Claire Bevington joined the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) 17 years ago. She’s now Finance and Corporate Services Director, responsible for both finance, HR and a broad range of other functions besides.
In that time, she’s been instrumental in moving IFE from a very paper-heavy process, leading away from duplications and complicated processes onto something much more streamlined.
“Process improvement is a keen area of interest,” she says. “It can help free up time for me and the team, reducing unnecessary stress through automation.”
The Institution of Fire Engineers and Grenfell
IFE is a 100-year-old brand. Traditionally, members have been predominantly firefighters, but it’s now recognised that fire professionals encompass a more diverse range of experts.
“The remit has grown to recognise all fire professionals; fire risk assessors, design engineers, fire investigators, researchers, advisors, consultants and many more, in all stages of their career.”
Grenfell had a big impact on the fire sector. The challenge and opportunity for IFE is meeting the influx of demand for third party accreditation of competence, with many members required to demonstrate their professional credentials in order to secure employment or contracts.
“Many IFE volunteers had been contributing to working groups that were established by Dame Judith Hackitt to inform her independent review following the tragic Grenfell fire,” says Claire.
The new CRM system
The largest transformation project Claire worked on came about five years ago when she was still finance manager – she introduced an organisation-wide CRM system.
“On the old system, thousands of invoices were posted, credit control was letter-based, customer details were changed manually over phone and keyed in, and in an international organisation; this wasn’t customer friendly, the processes were just extremely inefficient,” she explains.
“When we sourced the new CRM, it had to stack up big time. We had a backlog of paperwork and were very stressed. It took months to catch up all the time. The CRM had to do it all.”
“It was such a significant project and a massive cultural shift within the whole organisation, not just finance.”
The new CRM system was to lay the foundation for further automation and improvement. While larger organisations might have a team of people working on bringing in, testing and rolling out new systems, that wasn’t an option at IFE.
“We had to get everybody on board, block out a day a week over a period of time, and test as we went.”
Claire and key members of her team put in overtime to get it sorted, working on the implementation during weekends.
Claire’s role at IFE
Claire’s current role is wide ranging, covering finance, HR, marketing, governance and IT. She leads the strategic direction for IT, advises the board on matters related to financial performance and liaises with lawyers and other external experts to ensure organisational compliance.
“Each of those areas – HR, marketing, IT – they’re all a profession themselves. I can’t do it all, so I have to build a good team who I can rely on to work together.”
Claire is an advocate for challenging the status quo. There is always a better way to do things, she says.
“We constantly have projects going on. Recently we rolled out a re-branding project. Obviously, there was a lot of risk – we’re a 100 year old international organisation and a lot of our members were wedded to our brand. Through working together and listening to our stakeholders the roll out has been incredibly successful.”
Transformation is a continuous process
One of their next projects will bring together the CRM with IFE’s website, creating yet more streamlined processes while ensuring the website has the right content and information which is relevant for IFE’s customers. Some of the register of members are still manually created; this also needs to be automated.
“We’re also introducing paperless direct debit and expanding our online application journeys and much more. We now have a flexible and scalable platform in place, and we need to capitalise on that,” says Claire.
“Transformation has no end, we have to move with the times, being agile and adaptable. We’re not a huge multi-million pound organisation, so we don’t have the budget to progress large scale programmes. Large projects come up from time to time, but in the main, we now focus on small impactful changes.”
Equally, transformation doesn’t just evolve technology – it’s also about simplification and culture change.
“It’s a continuous cycle of improvement, particularly for organisations such as ours. We need to take a more modern evergreen approach, not rely on one-off big bangs.”
In Claire’s view, continuous transformation is more rewarding and colleagues are more likely to adopt the methodology.
As she explains, “It’s about taking achievable milestones to gain buy-in rather than one person leading. People get satisfaction because making lots of smaller changes can be more achievable and realistic, and you can be more agile and adaptive as a result.”
Claire’s Power Profile
What music empowers her?
“Anything I can sing along to. I love to blast out a good ballad, except that I’m tone deaf, so I tend to wait until I’m alone or in the car. Adele or Meghan Trainor are my go-to artists.”
Who is her hero?
“I don’t really have any heroes. I take inspiration from my own values. I’m honest, I know I’m not always right and I make mistakes. I’m a good listener and respect others around me. Those are the qualities that make me more content with myself.”