By rebuilding confidence in the IT team (and technology itself) at board and executive director level, as well as business colleagues, Barry Ashcroft has turned a large social care charity with little IT appetite into one that appreciates that technology (and therefore IT) must be at the heart of its value chain. Social care might seem an unlikely setting for IoT excellence, but he has demonstrated that it is. One example is his provision of tablet devices to clients being cared for in their own homes, so they can initiate a Skype-type call to a first-responder service if they need to talk to someone, thus eliminating the need for round-the-clock care.
Director of IT and information management
How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
Since my appointment at Quarriers in December 2014, I have changed the ethos of the IT team, transforming it from an isolated support department that had no relationships with its internal customer base to a people-centric, customer-focused digital opportunity function. I inherited a team that spent most of its resources ‘fire-fighting’ in a break-fix environment with low confidence from the wider organisation which had effectively disengaged with IT. We are now seen as a partner and an enabler to work with, keen to understand and exploit opportunities that present themselves, and able to add value to our colleagues’ work lives and ultimately improve their personal wellbeing. As a team we have now started to work within the ITIL framework and become more process-driven to ensure consistently high levels of performance and customer satisfaction.
We have now embarked on the digital transformation of Quarriers from a traditional paper-driven technology-averse social care organisation to a modern, forward-looking digital workplace which embraces and utilises cutting-edge technology to promote collaboration, harmony, and time efficiency saving, and ultimately improve the work-life balance and wellbeing of our staff and the people we support.
Our internal customers are our staff and the people we support who use our life-changing services across our 125 sites – a geographical challenge in themselves, with the most northerly being Elgin in north-east Scotland down to our English-based services in Tyne and Wear and Wiltshire.
As an executive director I meet with my fellow directors and CEO on a monthly basis to review progress on the delivery of Quarriers’ IT operational and strategic programmes.
I encourage two-way engagement with the wider staff base regularly via email and our popular internal bulletin, although we find that face-to-face visits to sites works best in certain areas as we are able to informally meet with staff, provide a longer-term vision on where the IT department is heading, and solve smaller technical issues on-site. We have recently launched Yammer as our social business offering with the aim of creating more horizontal networking which will inform, engage, educate and stimulate discussion, not all of which is technology-related, within Quarriers. This will be accessible via mobile devices to make communication less office-based, and overcome one of our major challenges: 95% of our frontline staff are supporting vulnerable people rather than sitting at a PC.
I championed and stood up Quarriers’ first intranet portal to improve the staff experience when searching for corporate information such as policies and procedures, frequently used forms and contact details, and interactive maps for each of our 125 sites.
By making small marginal improvements such as better core business-critical system availability, the successful implementation of our new ERP system, the continued site refresh programme, the roll-out of safe and segregated Wi-Fi (guest and corporate) and the creation of the staff intranet, IT is now starting to regain the trust of the wider organisation that had been lost.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
We have significantly invested in on-premise infrastructure to improve short to medium-term system stability and reliability by providing Quarriers with two datacentres with automatic failover. As well as improving system reliability and availability we have virtualised over 90% of the server estate while reducing the number of servers by 50%. An analysis and discovery of the inherited database estate resulted in a consolidation exercise which initially reduced the number of databases by over 35% while ensuring full licensing compliance.
My longer-term strategy for Quarriers is to embrace the cloud, a process that we have begun by creating our own tenancy within Microsoft Office 365 and Azure with our migration from Exchange on-premise to Office 356 now under way.
One of the biggest yet most important outcomes that has been delivered over the last 12 months is the cleansing and restructuring of over 10 years of unstructured data stored in a vast variety of places (and systems) in a myriad of formats. This resulted in the IT team designing and developing Quarriers’ first ever fully digital end-to-end system, known as Pace (payroll, accidents and incidents, compliments and complaints, employees). This input application allows users across all sites to record on a weekly basis business-critical information that was previously either unknown or in the case of absence tracking, submitted three months in arrears on spreadsheets. The collation and calculation of absence alone would take a member of staff a week to complete, and even then the return rate for the information was said to be 70%. We import the data captured in Pace to our newly created data warehouse and complete ETL tasks, after which the data is automatically surfaced within reports, charts and dashboards through our new SharePoint BI centre and/or Power BI Pro cloud-based platform.
The Pace system enables all the above information to be input locally on a weekly basis, and the business intelligence output automatically provides all levels of management with their respective organisational KPIs on a Tuesday morning (for all data entered up until the previous week).
Over the last 12 months we have improved the back-end infrastructure to a point that has allowed us to install our customised ERP system, which has been a massive investment for Quarriers. The ERP system combined with the newly cleansed and structured data will bring huge efficiencies in staff time, remove multiple data captures and support our corporate operational objective of ensuring that the correct staff are in the correct place at the correct time to provide support to the most vulnerable members of our communities.
What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
Quarriers is a traditionally technology-averse social care charity, so my challenge has been to make small marginal improvements such as rolling out a secure Wi-Fi offering within our sites (segregated to allow the people we support to access a safe connection) and rolling out tablet devices to allow staff to be more mobile and field-based. Wi-Fi was not widely promoted by the previous IT management team so this small step has provided massive improvements in the personal lives of some of the people we support. One example is that it allows one person we support to now make Skype calls abroad to their only family member, which is life-changing.
The implementation and roll-out of the Pace application and data analytics offering have been widely embraced by our staff. Many have admitted to being scared of technology, so we have made it as user-friendly as we can while still providing the key data needed to proactively manage teams rather than taking a traditional reactive approach.
With social care budgets continuing to contract year on year and an increasing number of people with multiple complex needs requiring support in the community, Quarriers has embraced technology-enabled care and is in the vanguard of a cutting-edge blended care model. This allows people we support who traditionally required 24-hour care to reduce this requirement (which provides them with independence and reduces their care package cost) by providing them with a tablet which can be used as normal with added functionality to initiate a Skype-type call to a first-responder service if they need to talk to someone. This is Quarriers’ first step into the internet of things. The next logical step is the introduction of sensors around the home (or worn) that will alert the first responder if anything unusual is reported back, such as someone’s core body temperature dropping too low or sensing that someone has fallen over or left their house unaccompanied.
This project pilot has been so successful that Quarriers recently received significant funding from the Scottish government to extend the initial pilot across more services and geographical areas, which will result in this technology innovation redefining how social care is delivered, and ultimately reshaping Quarriers’ business model.
How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
As previously described, I inherited an IT team with low morale which had become essentially disengaged with the wider organisation, had no real visible strategy in place and spent all of its resources fighting to keep the lights on.
My first task was to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the team. It became apparent that the current structure wasn’t fit for purpose in terms of technical knowledge but also, crucially, not customer-focused enough. While my restructure was under way I started to build bridges with the key stakeholders including fellow members of the executive management team and the governing board of trustees to gain their confidence and rebuild confidence in the IT function. I appointed two technical managers from outside the social care sector who brought excellent ‘real world’ experience and effectively doubled up as IT business partners by engaging with the other directorates to understand how Quarriers worked and where the current IT bottlenecks were. By being brave and outward-looking, we managed to win back the trust of our operational colleagues who could see that we wanted to be partners and facilitators for change, not blockers.
Beyond the structured board and subcommittee meetings, I spend as much time as I can with members of the senior leadership team to provide guidance and advice on how their operational teams can embrace technology to add value to their staff.
I also created and chaired our digital steering group to bring together like-minded staff who want to make a difference to Quarriers. It provides us with a structured forum to showcase current technology innovations, generate ideas and define challenges that they then take back to their places of work, which in turn encourages diversity of ideas and potential solutions to problems.
Internally, we have transformed the historical perception that IT was a blocker function that was inward-looking, refused to engage and spent most of its time fire-fighting self-inflicted problems. Now we are seen as an outward-looking, people/customer-centric team who are keen to help.
I have rebuilt the reputation of the IT team with the board of trustees, who have stated at board meetings that they have seen a massive improvement and progress in the two years since my appointment and now have confidence that the IT team adds value to Quarriers. During recent budget setting IT was the only back-office department to have an increased year-on-year budget, which was a massive statement of confidence in us as team and more importantly intent that Quarriers recognises that investment in technology is crucial to developing as an organisation.
How have you worked with your CEO and/or board to communicate whatever ‘digital’ and IT means to your organisation/sector and improve digital literacy at the highest levels of the organisation?
By rebuilding the confidence in the IT team (and technology itself) at board and executive director level I have turned a large social care charity with little IT appetite into a technology-receptive one which appreciates that technology (and therefore IT) must be at the heart of our value chain.
Many of the board of trustee members are technology-averse, so the explanation of “digital” for Quarriers is quite simple: to fully leverage the use of technology to add value and drive efficiencies within Quarriers. This can be demonstrated from the use of our data analytics to automatically surface data to allow us to understand how 2,000 members of staff spend their working week. The positive reaction from the CEO and board of directors was captured in a single sentence from the CEO, who said: “I have waited over four years for a report like the one you have just shown me.” Obtaining this buy-in from senior management ensured that the uptake of technology within the directorates is much smoother. They are now asking business questions on data that hasn’t been available before, which in turn results in their managers having to engage with technology to provide the answers to these questions.
The IT team has held a number of ‘show and tell’ demonstrations that have been well received and well attended before the roll-out of new digital systems such as the Pace application or the SharePoint BI reporting offering, with staff from all levels of the organisation attending.
I am fortunate to work with a very supportive, forward-thinking and technology-confident executive management team and CEO who have come from other organisations where technology had been much more widely embraced and seen as the norm.
With the design of our new ERP System, I worked with the executive management team in sponsoring our individual directorates to take this opportunity to re-engineer our outdated processes as digital, so the digital mantra has been bought into from the outset at the most senior levels of the organisation.
Another key digital development for Quarriers is the introduction of Skype for Business, which provides cloud-based video-conferencing, removing the need for management to travel from the north of Scotland and England to attend meetings held in central Scotland.
I am also a great believer in practising what I preach, so we have now started to move away from sending out paper board report packs by recorded delivery and provided every member of our board with a log-in to our SharePoint Office 365 tenancy to view them electronically. It’s another small step on Quarriers’ journey to become a more digital organisation.
How have you worked with the technology and IT vendor market to achieve your business goals? How have you been able to influence IT suppliers and successfully manage your partnerships/relationships with large IT companies, SMEs and startups?
My primary objective when I joined Quarriers was to stabilise the current systems in terms of infrastructure and improve the availability of the business-critical IT systems – MS Exchange at that point in time. Not being able to be in control of our long-running on-premise infrastructure problems highlighted that the most obvious solution was to investigate the feasibility of embracing cloud technology, primarily IaaS or SaaS.
I appointed a strategic technology partner who came on site to understand and document my objectives and to agree an initial statement of work. They worked with my IT team to create our Office 365 tenancy, which immediately allowed us to begin migrating the senior leadership team mailboxes off our unreliable MS Exchange on-premise environment as well as providing Skype for Business as a video-conferencing platform. In my experience it is key to build up a small number of trusted strategic technology partners who understand your organisation, your values, your current environment and position and your strategic objectives.
A real concern I discovered after I joined was that there was no real vendor management taking place. I addressed this immediately, highlighting that Quarriers was no longer a technology and cost-naïve customer, and that we would be demanding a top level of services that a larger for-profit business would expect.
We now have six key strategic partners in place, a mixture of large and SMEs who we trust and work with across our entire technology stack to ensure that our operational and strategic objectives are consistently met. I constantly scan the marketplace to see if there are any smaller startups who could help both parties by exposing them to marketplaces and technologies where they perhaps don’t have a huge amount of demonstrable testimonials but are willing to work with a not-for-profit organisation and lower levels of budget. This approach has been successful to date, assisting us in overcoming some of the smaller snagging issues that occurred during our Exchange migration to Office 365.
How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
I inherited a predominately male IT team (84%) which after restructure has now dropped down to a more balanced 67% of the team. While being a welcome outcome, it has also helped remove some of the historical barriers between the IT team and the wider organization. The vast majority of our support workers are female, who anecdotally fed back that they felt intimidated phoning or visiting the IT office, which was unacceptable.
Quarriers has a large volunteer pool which I have successfully tapped into, and we now have some volunteers in the team from a variety of different ethnic and social backgrounds (one of our volunteers is over 75 years old). This provides a better balance to the team and allows us to tap into their knowledge, backgrounds, different points of view and perspectives on some of the decisions that we make.
The IT team has welcomed in work placements with younger members of the community who have been diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum and were struggling to gain IT employment opportunities, often because of poor interview and inter-personal skills. I would like to think that we provided them with real-life IT experience in a non-judgemental environment. The feedback was that they flourished, became more confident in a team environment and left with skills that will be invaluable for their continuing life journey.
If future budgets are kinder, I would like to create a skill seeker role within the team as I feel we are now in the position where we can offer a good framework for technical and personal career development.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
I rebranded and restructured the IT team when I was appointed as I felt that it was important to start a new era, remove residual negativity and start to reach out to the wider organisation and rebuild relationships with key stakeholders, many of whom had become disillusioned with IT and technology. The team is divided into two teams: infrastructure (including service desk) and digital services, both managed by highly technical and experienced customer-centric managers.
A key aspect of these roles, especially our digital services manager, is to engage with the wider organisation to ensure that the organisation has an IT focal point to contact when new technology opportunities arise (they essentially have dual roles as IT business partners). As a member of the executive management team and board of directors, I play a key role in creating the Quarriers corporate strategy and yearly operational plans, which ensures that IT and technology are deeply embedded from the very first draft through to the sign-off.
The digital services team has been specifically created to interact with Quarriers’ key business objectives: identify opportunities, deliver solutions, engage with operational colleagues, promote knowledge sharing and increase collaboration. Our services are closely aligned to our organisational operating model to ensure that we work in an agile manner and deliver solutions that work for the customer, not just IT.
What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
Our main long-term strategic deal is with Microsoft, with our decision to leverage the power and opportunities that creating our own tenancy within Office 365 provides. We have also switched supplier to allow us to consolidate our historically inefficient and costly fixed-line telephony contracts from four suppliers to one (with a cost reduction of circa 40% per year) while also renegotiating our mobile phone contract to make a saving of 57%, which is a huge sum for a non-profit charity.
The design, development and implementation of our new customised ERP system was a massive investment. It will provide a number of efficiencies and ensure that Quarriers remains a sustainable organisation with future development opportunities.
Our main strategic partners are: One Advanced (ERP), Tecnica (infrastructure), Trustmarque (licensing and O365), JHL Telecoms (mobile telephony), UK IT Networks (fixed-line telephony) and Synergi IT (SharePoint).
What are your key strategic aims for next year?
There are massive game-changing opportunities around the internet of things that can be exploited within social and healthcare. Our technology-enabled care solution is just our first step. The next will be for people we support to have sensors within their homes, or worn, to alert first-responder staff if there are any issues, without the need for manual alerts and constant support. We have started to develop this technology with a sensor worn as a watch which alerts staff if the wearer falls over (aimed at some of our elderly service users) or if they move outside a predetermined radius from their homes, which is tracked via GPS (aimed at some of our dementia service users, who may become confused and leave the safety of their homes when they are on their own).
We will continue to develop our data analytics capability to enable this to be surfaced on any device and from any location, reinforcing our strategic movement towards an increasingly mobile and non-office-based workforce.
Mobile working, data analytics, increased communication and collaboration, data accessibility and the IoT are strategic objectives that will all be supported by our investment in Microsoft Office 365 and Azure.
With the surfacing of all of this structured data for the first time in Quarriers’ history, information and network security improvements are a key strategic aim that we plan to address by working within the ISO 27001 framework.
How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
As we are solely based in the UK the main impacts for Quarriers will be on potential changes to local government funding and the Data Protection Act, and the implementation of the general data protection regulation (GDPR).
By re-engineering our historical processes and implementing our new ERP system we will ensure that Quarriers will be as efficient as possible in terms of removing unnecessary bureaucracy, maintaining an accurate and single source of data, and implementing automated data workflows. This will satisfy our mantra of having the correct member of staff in the correct location at the correct time, resulting in Quarriers running an efficient workforce and so remaining competitive within the reduced funding pools that will be available.
We have reduced and redesigned our policies and procedures to reflect the environment in which we now operate, including our data protection and record management policies, which have been updated to prepare us for compliance with the GDPR, including segregating the duties of the data controller and data protection officer.
When did you start your current role?
1 December 2014
What is your reporting line?
Are you a member of the executive leadership?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
Monthly as an individual for one to one, but I have daily contact.
How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
£850,000 revenue, £300,000 capex.
What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
Currently 80% BAU, 20% R&D, which we would like to recalibrate.
Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:
- CIO peers
- Analyst houses
- Industry bodies
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?
Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
Our infrastructure manager incorporates these tasks within their role so he is our designated security professional.
Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
How many employees are there in your IT team?
Are you increasing your headcount or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?
- data analytics/business intelligence
- enterprise applications
- devices (mobile)
- devices (desktop)
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?
- data analytics/business intelligence
- enterprise applications
- machine learning/artificial intelligence
- devices (mobile)
- devices (desktop)
What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
IoT will have a major impact on social care, so this will be a key area for us to exploit. AR/VR if budgets allow would also have a major impact, especially within our learning and talent development function, enhancing our traditional tutor-led classroom-based training courses.
Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?
Does your department include technology staff from the EU?
Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?