How many Third Sector bodies would live to be able to say this about their experience of technology: that it had helped address multiple IT challenges and ended up with a more efficient, secure way that supports staff working remotely right across the UK?
The fact is that very few smaller charities will be able to achieve this level of progress without significant third party commitment and support. But one charity that says it’s achieved just that is independent fostering agency The Children’s Family Trust.
With over 70 years of legacy working in this area, the body now operates out of four regional offices across the UK and works with over 50 local authorities, from Durham in the north of England to Hampshire on the south coast. Perhaps somewhat sadly - given the nature of its work - the charity says it has undergone rapid growth in recent years, which has required it to increase headcount and move into larger premises.
To maintain operational efficiency and says it needed a technology partner that could support with the implementation of on-premise and cloud based server and applications that would help facilitate remote and paperless working, as its Finance Director, David Homer, told diginomica/government:
Many of our staff are physically out and about, with approximately 25 people working remotely at any one time, and home visits with foster carers or meetings with local authorities often require significant paperwork. We wanted to reduce the number of staff carrying physical documents – which can contain potentially sensitive information – and help them go paperless. Additionally, we wanted to make sure we were adopting best practice around data security policies and implement a series of processes that would safeguard critical data.
Horner also says that the ideal next step would be to both support the move and centralise our systems, as all this presented the charity with an ideal opportunity to review its whole IT estate and make sure it wasn’t being held back by any legacy systems issue. And as a charity with limited resources, he says, he and the rest of his management peers didn’t want to be commissioning different suppliers for different projects.
Finding one partner who could fulfil all the Trust’s IT requirements was the most desirable outcome, and Horner says Birmingham-based IT services firm Probrand was the supplier who best met his needs.
The company’s work for the charity started off with a full cybersecurity audit, he says, which was deemed highly necessary and he says identified a number of ways the Trust could better secure both its systems and processes. A number of cybersecurity measures were then jointly implemented, and a series of data security policies to help staff were also drawn up and rolled out - and it’s even been able to win National Cybersecurity Centre ‘Cyber Essentials’ accreditation, the government-supported scheme to make organisations more IT-secure.
We have limited IT knowledge internally, and it was important we work with someone who could do some hand-holding and guide us. There were several parts to this project, including an IT systems upgrade, a review of our kit, on-site support as well as guidance on where we needed to make improvements; we couldn’t rely on a single piece of technology, we needed a partner with expertise.
Security, agility and productivity are all top of agenda for many organisations and our move to improve cybersecurity and enterprise mobility through cloud and remote working initiatives will only serve to improve how we deliver better services to our customers.
‘Secure flexible working’
First fruits of the partnership, he told us, was a big improvement in communications and a successful office move.
We were experiencing capacity issues with our legacy email server so we’ve moved to Office 365 which is a much friendlier solution for those working remotely who may be checking in on mobile devices. Separately, when we initially discussed the move to larger offices we were uncertain as to whether we would have to replace servers in all our regional offices or whether there was a more agile solution.
Again, we looked to a cloud-based solution to tackle the problem and staff around the country are now supported by one main server at head office which is protected by a cloud back-up solution.
Horner also says his partner firm conducted an extensive IT asset review, which, he says, suggested that some in-house Apple computers occasionally encountered problems when sending documents to local authorities - and issue now avoided by a new Windows-only environment. Next steps include embracing secure flexible working, and possibly a lot more:
We’d eventually like to move more in to the cloud, and we’re working to see what else can be done to improve the way we work. This project also helps us to understand how we can change working practices and culture within the organisation so that all staff embrace IT change. In this respect we are just making a start, and we are conscious of the need for training and buy-in from all staff who are social work focussed.
What advice would The Children’s Family Trust give other Third Sector organisations, based on its experience working with a managed services partner? For Horner, there’s a definite answer to that question:
I’d recommend other organisations take a proactive approach to tackling what is a fine balancing act between improving operational efficiency and security against budgets.
Organisations must start by auditing and reviewing their current processes and systems, before mapping out a solution and a plan - then delivering on that plan in a measured manner.