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The charity Action for Children supports and speaks up for the UK’s most vulnerable and neglected children and young people. It has 5,000 workers and operates in more than 400 locations across the UK, all of which require some level of IT.
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Alan Crawford, Action for Children’s CIO, says that in 2013, all the charity’s desktops were on Windows XP, which needed migration. “We had reliability issues and the MS security patches were running out.” Staying on XP was not tenable.
The charity had a budget for a desktop upgrade, but decided agiainst migrating to the latest Windows on modern PCs.
Staff used desktop PCs to access computer facilities, which meant they were chained to their desks for IT; alternatively, they used clunky laptops, with two layers of passwords. Crawford says the boot-up time for these devices was often in the region of 10 minutes, making them unsuitable for some work. “If you are working with a vulnerable family, you need a fast boot,” he adds.
While upgrading was on the IT plan, Crawford wanted to ascertain whether PCs were the best device to roll out given how staff worked.
He says: “A lot of staff are mobile and I asked a business analyst to look at whether staff were not in the office.”
The analyst found that 70% of Action for Children’s 5,000 staff were mobile, which influenced Crawford’s desktop strategy.
He says the charity chose to provide remote access to desktop applications via tablet devices rather than provide desktops and laptops. “If we are going to spend money, we will spend it on tablets,” he says.
Action for Children then began its journey to make IT as efficient as possible to provide a suitable quality of service.
Crawford looked at using service delivery best practices and following ITIL processes. He says his objective was to “be as efficient as possible at relatively low cost”.
Working with project management consultancy Stoneseed, Crawford says the IT department began assessing new IT processes to understand the benefits for Action for Children.
Crawford estimates the charity’s IT department has an annual turnover of £170m split across multiple services, with many budget handlers, each of whom runs a very tight budget.
Given the budgets and requirements of these internal customers, the charity used capability maturity model integration (CMMI) to figure out how to improve internal IT.
Stoneseed developed a CMMI assessment to help Action for Children understand the effectiveness of its IT service functions and identify opportunities for improvement.
A service delivery roadmap
Stage one of ITIL was about service delivery. The CMMI assessment involves conducting interviews and workshops with employees and key stakeholders to qualify initial findings. It results in a detailed analysis of key IT processes, including the management of the service desk, incidents, problems, configurations, changes, releases, service levels, financial, capacity, availability and service continuity.
According to Stoneseed, the CMMI assessment provides a structured and repeatable evaluation, together with process improvement through goal setting and objective measurement, and the ability to compare process maturity across the industry.
Action for Children now has a roadmap to follow, enabling implementation of ITIL best practice processes for continual improvement and optimal IT service delivery
Crawford says: “Stoneseed’s service delivery assessment and maturity modelling identified areas where there were definite process efficiencies that led to people efficiencies of 10%, or four to five people. In Action for Children’s case, it also identified other areas where those resources needed to be re-allocated where a service or process was underresourced.”
The fine balance of expenditure with return on investment means Action for Children needs to think carefully before climbing further up the ITIL curve.
“We are currently implementing stage one of ITIL and we’ll work out if the efficiencies and cost savings justify us providing account management,” Crawford says. “Our current service management software could get to level three or four.”
Plans going forward
In terms of improving efficiency, Crawford says the IT function proved it could reduce costs by 10% by avoiding approvals and manual intervention, since fewer people are needed. According to Crawford, the savings amount to around £150,000.
The charity’s IT function operates a partial charge-back model for IT services, and Crawford says: “Now we are cross-charging to children support centres.”
This creates hundreds of new customers for the charity’s IT department asking about their bill. Crawford expects Action for Children will need to look into providing account management in the future.
Along with looking at chargeback, Crawford says the charity is looking to move to to Office 365 and will be assessing the use of Microsoft Azure. The company currently runs a co-located datacentre in Watford. But Crawford says: “In every business case we do, Azure is more cost-effective now.”
He also believes the cloud is viable for HR, fundraising, payroll, and other line of business applications. The only question is when to move to it.