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Contributed by itSMF

At a glance

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) was formed following the merger of Inland Revenue and HM Customs and Excise Departments. It has over 100,000 staff and computers, 800 buildings, managing £405bn of receipts, £17bn of payments and runs on a £4.5bn budget.

Information management solutions (IMS) was set up to look after the IT requirements for the whole of the HMRC business, and to provide an approach to unify the measures across the new department.

The outsourcing firms on the project also use ITIL as a management process, understanding and using the same terminology is a huge bonus to the speed in which the project moves forward overall.

From any perspective, HMRC is a very big business with more than 100,000 staff and computers, 800 buildings spread across 200 sites, managing £405bn of receipts, £17bn of payments and run on a £4.5bn budget. To give an idea of the scale of HMRC customer contact per year we receive 28 million letters, 33 million calls, and have one million visitors.

Information management solutions (IMS) was set up to look after the IT requirements for the whole of the HMRC business.

Historically the two IT operations had different approaches. In 1994, the Inland Revenue (IR) outsourced its IT data centre operation of services, development of code and most of its IT to EDS. When the contract was re-tendered by IR, the offer from Cap Gemini, with Fujitsu and BT, won. In July 2004 they were awarded the contract.

In contrast HM Customs & Excise’s had a different approach where they had only outsourced the IT infrastructure management with Fujitsu’s Infrastructure Service Agreement (ISA). Fujitsu were responsible for operations but key applications development and maintenance were retained in house. This meant there were two very different approaches to IT outsourced agreements and types of measurements.

Customs & Excise’s way of measurement was fundamentally component based looking at the availability of individual boxes. There was a heavy emphasis on incident management which focussed on fix times.

There were a number of high category buildings in a high priority business as C&E was very much a 24x7 frontier operation policing those attempting to evade customs and illegally import goods. The availability of the systems had to be 24x7 too. So the systems were maintained with a break/fix mindset.

The Inland Revenue approach was more focussed on the delivery of a whole service rather than the individual IT components of that service As an example where, say on Christmas Eve, one mainframe could fail there may be no business impact.

But if the same mainframe failure took place on the busiest day of the year there would clearly be a significant business impact. We had to measure the failure based on that.

In addition, we also had to look at the service delivered by the infrastructure, and identify the impact of changes and failures there e.g. wiring in the buildings, local pieces of kit, servers that allow people to access the data centres services. So we had to measure and look at workstation hours lost. This was based on different business streams across the country.

From these two contrasting approaches we had to form a single department merging the two contracts, the ISA contract would be merged with the Aspire contract, and it all has to be sorted out in the 15 months – from January 2006 to April 2007 - allowed by our CIO.

Because of the outsourcing nature of IT, internally we don’t do pure service management as detailed in the ITIL processes. That is our supplier’s responsibility. However currently we are going through a project to review what is accountable for which elements of ITIL.

Service level agreements (SLAs) are being agreed mutually, rather than simply being imposed as we need SLAs that will work.

We use ITIL as the basis of our processes, but are primarily interested in the areas of Governance and Assurance rather than process execution. If the supplier agrees to specific SLAs we need to know they have the processes in place to make it work.

The main objective now is to take the Aspire and ISA world and merge them together and that is proceeding in three stages.

Firstly, contractual integration has to be finished by end of March 2007 so that we have a single contract with single measurement regime.

Secondly we want to look at measuring business events, which will be a new concept. Can we create an SLA for these? As an example take tax self assessment filing peak times.

Let’s identify all of the IT services to support the event, identify what we want to measure and then ask are we able to do so? So we can specify volumes of filing that need to be processed, and the deadlines for doing it.

This then gives us quantifiable elements against which we assess the service. There will be obligations on the both business and the supplier to ensure that the event happens successfully.

The ITIL Red book summarises nicely the fundamental move towards more business focussed measures where availability of IT components is the least mature and the impact on business the most mature.

Finally we are looking at reporting. This has to be done in terms that the end users, the business people, can understand. So we’ll move away from detail about IT resources, and move to information about services, in terms of the amount of time they were disrupted, and actual time instead of percentages which only make sense if you know the base figures. There will also be statistics on all impacts on the service, even those which are not contractual failures. This will make it possible for the business to see the whole picture.

Developing these metrics was called the Unified Services Measures (USM) project. The first step was to come up with ideas that were different. We initially focused on the contractual side and had a first go at specifying the metrics, but it failed, as they didn’t really give us a business perspective.

It was clear that what we needed was a new approach so we ran a workshop in Febuary 2006 to think about how we could come up with a way to measure the end user experience which would reflect the user experience. This enabled us to come up with a set of measures using a mixture of contractual and wider service based measures, moving to a greater business focus. This work is well in hand now. This now means that from both the Contractual and Service side we are starting to look at things we’ve never been able to measure before and we now have a much fuller picture of what’s happening.

One benefit we got from both organisations is they both used ITIL as management process, so they understand and use the same terminology. Common terminology is really the biggest bonus. The different approaches taken meant that there was still a lot of work to be done, but everyone understands the fundamentals.

However, as you might expect, the people issues were some of the most significant. It was important to get across the message that the changes were taking place. The two different groups had been doing their own thing for a long time, and had developed their own culture so it was a long and steady process getting people to buy-in to the new approach so that they did start to see the benefits. It was important to continue to present to these people in order to get the new ideas embedded across the department, and the suppliers.

We have very strict funding limitations, so if we want money for anything we usually have to identify “hard” benefits. We couldn’t adopt an all singing all dancing solution as we would not be able to get the funding for it to be implemented.

On itSMF Membership

The itSMF has made an important contribution to the project. I have been the chair of the itSMF Midland Regional Group since April 2005 and my role involves identifying subjects to discuss. For many years now the Group’s meetings have been so popular that there are often over-subscribed.

In October 2005 Don Page, CEO of Marval did a workshop session on emotional metrics and used the regional group to test the ideas. That specific topic actually came at the right time to trigger ideas for us to use and take forward. It helped with getting away from technical issues and allowed us to focus on ‘Why are you reporting and making these decisions?’ These are the sort of questions that we need to be asking.

So we had to compromise, meaning that what we are developing is not the ultimate solution. April 2007 is a key milestone and it’ll continue beyond then. Pragmatism determined what we can have in the short term versus what we can achieve in the long term.

A key aspect of the approach has been to enable an improved focus on continual improvement activity, so that we are in a position to measure things, decide how to improve them, and then put those improvements in place.

As a simple example the department is responsible for the supply of power to buildings. So, until now, we haven’t had a single source of information if there are power issues. This means that we haven’t had the visibility to focus on them. We will now be able to report on this, identify a trend and act accordingly.

We are on schedule to deliver key deliverables the contractual integration and the work on the business events that should be measured.

Of course the scale of operation for a project of this kind is huge. The customer base for the Department is the whole country from tax credits through to airports there are very few people in the country not touched by the department. Computing brings many benefits, but often measuring the failures is seen in a negative light, we intend that the steps we have taken will mean it is seen as a way of improving services.

Article supplied by IT Service Management Forum (itSMF), an independent organisation focused on the on-going development and promotion of IT Service Management best practice, standards and qualifications. itSMF conducts forums for its 14,000 UK members, as well as regional meetings, special interest groups and annual conferences. Formed in the UK in 1991 there are now itSMF official chapters in 40 countries.