Case study: Salford Foundation

Meet: Mairi Palmer

Company: Salford Foundation

Company background

We are Salford Foundation, a social inclusion charity that has been creating better futures for young people and adults in Salford and Greater Manchester for the past 30 years.

We manage a diverse range of projects with young people and adults – ranging from: mentoring, raising aspirations and improving resilience of young people in schools and colleges; through to tackling poverty and supporting adults with complex needs in our women only centre and in prisons across Lancashire and GM. We also support people into work through accredited training and one-to-one employability support.

As well as retaining personal information about our clients, we often collect special category and criminal records data. As a result, information and cyber security is an extremely important feature of our work.

As with many other charities, our ability to invest in digital transformation has been limited by funding constraints. Prior to the GM Cyber Foundry programme (GMCF) we operated largely manual and time-consuming systems for our data processing, and we felt that our processes could be improved both in terms of efficiency and data security. This need was accelerated as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

What were the highlights of the course?

The workshop sessions provided us with an understanding of data protection with regards to security. They were also an excellent networking opportunity allowing us to connect with businesses that were not necessarily in the same sector. We have formed fantastic partnerships bringing new perspectives and invaluable collaborations to our organisation.

In the second phase, the handover documentation and step by step guidance produced during the technical assistance have allowed us to implement the proof-of-concept quickly. The guidance has been used on a number of occasions by our team, given us the confidence we needed before launching the new system to our clients.

How has being on the course helped you as an individual?

The programme has given me confidence and awareness in cyber security and digital processes around this. For the organisation, we have confidence now that we are moving in the right direction with regards to our transformation.

How has being on the course helped your business?

Firstly, GMCF provided us with a thorough base knowledge of cyber security particularly current threats and considerations.

Secondly, the subsequent phase of the programme allowed us to focus on one specific area of our activity (the registration of Young People onto our Targeted Youth services) and develop a digital registration process that is both automated and secured by design. As part of the project: University of Salford built a demonstrator for us that we could use to develop a digital registration tool; offered us advice and guidance on an implementation of Microsoft 365; and also researched case management software options that we could use to capture the data once collected.

All of this support allowed us to achieve efficiencies across the whole organisation (via the implementation of Microsoft 365) and more specifically in terms of registering people onto our programmes. Being able to digitise our registration and onboarding process has allowed us to bid for funding to expand our services and increase intake onto our programmes. This would not have been possible with our legacy manual processes.

Is there anything you do now in your business that you wouldn’t have otherwise done?

We are able to work with more agility, replacing a number of manual processes that relied either on staff being in the office or by a cumbersome workflow involving a lot of email traffic. Being able to streamline processes helped us to respond to increased demand for our services during the pandemic and allowed us to work remotely during lockdown.

Would you recommend the course to other people? Why?

Yes, definitely. The business workshops were an excellent and wide introduction to cyber security. GMCF helped us to look at our existing systems, giving us reassurance for the things that were working well but also helped us to identify areas of improvement.

The technical assistance opened our eyes to what we could achieve. Having access to the expertise from the University of Salford brought a new perspective that we did not have in house due to limited technical resource.

Have you had any recent successes in your business as a result of the programme?

The GMCFhas been a catalyst for new digital projects, supporting our digital transformation journey. The process started just before the pandemic, but obviously escalated considerably as a result of lockdowns.

We have recently been awarded with additional funding to increase activities more widely in Greater Manchester. One of the projects would not be sustainable if we were still using our old processes. We would not have been able to budget for it without a digital process, due to the amount of administration required and additional staff time that we could not have afforded.

We have also recruited a digital apprentice and we expect to recruit more employees to continue the digital transformation of our organisation.

Do you have any advice for other small to medium-sized businesses?

Take advantage of the opportunity and register for the programme. Small organisations such as ours have limited resources available to invest in digital and cyber security initiatives, but they are as important to our success as they are to larger, more established companies. The GMCF project gave us the opportunity to learn widely about cyber security and then focus on a specific issue in later phases.

What was the best thing about your partnership with the universities?

Access to expertise that we would not been able to afford otherwise. As a charity local to University of Salford, we are already lucky enough to have an ongoing relationship and have collaborated on a number of projects over recent years as part of the University’s commitment to the local area. This was our first time receiving digital support from the University and their involvement has been invaluable.

Is there any follow-up help/support that you are looking for? 

Yes, we are exploring other opportunities with the GMCF team at the University of Salford. A follow-on project to our GMCF work is to develop a Digital Welcome Pack for new registrants to our services and it is possible that a university intern placement could provide an attractive research project for a student.