NHS Pensions Agency

Company: StaffwareCustomer: NHS Pensions AgencySubmitted by: Spreckley PartnersAn extensive programme of internal restructuring and workflow implementation has, within only a few weeks of a rollout, already made the NHS Pension Agency, significantly more efficient in terms of processing 150,000 transactions each year.

The Need For Change

In 1992 the NHS Pensions Agency, one of a number of Next Step Agencies, was established as part of the Governments drive to make civil service operations more dynamic, modelled on profit driven private sector organisations.

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Previously, the organisation was a division administering a highly regulated pension scheme which focused on each NHS employer rather than the individual account holders – the NHS employees.Based in Fleetwood, Lancashire, the NHS Pensions Agency now manages pensions for over 11,000 NHS organisations such as GP practices and hospitals. It is the largest occupational pension scheme in Western Europe handling over 1.8 million individual pension accounts.Since its launch as a Next Steps Agency, Alec Cowan, the newly appointed CEO and the senior management team began a complete restructuring programme to make the organisation more efficient, profitable and more customer focussed. A key part of this programme’s success was to be the implementation of a tailor made workflow based business automation strategy that would make the redesigned work process function run more efficiently.

 NHS case studyAlec Cowan, CEO, stated, “The old organisation had several characteristics which needed to be radically changed if it was to operate in the 1990s similar to other leading financial institutions. It still suffered from hierarchical management structures with many different layers of management and batch system processing with limited human interface for customers. There were narrow channels of knowledge specialism, so incoming enquiries had to be dealt with by several different people which could cause delays and confusion.

It was also poorly managed in terms of the equipment. Staff used dumb terminals, which made the day to day operation more time consuming than was necessary.””Ultimately my job was to examine the limitations within our current work systems, identify the best way to improve them and then implement new technology to drive the business forward.”

Internal Restructuring

The main drive for restructuring was the need for customer ownership. After a complete review of the organisation’s needs – and those of its customers – ten client centres were created.

Each centre owned around 1,000 NHS employers and specific teams would deal with individual accounts.NHS Pensions also changed its approach to managing its pensions. Unlike other commercial pension organisations, the focus was on scheme management rather than occupational pensions. A training programme was devised and conducted enabling pensions administration staff to gain a broad knowledge of the total NHS Scheme making them capable of dealing with the full range of pensions activities.Cowan added, “This was such a big restructuring programme that it took over three years to change the internal management structure.

We knew if we wanted the organisation to completely change we would need to take a big bang approach and ride through the period of chaos that we knew would occur as one system discontinued and another began. In the long term we knew it would be worth it.”

Further Challenges

By 1997 the shortcomings of the IT infrastructure was becoming more apparent as other processes became more efficient. NHS Pensions had its own basic and totally reactionary work recording and tracking system – Phoenix. This system looked after work recordings producing figures for the number of cases processed each week or month.

It also produced a list each week detailing the cases currently being processed. However as a system it was unable to detail the progress being made or which individual was currently working on the file.Tracking cases was difficult, especially when some enquiries could take weeks to process due to external information requirements. There was no generic alarm system that could alert managers to delays or problems.Added to this was the logistical nightmare of over 2 million paper files. These took a day to be ordered and are housed in a building over six miles awayAccurate and case progress tracking was an important requirement because the NHS Pensions Agency is measured against published targets agreed annually with government ministers.

A final issue, which needed addressing from an IT perspective, was to make the system Year 2000 compliant.

Why Workflow?

Bill McCallum, IS director, said, “We were suffering from having old systems that, with the addition of more modern desktop applications, had become very complex but not very useful from a business point of view. We knew we wanted to go from a paper based to an electronic approach of working, but the task seemed daunting. We wanted to create a new IT system that would completely change the way we were working on a day-to-day basis.”Back in 1995 workflow was recognised as a business tool readily used within the financial industry.

The business mangers decided that workflow would give us a system that would compliment our restructuring investment by allowing the organisation to become truly ownership led and client centred. I was tasked with finding a system, which would be completely flexible, ensuring it, could grow and develop as we did.NHS Pensions reviewed a number of different workflow systems in great detail. The IT department worked with the business managers to establish what was required of the new system in terms of how work processes should function with the obvious emphasis on efficiency.McCallum said, “By 1997 the decision had been made to implement a system that came top of the extensive research – Staffware 97.

It gave us a reasonable cost and entry point, whilst also offering us the flexibility and scalability we required.”

Design and Redesign

By January 1998 Staffware was selected. One of the first tasks was to conduct a scoping study to ensure all elements of NHS Pension’s requirements could be fulfilled through the software. Once complete and approved by NHS Pensions, Staffware recommended one of its key alliance partners, Corporate Network Services (CNS), as the best organisation to integrate Staffware 97 into the existing computer systems and applications. A two-phased approach was adopted.

The first stage was a three-month feasibility study to examine the existing systems as well as the elements that NHS Pensions wanted the new system to contain.Issues such as the record keeping, how enquiries and output were processed, tracking, each operational area’s functions, the Year 2000 and statistical and financial data requirements were all examined.The second stage was implementation. This began in June, using Staffware 97, Microsoft SQL Server database, ICL mainframe and Microsoft Word software. It was divided into three arbitrary stages of development to ensure the final system would be exactly what NHS Pensions required and expected to be delivered when finally rolled out.

Demonstrations of the prototype systems were given at the end of the first two stages of development.A rapid application development (RAD) approach was used throughout the prototyping phase. This was managed with workshops involving both the NHS Pension employees who would be using the system as well as business managers, to ensure all the business, legal and financial issues were also considered.The system testing ran until October and user testing continued until December.

Rollout – January 1999

Although only one night was required to convert all the old systems to the new system, once again NHS Pensions adopted a careful and thorough approach.

The smallest client centre was chosen for initial rollout and monitoring over a one-month period. Full training on a one to one basis was also given to staff throughout the period to ensure all users were happy with the system. Feedback also allowed CNS to make further improvements to the system.By February NHS Pensions felt the system was being sufficiently well received by the team. Full rollout for the other nine client centres could now be implemented and was conducted on a weekly basis.

Complete training was also given during this period until users felt completely confident. Continual improvements were made throughout rollout as best practice policies for each client centre and each operational procedure were identified and adopted, now that the real day-to-day processes were being conducted.In total, to date, 350 of the 500 members of staff at Fleetwood are now using the Staffware solution.

Reaping The Benefits