Our client is a multi-office firm of accountants with 750 staff across several UK offices. They have a mature practice management system, with over 25 years’ of data, and a largely on-premise basis for systems.
There is a large and effective internal IT department spanning both “business-as-usual” and development.
Over the years the firm had acquired different systems to deal with the varying requirements of its service lines. Each of these served their purposes adequately, but in isolation, creating silos of information bound to either a particular function, such as HR, or a single service line.
Data was not being exploited fully, and the silos in data were reflected in a silo mentality to client-facing operations as well, with a lack of cohesive client service.
The IT leadership team recognised that this could be improved, and felt that a common design framework would be desirable to bind systems together. The opportunity would also be taken to improve in-system data, meaning both the quality of that data and the processes around its gathering and maintenance.
The brief was to create a systems & data framework governing development, procurement, development and customisation, to allow the firm to define and then focus on its own needs – as described in this framework – rather than be beholden to the whims of its suppliers.
The primary benefit of this framework would create a reference point against which to measure all future technical work and commercial decisions.
Furthermore, this approach would allow the firm to more easily contract-out some IT services – often to the suppliers themselves – rather than rely on internal knowledge.
We reviewed the current use of data in the firm, particularly in the practice management system. Whilst this had been in use for a long time, the structure of the data was sub-optimal and needed a project – defined by us but undertaken by the firm – to transform it. This new arrangement of data was more correct, and better suited the wider uses for that data once integrated with other systems now extant in the firm.
With the data improvement underway, we worked with the firm to create the framework as described, with three governing principles:
- The first was a common database, drawn from and writing to other systems, designed to serve the data needs of the firm now and in the future. This also had a common data standard with which all future purchases would be expected to comply.
- The second was a common taxonomy and agreed storage arrangement for data, minimising the need for data transformation; this also made it easier for the “professional” side of the firm to describe processes to technical staff. This taxonomy was universal across all parts of the firm, spanning the public-facing website through to service line operations and on to software development.
- The third was a common user interface providing a platform for viewing and editing data, tasks and workflows, which would allow for future evolutions/releases with a minimum of user interference.
We felt that this approach would be used to validate and contain future IT development work, process improvement, and procurement. It would consolidate effort and ensure the value in individual projects would extend beyond the project itself. It would also simplify maintenance and adoption, enforce a baseline for operations, and improve comprehension of complex systems by lay users.
It would also avoid monolithic updates and the disruption and instead provide users with a common platform and user experience within continuous improvements over time.
The firm adopted the framework we proposed. With some input from us, they appointed a senior developer as the lead for the project, who in turn had junior development and data resources in his team.
Using the principles of this framework, they built their own data warehouse to store and manipulate data, and chose to use an in-house-developed intranet to act as the user interface.
Within the framework they then first attached their practice and document management systems, then key service line systems such as tax and accounts production, their client-facing financial processing platform, and key internal systems such as HR and active directory.
Adoption has been excellent throughout the firm and also throughout the client base, using a portal they added into this framework. Users commonly refer to the data they need, the processes they undertake, and the reporting they access, in terms of the intranet they use rather than the underlying production and management systems.
Data has been de-siloed, and access to the data, whilst respecting security rights and privileges, has been considerably broadened.
The adoption of a uniform framework has also made discussions around IT easier to host, with non-technical users better able to articulate that wants and needs.