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Transformations Highbury College Portsmouth

Project Name: Field Testing Costing Tools

Lead Institution: Highbury College, Portsmouth

Project Lead: Paul Rolfe, Head of Technology & Innovation

 

Background

 

The College had a business need to develop its cost modelling approach towards IT projects and services. The College was assessed by Ofsted as a Grade 1 Provider in 2011 and was at the same time assessed through the  Skills Funding Agency (SFA) as Grade 1 with regards to financial health and management. Currently the College uses relatively basic cost modelling tools and was keen to test more models that would better inform our decision making and evaluation processes, ultimately improve the value for money.

 

As tough economic times progress it has become apparent that the College needs a robust methodology to monitor the total cost of ownership for its IT Services and compare overall costs of particular services. In addition to this the College required a process of developing standardized businesses cases for investment changes to the IT infrastructure. It also became apparent through the project the increasing need to be able to make financial comparisons of services run in-house against shared and commercial third party services such as cloud technologies. The outputs of this would help inform the Colleges IT Strategy 2013-16 which is currently being written. 

 

Aims and objectives

 

Like most colleges in the sector we have a number of change management programmes in progress looking at efficiency savings and tangible benefits specifically around IT based projects.

 

The key aims of this project were:

 

  • Understand the current costs of particular services, analyzing ways in which the service could become more efficient to make savings.
  • Compare costs against other services; do they offer good value for money?
  • Provide a method of creating dialogues with teams across the IT department as well as engaging with the College's Finance Department. 
  • Provide a means to compare costs against commercial and shared services including Cloud. 
  • Develop a standardized IT project business case tailored to the College. 

 

For this reason we were interested in evaluating three tools:

 

  • Impact Calculator - a tool that can be used to quantify efficiency savings and tangible benefits arising from process change. Originally developed in the field of records and information management it is now being applied across a range of initiatives in universities and colleges.
  • Toolkit for Costing IT Services - Oxford University produced a Toolkit for Costing IT Services as part of the JISC Flexible Service Delivery programme. The toolkit draws heavily on the principles of TRAC.
  • Sustainable Information Technology In Tertiary Education (SUSTE-IT) - The SUSTE-IT project investigated ways in which information technology within universities and colleges could be made more sustainable.

 

There are a number of identifiable benefits for the College which are qualitative and quantitative. As an organization which is financially sound and mature in its IT developments the College sought to further enhance the management of our IT Service by implementing a holistic approach to costing the systems and services that are offered. 

 

The business case

 

The business case for undergoing this project is clear. The Further Education Sector is facing increasing demands to become more efficient and 'do more for less' as such all College departments including the IT department needs to ensure that it is providing value for money. To deliver this it needs to understand the full of running IT services and be confident that these services are running as efficiently as possible. With the increase in Cloud and Shared Services providers it is easy to make suitable comparisons and as such hard conversations will need to be had where services can be offered more effectively by third parties.

 

In addition to the above it is essential that college departments justify IT spend on projects, fully costing the implementation and running costs. This will allow capital monies to be spent on programmes that will have the greatest impact against the IT Strategy and Vision Plan. 

 

Key drivers

 

The key drivers for the project have been the opportunity to explore robust ways of determining what constitutes value for money in terms of ICT Services. By evaluating and applying the selected tools, we had the opportunity to explore the cost of our existing infrastructure as well as evaluating appropriate future developments and their associated developments. As the College looks to develop new models to deliver its IT Services (e.g. Cloud or Shared Services) it is important that we have a baseline in which to measure.

 

JISC resources/technology used

 

The overall aim of the project was to evaluate the effectiveness of the tools mentioned in the aims and objectives section, as such the following JISC resources were used extensively for this project.

 

The following weblinks have been used as part of this project:

 

 

Outcomes

 

Achievements

 

The project was a useful exercise for the College and it met the key aims. Key achievements for the project were:

 

  • Successful evaluation of the Colleges Sustainable IT Policy by using the Sustainable Information Technology In Tertiary Education (SUSTE-IT). This has helped evaluate the cost savings for the implementation of thin clients technologies and server virtualisation. This has ratified the decision making for this project and has resulted in phase two of the thin client technology roll-out. It has also highlighted opportunities for further savings by investing in eco printers and projectors. The College will use this information to inform its capital spend for 2013/14.
  • Successful evaluation of the Impact Calculator for the Online Enrolments project. This helped plan and justify project costs as well as evaluate the project success for the Colleges Leadership Team (CLT). This ultimately led to improved confidence in IT projects and the outcomes.
  • The Toolkit for Costing IT Services was used to evaluate the colleges open source VLE Moodle. The project outcome proved highly useful for the College when evaluating other commercial products as well as looking at 3rd party management and hosting.
  • There have been a number of notable achievements from this project which has led to a new approach for the College costing new projects. Taking into account the Toolkit for Costing IT Services and the JISC Business Case Assessment Form we created our own full cost Business Case Assessment Form which included the expected full life time costs of the project. This form has been used to propose three major IT projects, this was a new student portal; MyDay, a new web filtering solution and a new password and identify management solution. The College's IT Committee was very complementary and proactive in the development of this. A key result of this has been more detailed discussions on the cost vs impact of IT related projects. The College is also working with other Colleges through the 157 Group to test this new template and gather feedback for further improvement. A copy of the template can be downloaded from here.

 

Benefits

 

The benefit to Highbury College by undertaking this evaluation project has been the recognition and deeper cost understanding by both the College's Leadership Team (CLT) and the IT Services Team. 

 

The project as whole has:

 

  • Allowed the College to use proven tools to evaluate the cost of the Colleges in house services, bench marking against third party solutions ensuring that best value for money prevails.
  • Delivered a structured approach to project planning and costing to include the full lifecycle of project costs. 
  • Developed an online (SharePoint) form with workflow to approve IT projects and ratify costs. 
  • Ratified the College's decision to implement desktop virtualisation
  • Has identified savings in a number of College services which would not have an impact on the quality of the service delivery. 

 

Drawbacks

 

  • One of the key draw backs was working through the tools with limited resources. Further Education is less well resourced than Higher Education and the nature of tools (which were developed with a HE focus) required a large amount of time to interpret the tools, gather the information and prepare it for use in the tool. I would argue that there is a need for a much lighter cost modelling tool specifically for the Further Education market. It would also be very useful if the outputs could be saved anonymously as part of the tool so that organisations have the opportunities to benchmark themselves against other organisations. 
  • As the project ran over a year and involved a number of colleagues across a number of College centres it has not always been easy to get staff together to discuss and work on the project.

 

Key lessons

 

There has been a number of key lessons which have emerged as a result of undertaking this project. A summary of the key lessons are highlighted below:

 

  • Analyzing the full costs of services is incredibility complex and time consuming, especially for large systems that have a number of interdependencies and a number of different teams (some outside the IT department) that contribute to the successful management and delivery of the service.
  • It has been essential to have the buy-in from the entire IT team, the service users and the Finance team in order to fully understand the complex nature of some of the College's IT Services. It has also been necessary to involve the Colleges Estates Team to help calculate power and cooling costs to systems as well as other relevant contributions.
  • Benchmarking can be useful but there is a huge variety between institutions and each has differing priorities.
  • It is much easier to gain investment and measure the outcomes from IT projects with a robust and effective business plan. 

 

Looking ahead

 

There are several areas of development that have come out of this project and that we would like to take forward in the next few years:

 

  • Financial cost analysis of all College systems and look to providing a rolling analysis of costs against external third party opportunities to ensure the College receives the best value for money from its IT investments. In addition to this also analyzing where the College is not spending enough money on IT services.
  • Continue to develop and improve the IT Business Case template inline with the College's strategic needs ensuring IT investment is targeting projects that return the best value and the greatest impact.
  • Continue to monitor the sector and outside the sector for other suitable cost modeling tools.
  • Engage in a dialogue with the other Colleges to benchmark the costs of providing IT systems and services to add value to the cost modeling exercise. 

 

Sustainability

 

The work that has been undertaken as part of this transformations project has had a huge impact on how the College manages its IT Systems. The College is keen to take forward the work of this project and use it as a benchmark for all future IT projects which will now become normal practice as part of the operations of the IT Department. 

 

In addition to this, Janet has also launched a new programme called Financial X-ray. This programme has similar aims to that of this project:

 

  • Easily understand and compare overall costs for particular services
  • Develop business cases for changes to IT infrastructure
  • Create an ongoing mechanism for dialogue between finance and IT departments using standard terms of reference
  • Provide a means of highlighting the comparative cost of shared and commercial third party services.

 

The College is currently engaging with the Janet team to understand how the work from this project can also be picked up and progressed. 

 

Further Information

For further information, please contact:

 

Paul Rolfe - paul.rolfe@highbury.ac.uk
Head of Technology & Innovation

Highbury College, Portsmouth