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Contributed by itSMF

At a glance

St. Helens is responsible for 179,000 residents and approximately 8,500 employees. IT is part of the finance division which lies within the chief executives department with around 60 staff split between development and operations units with their own internal IT trainers.

St. Helens Council adopted ITIL to provide them with a unified way of applying IT to the organisation.

During 2005 and 2006, benefits include that the number of service desk calls handled within the agreed targets has increased from 92% to 96%.

By being firm adopters of ITIL, the council became one of the first IT sections in a local authority to achieve ISO/IEC20000 certification. Achieving ISO/IEC20000 status elevates the IT sections professionalism within the council and unifies the section around a single purpose.

When I took over as IT manager in 2003, St. Helens was not implementing service management using any formal process.

St. Helens had a huge programme of work to deliver under the Implementing Electronic Government (IEG) programme. The council was about to decommission its central mainframe and this had to be managed within a properly controlled framework. We needed to ensure that a consistent approach to IT delivery would be applied to achieve these goals. ITIL was identified as the perfect vehicle to achieve this.

The council adopted a performance management framework (PMF) which all departments in the authority work within. This system was short listed for the itSMF Project of the Year Awards in 2004. ITIL was seen to compliment this system and the way the IT department wanted to work to achieve their ultimate goals.

ITIL was seen as so important that all IT staff were trained to foundation level with others having undertaken the practitioner, or service manager certificate training. All best practice components making up ITIL and the ISO/IEC20000 standard are in operation.

Bringing the staff on board was difficult at first, as IT had to get them to understand why ITIL was being used. For many people it was not immediately obvious what the benefits would be but as everyone started to follow the same methods in service support and delivery, the staff came on board. The introduction of the Infra Service Desk really helped to pull things together as all of the council’s employees were exposed to it in one way or another.

IT was able to embed ITIL by involving everyone at every stage, and restructuring the IT section allowed redefinition of the processes. A further step was to make individual team and project leaders the key people who would control and deliver the best practice through their own team allocations. This worked well in areas like the new service desk, configuration, change, financial and ITSCM management.

The main challenges during this process were documenting procedures and letting the staff see the benefits, as well as the rest of the council. In this case the production of statistics to support the changes enabled IT to demonstrate those benefits to the staff and also to build relationships with our client base by applying regular client review meetings.

For a council there are special needs around implementing ITIL, mainly around delivering the IEG programme.

Money is always an issue in terms of delivering anything. ITIL works best with strong leadership and encouragement and it can be delivered without huge investment, training and consultancy. However there is a baseline of work that will always be required no matter how it is ultimately implemented. In this case all of the work had to done within the annual training budgets allocated to IT.

One key aspect of the project was taking a pragmatic approach. St. Helens has always adopted a practical approach to moving IT forward, and see ITIL and ISO/IEC20000 very much in that vein, so we are always keen to look at how we do things and apply the knowledge that the council gains and profits from any lessons that are learned. Our view is that: “A practical approach is a better approach”.

Establishing the baseline was an essential part of the work. It was crucial to allowing the IT section to focus on key areas to be improved in the service delivery and support areas. Without it we would have struggled to define a route to move forward, and would certainly not have been able to move as quickly as we did and hence achieve the benefits as soon. It was always envisaged that we would be doing another baseline exercise two years down the line and we have stuck to that goal.

In addition to running the foundation, practitioner and service manager training that was needed for ITIL, it was supported with lots of on the job training and regular seminars to keep staff aware of what was trying to be achieved and constantly re-enforcing the message. This allowed IT to keep the budgets for training and consultancy on an annual basis in check and to gain maximum benefit from this combined approach.

In my role as the business ICT manager, I am the ITIL champion and have the backing of the senior management and chief officer group (reporting to the chief executive). It was my job to coordinate the ITIL and ISO/IEC20000 efforts with these managers and officers to educate them on what IT was trying to achieve. IT is now seen as a proactive rather than a reactive section and this is all down to the application of best practice and the ISO/IEC20000 certification attempt.

Assistant treasurer of IT and audit at St. Helens Council, Cath Fogarty says of the work achieved: "Ste’s initiative is a major accomplishment. To even attempt to try to reach ISO/IEC20000 in such a short timescale of 10 months is incredibly challenging as there are more than 130 targets to be met to achieve the certified status. His progress in this area has been seen as a major success for the IT section, and more importantly the council."

On itSMF Membership

ItSMF’s contribution has been massive. It reenforced the whole process, and enabled us to engage with others at the special interest groups (SIGs) and Seminars. This gives us continual insight and guidance into where service management and ITIL are going in the future. We are regularly attending the itSMF SIGs, and we are especially interested in the ISO/IEC20000 SIG.

The itSMF conference brings all of this together, but there are so many other things going on within the itSMF through the year that membership will benefit everyone in the Council, not just those of us who are looking to achieve ISO/IEC20000 certification.

A major benefit is that the IT section is now recognised as a proactive part of the organisation. In addition ITIL supported the ultimate delivery of the IEG programme of work and was a major contributing factor in attaining the BVPI 157 score of 100%.

Ongoing analysis under the PMF annual service plans shows that IT is meeting their council set objectives, on an annual and continuing basis, to deliver efficiencies through new projects. An example of this is the imminent deployment of a corporate EDRM system and new procurement and accounts payable systems, which is to be undertaken by the IT Section using the PRINCE 2, and ITIL to manage change and release processes.

The gap analysis in January 2006 revealed that out of the 132 targets to be achieved under the ISO/IEC20000 standard we have compliance with 105, with no major non-conformities in any. This represents an overall score of 80%. Of the 20% remaining areas of compliance, about 70% relates to the documenting of procedures and practices. The IT section has set the goal and is on target to achieve accreditation by February 2007.

For the council, the delivery of an efficient and cost effective service is paramount and one that best serves their ultimate client base: the public.

IT systems underpin so many elements of the service that the authority delivers that it is crucially important that the IT section is well run and cost effective. As an example of how well the programme is working, one of the goals was to move to a more centralised handling of service desk calls, through the infra service desk initiative. Comparison between 2005 and 2006 has shown an increase of 15% in the number of calls able to be handled remotely, that is from the centre.

Also the number of service desk calls handled within the agreed targets has increased from 92% to 96%, which is clearly a significant increase over what was already a high figure. It is clear from results like this that ITIL, and now ISO/IEC20000, is certainly helping us in the delivery of this goal.

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.