed.
Central to developing a discourse with users was the appointment of area representatives who would become a focal point, delivering updates to employees and feeding user reactions back to the team.
"They facilitated a two-way information feed and were our eyes and ears out in the business," says Gater. The reps attended a two-day induction course to prepare them for their role.
Gater was also determined to ensure on-site consultants from the different suppliers worked together. Rather than having distinct teams made up totally of AttentiV employees or LogicaCMG staff, Gater integrated the teams depending on the skills and leadership qualities they possessed.
"The aim was to avoid consultancy wars, where people end up fighting their own corner and protecting the interests of their employer," says Gater.
Through discussion with team members, Gater drew up a code of behaviour that each person was expected to work by. It was agreed that each member should share their agenda, work for the best interest of the programme and assume everyone was also working with the best interests of programme in mind as well. It was also decided there would be no ÒostrichingÓ. If there was a problem, team members should be made aware of it.
Regular meetings were held where these standards were "pinned to the wall" and revisited and discussed thoroughly. But Gater denies this approach was over-regimented.
He says, "If you decide something among the team, it must be followed through with rigour and consistency or it just becomes one of those things that managers say but never do.
"IT is important but without us working together like this, the programme would have been a disaster."