How easy is it for a very small council to implement transformation through technology? John Munro, ICT manager at Clackmannanshire Council talks to PublicTechnology.
On 1 September the council signed a contract with enterprise software supplier TechnologyOne to provide software as a service solution to provide a new finance system. It is aimed at eliminating paper-based processes and streamlining supplier transactions.
PublicTechnology: How big is your council?
John Munro: We are the smallest mainland council in Scotland with a population of around 50,000. Despite that size, we have to supply the same services as any other council in the land. In the ICT service we currently have a headcount of around 30 but that is shrinking all the time. We are under fairly severe financial pressure and that will continue to manifest itself in staff reductions because the majority of our budget goes in staffing.
PT: What were your requirements for this procurement?
JM: We wanted a financial system that gave us good business intelligence, reduced paper based processes and allowed us to get into electronic procurement and invoicing. We also wanted something that would give us good integration with our other systems through extract, transform and load using open standards. There were also lots of specific financial requirements in terms of how we do reporting, cash receipting and reconciliation.
PT: What is wrong with your existing systems?
JM: For historical reasons we have had a history of a lot of applications developed in house. We had a strong development section which has built systems such as a bespoke social care system. However, we are reaching a point where that approach is no longer sustainable and off-the-shelf applications are becoming more mature.
PT: What are some of the challenges for a smaller authority in a procurement such as this?
JM: One frustrating thing is that some of the larger suppliers are still selling products that haven’t changed much in 25 years. The architecture is such that you can’t do the things you want to do. It can be easier for a bigger authority to dedicate resources to implement workarounds, and to exert influence on a supplier to make changes. Additionally, we don’t have the manpower to do a really good procurement on a very detailed and wide-scoped project, and then manage the contracts.
PT: How are you staffing the transformation project?
JM: We wanted to dedicate staff to the project and take them away from their day jobs to prevent them from trying to keep too many plates spinning at the same time. We have got a dedicated project manager and some project support – they are currently people who are employees who have been moved from other jobs. Corporately we have had to say this is our priority and if other projects are delayed then we are sorry but we only have a certain amount of resource. We also have the team leader from our finance service acting as the main change manager for project. She has two members of finance staff which are also working full time on this project. In addition, we have an operational group with representatives from different service areas to guide the project.
PT: What timescale are you working to?
JM: We are looking to go live on 1 April next year, having signed the contract on 1 September. That is tight but deliberate – we wanted to do it quickly and didn’t want it to turn into the monster that was going to run for three years before every “I” was dotted and every “T” was crossed.
PT: How did you save time on the procurement process?
JM: We still faced resourcing challenges but we approached the procurement in a different way to normal. We took the view that we would describe our requirement as high level outcomes rather than minute functional requirements. This meant we didn’t have to spend quite so long writing the requirements. Also, we went through the G-Cloud framework. We found the process good. We started with three or four outcomes to get a long list of suppliers then narrowed it down by adding more requirements. We then had suppliers in for some soft market testing to narrow down the list a bit more. That helped us understand what was out there and what we could do. We then narrowed it down to two suppliers and had them in for an intensive three day evaluation period where they worked through real life scenarios with users.
G-Cloud definitely made things easier for us as a small authority.
PT: What savings are you hoping to make?
JM: In terms of the savings for this project, we haven’t totally quantified them but we think it will pay for itself in terms over the nine year period of the contract – which includes extensions. The total value of the contract is in the region of £650,000. More importantly, it would be more difficult to transform our other council services – which will lead to bigger savings – without implementing this system – all the other services feed in and out of the finance system.