Walker, head of IS customer support at Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), told delegates at the IT Service Management Forum (itSMF), the restructure was a necessary step in applying the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) to the organisation.

In 2004, the registered charity appointed a new chief executive officer, who instigated considerable change within the organisation. The information system support teams "were not every efficient" according to Walker, as the IT department had grown organically over the past five years.

What's more the IT staff were supporting a number of legacy systems that CAF had decided to replace.
"Our staff provided support on a daily basis. I went back and redrafted the job descriptions, and then under equal opportunity laws made 23 of the staff redundant and invited them to apply for the new positions," Walker told Computerworld UK. In all, only two people left the company as a result, and this was their decision, he added.

The restructure was a painful but necessary step to pave the way for a sweeping set of changes for the international not-for-profit organisation.

CAF is a distinct enterprise that straddles both the financial and charitable sectors. CAF provides banking services to charities, and handles more than £2 billion of charitable funds. As such, CAF is regulated by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) as well as the Charity Commission.

"In many ways we are unique, but in many ways we are no different to any other organisation. We deliver financial services and charity. There's a constant pull in two different directions. And we are heavily regulated like all financial institutions, but also run on limited budgets like most charities," said Walker.

"Also, because our work is in the charitable sector, it's not easy to get return on investment (ROI) in financial terms. Instead the return is often mission related, if it delivers a huge benefit for charitable sector. We make a conscious decision to do projects because they make good charity sense, rather than because they make money. Sometimes they even make a loss."

The IT department had 50 people on its team, a considerable portion of the overall 450 staff at CAF. The team was divided into three divisions: operations; applications development and support; and desktop support. Based in Kent, the team provides remote helpdesk support for the London office.

"We wanted to reduce the costs, whilst increasing the productivity, efficiency and quality of services being delivered," said Walker.

CAF looked to improve the way IT was managed through the introduction and adoption of industry best practices including Prince II project management methodologies and ITIL for service delivery and support.

As part of its transformation, CAF consolidated and replaced ageing legacy systems, developed a consistent IS strategy and started selective outsourcing agreements. ITIL was an integral part of this overhaul.

"ITIL was a light bulb moment. Suddenly I could see the wood for the trees," said Walker. "ITIL documented what we had been doing for years. Someone just wrote it down. And we could see the linkages between processes we had not seen before. There are no new tools, it's really the same processes as 12 years ago to manage incidents on the mainframe. It's only the technology that has changed."

There were some teething problems with ITIL, Walker admits. "We were a victim of our own success. The ITIL service desk was overloaded at first".

Plus, as there was initial scepticism from other departments on areas of accountability, the service desk had difficulties escalating any incident to the people that were responsible for that service. It took a while to "untangle that mess".

"The ITIL framework gave guidance on what to do, but not how to go about it," Walker said. However, version three of the framework, which CAF is currently assessing, is more prescriptive in its approach.

"Version two was more about processes rather than overall objective of what you're trying to achieve, while ITIL version three is focused on how you deliver a different level of service, rather than the number of processes involved in that service," he said.

CAF is continuing its journey with ITIL. "We don't have all the answers," said Walker. "But going through ITIL and taking on a do-it-yourself approach, we know more than we did before."