The City of Edinburgh Council is the local authority that looks after Scotland's capital. Serving a population of 570,000 people, it employs around 18,500 people, operates with a gross annual budget of £1.3 billion--and delivers over 700 public services to residents.
That's a lot of services for a lot of service users, so it's no major surprise that the authority has historically relied on IT at scale to do the job at hand. IT at the Council is undergoing a major overhaul as part of a wider business transformation programme, with a specific target of optimising the entire environment and capability.
Central to that transformation, says Stephen Moir, the Council's Executive Director of Resources, is a modern Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) back-end. He sees this as critical for a modern, secure and fully supported finance system. A previous user of Oracle Financials, the upgrade Moir is leading encompasses new Oracle E-Business functionality, in the shape of Oracle Accounts Receivable and Advanced Collections (which will replace an existing ‘sundry debt management' system'), but also new Business Intelligence and invoice automation tools. Or as Councillor Rob Munn, the Scottish capital's acting Finance and Resources Convener for the City of Edinburgh Council, predicts:
We're modernising services across the Council and investing in technology to make our processes as efficient as possible. This IT upgrade will support the way we deliver our finance systems, making them more flexible so that we can provide an even better customer experience for residents and suppliers.
Having integrated back office systems - for finance, HR and payroll, procurement, debt management, banking, and payment systems - and having them all being able to work together, to interface, to share data, obviously makes a big difference for the way we operate internally as an organisation, and it will improve the level of business intelligence we can generate. That means we can focus on performance in areas like prompt payments.
Obviously, from a purely financial perspective, it also means we've got a much better readout on where costs are, what they're being used for - and more importantly, where the council spend is going at any given time. Having a level of data integration, of system integration, will be a huge improvement for us from what had been historically quite manual processes in some areas that hadn't ever been integrated.
Not a simple upgrade programme
It's clear that the latest version of the Oracle E-Business platform is at the centre of all this. We asked Moir to explain his thinking about this choice:
As a council, we've been using Oracle Financials since around 2005, but this is a major programme of upgrades and further expansion of the Oracle platform using a partner to help us achieve best practice.
But, he stresses, this isn't just swapping out one version of a package for another. He adds:
This is not a simple upgrade programme. It's also about making sure we've got the right managed service provision in place behind it.
That's because Moir and his IT reports want all this new infrastructure to run as efficiently as possible, which he's convinced will happen best if everything is run for the council as a managed service. This was a key procurement decision for bringing in IT services firm CGI and well-known independent Oracle Managed Service providers, Claremont. That, he predicts, will mean a very different sort of way of working:
Historically, we had Oracle Financials, then we've had a separate platform on a different software package for debt management. We've had separate HR and payroll systems, too. What we're doing is converging all of our financial procurement, debt management and banking and payment systems on to Oracle through this programme, which will be more converged - all part of a strategy to move things on to up-to-date platforms to ensure we're getting the best practice we can.
A single version of the truth, and in one place
To take one example, Moir explains that his existing way of managing debt and mapping payments for the council is currently a standalone system, but is based on an application that has reached end-of-life and is about to stop being supported by the vendor. Given that there's "quite a high degree of manual processing" behind it and it can't be properly connected to the main finance system. Therefore, the Council can't get what it wants: a single version of the truth, and in one place. Moir said:
For us, having that will be genuinely transformative in terms of the impact it has on the way we operate.
Moir, who says he looks after all the customer and corporate services for the City of Edinburgh Council - which ranges from finance to digital services, to all its welfare benefits and processing activities, as well as all the council's governance functions like legal risk and audit - says he expects big things from this new service. He expects that the new system will be fully online in Q3 2021. Moir said:
People will be able to better manage their budgets. In the current economic climate, and generally in terms of public sector spending, financial management's becoming increasingly important. That needs to be not just from the finance function, though, it's got to be from budget holders right down to from line team managers. ERP will allow us to get people to become more financially literate and more financially focused in terms of managing the public purse.
Supporting Edinburgh's economic recovery
A big driver is speeding up payment of suppliers and others, he adds. Though the City has strong performance already on invoice processing, with 96% of invoices paid within 30 days, the team is mindful that in tough economic times, as a large procurer of services from a whole range of local companies, being a great customer definitely helps the broader Edinburgh economy (and even beyond).
For me, there's a huge benefit there. And as we move into, hopefully, a recovery and renewal phase for the City, we need to support its economic recovery--and having an effective ERP infrastructure is going to help us do that.