Bob Harvey – Barnardo’s Director of Information Services

About the organisation

Founded in 1866, Barnardo’s is the UK’s largest children’s charity, supporting 90,000 children, young people and their families through over 300 projects. The organisation’s stated mission is “to help the most vulnerable children and young people transform their lives and fulfil their potential”.

Barnardo’s IT department comprises a team of 130 people, headed up by Bob Harvey. Harvey and his team oversee an IT infrastructure of central servers, 250 local area networks (LANs) and in excess of 3,500 laptops and PCs. This infrastructure enables 300 projects, 300 charity shops, 200 home-based employees, eight regional offices and the organisation’s head office in Barkingside, Essex to be interconnected.

Each day, Barnardo’s receives or generates 2,000 documents relating to its work in the field of child welfare. This information must be stored in such a way to give 5,000 staff quick and easy access to the most up-to-date client casework.

Barnardo’s decided to implement a document management system that would enable it to centralise the storage of all documents in order to build a ‘repository of knowledge’ that was easy to manage and access, offered improved security, and a simple user interface. The organisation chose LiveLink, a knowledge management and collaboration package from Canadian software company Open Text.

The Information Age Interview

Information Age (IA): Barnardo’s works with 90,000 children, young people and their families in the UK. That must create a huge volume of documents. Can you tell us about how the IT department manages that data for the organisation?

Bob Harvey (BH): Everything we do is based on a simple principle: that good practice in working with children and young people is based on good recording. But as you point out, we hold an enormous quantity of records. In 2000, we decided that we needed to find a better way to store and manage that data, and began to investigate how that might be achieved.

IA: How did you manage that data previously, and what inspired you to embark on your latest knowledge management project?

BH: First of all, we had a system known as Client Relationship Management that handled the casework notes generated by our direct work with children and young people. But it was eight years old and staff needed green screen terminals to use it – so we knew it was coming up for replacement. When we took a closer look, we found that out of the two million transactions residing on that system, 65% were documents.

In addition to that data, we stored a huge amount of textual information relating to our fundraising activities and core business processes on 250 LAN [local area network] servers across the UK. The cost of keeping those servers up and running was huge.

Our next question was, ‘Can we bring these two systems together?’ We realised that this would effectively create a document management system. So we took a strategic view that – rather than build it ourselves – we would invest in a document management system that would centralise all this data in a single location. That journey of investigation led to [knowledge management and collaboration software company] Open Text.

IA: Once you’d settled on Open Text as your supplier for the proposed document management system, what was your next step?

BH: We held two-day workshop with 50 children’s services colleagues – our end users – to ask what they needed in running their business. They included project administrators and managers, social workers, assistant and regional directors – colleagues from every part of the chain. We got substantial buy-in from end users, because the system was designed to fit exactly what they had asked for. From an IT perspective, [OpenText’s product] Livelink provides us with a single logical storage and management facility to control security and auditing. From an end-user perspective, caseworkers can now be assured they are working on the most up-to-date case files for projects.

IA: Other than centralising all your data, can you provide some more specific examples of how you’re using LiveLink at Barnardo’s?

BH: One good example is the daybook. When you’re working with a child and its family, you get information throughout the course of the day – and you make notes or jottings. Those jottings themselves aren’t a document, and you don’t want each jotting to be stored individually. Instead, you want a process in the system that allows you to make those notes on a system as you go along – our implementation of LiveLink provides that.

Another good example of how we’ve adapted the system to suit our particular needs is in how we run the security system surrounding a child’s individual data. If you think of a typical project, you want some employees to be able to look at some of the data, but not all of it. For some data, you want cross-project communications; for others data should only be accessible to the social worker on that case. So we’ve done a lot of work applying appropriate levels of security to the data we hold.

IA: At what stage is your implementation of LiveLink at the moment?

BH: Well, we run more than 300 projects nationally and they’re all different. That’s one of our great strengths as an organisation – [our activities] are so diverse. We’ve got nine of [our projects] on pilot versions of LiveLink now, and each of the pilots reflects one area of our activities in one particular area or region. It’s gone incredibly well, because we’ve been able to adjust the system to suit the individual needs of each project.

Our philosophy is to develop the appropriate IT support for the children and young people supported by a specific project, in a specific area, according to their particular needs. That means we allow each project to develop its own LiveLink configuration. In each case, the local regional IT manager is responsible and reports back to us but has overall responsibility for the smooth running of the implementation. All nine pilot projects have tailored the system to suit the individual needs of the project, but all the data feeds back to our headquarters in Barkingside, Essex.

Each pilot has been up and running in about three to four weeks. Our plan is to complete one or two more pilots before October 2002, before commencing a 12-month plan to convert the whole Barnado’s organisation over to LiveLink. After that, we’ll have all textual information in a single, central repository.

It’s a massive shift from the old system. End users have even used the word ‘excellent’! The projects are completely driven from the bottom up. There’s no heavy-handed, central monitoring of the progress of each implementation, as long as [regional managers are] following the guidelines we’ve laid out, and as long as they’re getting the right outcomes.

IA: Do you intend to use the collaborative functions of LiveLink to collaborate and share information more closely with other organisations involved in child welfare?

BH: Over the next three to four years, we see a substantial need in the UK for resolving how we share information about children and young people [with local authorities, care homes and other child support organisations]. And as far as directors of Barnardo’s and I are concerned, that is on our long-term strategic agenda now because we’ve got to be able to all share things in the ‘e-world’. Data may be being stored by the local authority, maybe by another voluntary organisation, maybe ourselves. You don’t want to duplicate or triplicate those records – you want to access each other’s information.

IA: And to what extent are you using your new knowledge management system to refine workflow and streamline business processes?

BH: Initially, we were just looking for a document management system, and in particular, a product we could adapt over time. But in the longer term, we want a product that will take us into workflow management, and we believe that LiveLink already has the capability to handle that. In fostering and adoption, for example, there are very set processes that Barnardo’s employees have to follow [in how they record interviews and write up their research]. Once they have got the recording processes right, fostering and adoption will be a classic example of how we can extend the system’s use by implementing workflow. Some processes will be automated, such as running police checks on prospective foster parents or how data should be shared with social services agencies engaged on that particular child’s case. My expectation is that next year we will start looking at [implementing] workflow seriously.

IA: From what you’ve said, it sounds as if the particular demands of running IT at a not-for-profit organisation have had a major impact on this project.

BH: That’s right. [Barnardo’s] is not about making profit. Once the IT department spends a pound, that pound is gone. Our fundraisers have to go out and ask the public for money in order to raise another pound. There is a fundamental issue of integrity – we’ve got to be accountable to ourselves, the people that have given the money, and to our clients. Roughly half of our income comes from voluntary donations, which heightens our awareness of IT spend. It’s a matter of good stewardship, but my belief is that, in future, as we move more and more into a web-enabled world, we will find more and more economies.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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