Infographics Article in International Fire Buyer Magazine - Jan 2014

As appeared in Jan 2014 Edition: Driving efficiency in the fire and rescue sector through improved integration and collaboration

Russell Wood, Director of Sales at Infographics, the developers of FireWatch and FloSuite software solutions, explains how the economic downturn has led to the rescue services becoming more integrated and efficient...

The challenging economic climate over the past six years has given rise to a related drive for increased efficiency within the public sector. Growing momentum has been achieved among blue-light organisations in particular, who are actively pursuing ways to deliver joined-up working within their own Services and achieve increased collaboration with neighbouring authorities. Fire and Rescue Services (FRSs) have been at the forefront of this new integrated approach. In Scotland, previously autonomous FRSs have merged into one and the amalgamation process is well-advanced. Although this same level of integration across the rest of the UK is unlikely, there have been definite moves made towards greater sharing of facilities and resources, and innovative joint mobilisation programmes.

Another key driver for change is the need to be able to effectively manage more flexible staff resourcing practices, as the traditional boundaries between Retained and Wholetime and standard shift patterns are removed.

These factors have produced a sea-change in approach, which has in turn generated increased interest in specialist software solutions that can assist and support these new more flexible and joined-up ways of working. Traditionally, the FRS sector very much relied on multiple, separate solutions to manage core back-office and operational areas within their organisations. They would typically purchase a separate training and development system, personnel system, health and safety recording system, duty planner/rota management system, and so on. And none of these solutions would ‘talk’ to each other in a comprehensive way.

This meant that departments were discrete, and operating as ‘silos’, with the head of each function purchasing systems without involvement from a higher strategic level focused on assessing the whole organisational impact. In terms of management information, this approach created issues with required central government reporting and compliance. And on a day-to-day basis it made it more difficult for senior managers to plan and gain a realtime view of operations across the enterprise.

In the last two years there has been a noticeable, large-scale migration away from isolated working practices, with many FRSs now leaning strongly towards integrated systems and approaches that can bring together the different parts of their organisation within one management platform.

At Infographics, a UK-based software house and Microsoft Gold Partner, we’ve chosen to place our main focus on opportunities that have arisen from this confluence of factors currently driving change within Fire and Rescue. One of our core products is a system developed to empower Fire and Rescue organisations to integrate teams and departments, and provide mechanisms for working collaboratively across organisational boundaries.

This strategy has brought us great success: FireWatch, an Enterprise Resource mechanisms and Infographics is currently working with a number of clients and mobilisation system vendors to deliver seamless, bi-directional flows of data and processes in this area, targeted at delivering another level of efficiency and data quality gains.

North Yorkshire is just one example of FireWatch in use within the UK FRS sector, and these benefits are mirrored by the experiences of multiple similar clients, with around 20 FRSs now using the system.

So whilst the austerity measures endured by businesses, public sector organisations and individuals during the global economic downturn have been a major challenge for all concerned, the positive spin is that they have also provided the impetus for organisations to do things differently.

This certainly applies within the fire and rescue sector. And most encouraging of all, these more cost-effective and efficient ways of working are also in many cases improving the quality of the essential services they provide and reducing risk for their employees and the public.

Management (ERM) solution, is now the number one product of this type in the UK, with around one third of all FRSs using it. We’ve seen dramatic increases in client numbers and usage over the last two years, directly attributable to successful client deployments and the increased demand for this approach.

In a broader sense, our solutions have enabled UK FRSs to work towards and reach their targets for efficiency improvements and modernisation. Our clients have been able to transform the way they manage their operations and administrative processes, using our products to underpin those change management programmes, and generate significant results.

For example, North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (NYFRS) came to market seeking a solution that could assist in the efficient management of operational staff and availability planning. The information the organisation held pertaining to staff was spread across a number of disconnected administrative IT systems, including HR, Training and Development, and other areas, making it difficult to manage in a co-ordinated way.

The Service had previously used multiple administrative ‘resource’ systems to provide a view on crewing levels and appliance availability. But in order to achieve a dynamic, automated vision of crewing availability, it became apparent that their FRS systems would need to have an in-built ‘understanding’ of the complexities and rules regarding contracts, roles and skills, which should be available within one central place.

NYFRS is now using FireWatch to integrate and manage HR contracts, recording of personal details, availability management/duty planning, health and safety, occupational health, and training and development.

As Jonathan Foster, Group Manager – Efficiencies at NYFRS, said: “FireWatch has and continues to make significant contributions to the efficiencies programme within NYFRS and is now an integral part of our day-to-day business. Although it has been a challenge to implement, we are now reaping the true benefits of a fully integrated system which is continually being improved to serve the individual needs of NYFRS and our partner services across the UK.”

It is now the intention of North Yorkshire, and a key driver for many of our other clients, to interface the integrated availability, skills and appliance data FireWatch can provide with their mobilisation system. FireWatch includes standard interface

Benefits that FireWatch has delivered to NYFRS include:

  • A significant contribution to NYFRS’s efficiencies programme; by consolidating functional administrative support, a 40% administrative staff saving was achieved;
  • Reduced large amounts of spreadsheets and databases across all departments, leading to reduced system maintenance and avoidance of duplication. In one department alone, it has resulted in the removal of 15 spreadsheets and 2 databases;
  • Removal of paper records for Retained Crewing Availability, leading to reduced administration and improved automated reporting systems for management information;
  • Removal of paper records for Retained Payment Claims, resulting in reduced administrative burden from stations through to the payroll department and more speedy, accurate payments which can be monitored by individual members of staff;
  • Provision of a one-stop shop for operational crews from declaration of crewing availability, attendance at operational incidents, recording individual activity at incidents for skills maintenance, along with payment claims;
  • Removal of paper timesheet and holiday records for support staff;
  • Consolidated one-stop system for managers to gain timely and relevant information for the entire organisation, including support staff and managers;
  • Integral to the NYFRS Training and Development Strategy, FireWatch has led to a reduction in risk to staff through effective skills and qualification management and, ultimately, to a more accurate Training Needs Analysis year-on-year.