It is with some anticipation that I arrive for my appointment with Ibukun Adebayo, director of IT at Turning Point, a health and social care provider.
This woman has a powerful presence on the phone and the reputation of having succeeded in many careers, not least in my own field of journalism: her last story filed as a reporter in Nigeria was to cover an execution by firing squad. So what will she be like in the flesh?
Dressed in candy pink, Adebayo certainly appears an unconventional leader of IT but it’s her steadfast attention and search for the truthful response that leaves the bigger impression.
She is known for her unerring knack of asking the difficult questions and this has brought her to the attention of her CIO peers and has won her promotion in the past.
Adebayo has been at Turning Point for eight years and is steering the organisation’s IT capability through the austerity era.
The prospect of competition from the private sector in the near future and payment upon carefully measured delivery provides added interest to the job.
The focus of everyone in the £75m-turnover body has to remain sharp in these taxing times.
“Our focus is the client and service user; while we make profits in order to reinvest them in the services we deliver, profit is not our primary motive,” she says.
Sustaining the model of social enterprise, which is about making just-enough profit, calls for sound judgement at a time when commissioning government agencies are reducing their costs.
It’s a debate that this CIO is very much part of.
Turning Point delivers a range of services to users with complex needs ranging from beds for people recovering from substance misuse, to employment services.
“Our goal remains to deliver a quality service despite the cuts. But if, for example, there is a substantive cut in funding proposed and we think quality may be compromised if we were to agree to deliver the service, we will step aside for other service providers.And that is absolutely right,” says Adebayo.
Similarly, she has asked whether Turning Point employees need to be in the office every day of the week. Hot-desking would enable the consolidation of two floors of the building to one, realising a substantial reduction in leasing costs.
But Adebayo does have a very specific role regarding IT’s part in keeping Turning Point’s costs trim and making service delivery more efficient.
IT expenditure runs at three per cent of turnover, which is comparable to other not-for-profit organisations and some charity giants.
It’s a tight ship and Adebayo benchmarks budget regularly against industry norms. Three-year plans provide the framework and focus for discussing the organisation’s priorities and aligning IT investment with business objectives.
IT strategy is regularly retuned within these frameworks in order to extract greater efficiencies.
“The impact of the Corporate Spending Review on our IT department has been that we’ve had to ensure all proposed projects are backed up with a sound business case, with clearly stated and measurable business benefits to be realised on completion.”
A new IT strategy for the new financial year includes provision of additional tools to enhance the productivity of frontline staff and free them up to focus on clients.
The current big push for IT is to realise the full benefit of investment in an integrated infrastructure, and the tools for realising it are CRM and performance management.
“Historically, there wasn’t a true line of sight of the performance of our people and systems beyond ‘we’re in profit’ or ‘we’re breaking even’,” Adebayo admits.
With a new system of KPIs in place, it’s possible to get a view across a range of issues from finance and people, to relationships with service commissioners, too.
The beauty of KPIs is that they can be configured to reflect the priorities of the whole supply chain. So for example if quality of service is revealed to be an issue in a certain region, it’s possible to take targeted action before it becomes a problem for the commissioner.
Turning Point recognises the increasingly important role IT plays in helping it achieve its objectives in these extraordinarily hard times.
But to the question of whether she sits on the board, comes the bald reply, ‘No’. In this respect, Adebayo is in the same situation as many IT chiefs.
“Once you’ve gained the knowledge as a technical leader it can be hard to shift people’s perceptions. It can be an uphill task, but I always speak up as a business leader,” she says.
Certainly her reputation at Turning Point was forged on the back of technology delivery. On her arrival eight years ago, Adebayo’s first task was to replace the homespun assortment of IT provision with an integrated network and infrastructure.
Turning Point now uses off-the-shelf software and Microsoft is its primary technology platform, with VMware, Dell and HP as core hardware suppliers. ERP systems are provided by Infor Systems and Midlands HR.
The standardisation was a sensible move, designed to exploit greater buying clout through cheaper national purchasing and maintenance agreements.
Nonetheless, it represented major change, which has been the undoing of many CIOs.
The upgrade happened to coincide with a rebranding programme that saw disparate initiatives being conducted across 230 sites come together under the Turning Point umbrella.
Adebayo was savvy enough to push through her IT changes as part of the rebranding project.
She puts this instinct down to her background in communications. The knowledge has helped her through many a tricky situation.
She cites the example of extracting responses from busy management teams across the country. “We had to do an IT asset audit and I prefaced my request with: ‘I appreciate and understand the pressure you’re under...’. We received an 87 per cent response within the first week.”