Experience4U - East of England Ambulance Service has its finger on the pulse with Unit4 ERP

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez November 16, 2021
Cloud-based ERP vendor Unit4 helped the East of England Ambulance service keep running during the height of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Image of a blue ambulance light

East of England Ambulance Service (EEAS) NHS Trust covers six counties across England - including Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire - and provides emergency medical treatment to over 5.8 million citizens living in the area. 

Real time insights into the Trust's resources are critical in providing effective and timely treatment, which is being supported by its ongoing development and use of cloud-based ERP vendor, Unit4. 

The ERP system plays a central role in providing support during medical emergencies during ‘normal times', but has proven to be even more critical during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We spoke with Darren Ward, Senior Finance Analyst at East of England Ambulance Service in the run up to Unit4's virtual event, Experience4U, this week. 

Ward explained that whilst the Trust has a long history with Unit4, using the company's ERP since 2007 when the six counties in England came together to form EEAS, the organization continues to modernize and adapt in order to better support citizens' medical needs. 

The Trust moved to Unit4's cloud platform in 2015, is in the process of upgrading to the latest version and is also shifting to Microsoft Azure in the process. Ward explains that being an early mover to the cloud (in the context of healthcare providers in the UK) helped EEAS significantly during the early COVID-19 waves. He said: 

Being in the cloud has taken a lot of pain out of having to manage the server backups and the processes. But mostly it was [about] remote working. We obviously cover quite a big geographical area and it's making sure that people can still access the system from wherever they are. 

Having that level of support around the cloud system [is great], we just couldn't really manage when we had a physical server on premise. It wasn't quite as efficient. Having that knowledge that the system will always be there and being able to dial into it from wherever, from any device, is really good for us. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, having everyone able to go straight to work from home, completely seamlessly, was amazing. I know some other NHS Trusts couldn't do that and they had to keep bringing in their finance staff so that they could continue processing. But with Unit4 we were able to do that seamlessly, which was a pretty big win for us.

Unit4 has supported EEAS during the pandemic in other ways too. For instance, the Trust relies upon ERP data to monitor the PPE inventory on a daily basis, as it needs to understand the exact equipment levels in near real-time, so that it can stock up on supplies when necessary to ensure everybody is protected. 

Automating FP&A

In addition to supporting the team during COVID-19, the Trust is using Unit4 to get to grips with its financial planning. 

For instance, insights into the operations of the vehicles fleet has proven beneficial, where each ambulance belonging to EEAS is attached with an attribute, usually the vehicle registration number. This allows the organization to instantly see the leasing costs, maintenance invoices and fuel bills for the entire fleet, meaning that it can optimize resource planning and help ensure value for money over the lifetime ownership of the vehicles. 

Furthermore, EEAS has recently upgraded to FP&A with Unit4, in a bid to improve its budgeting and forecasting capabilities. Ward said that the team sat down with Unit4 last September to discuss options and within six weeks it was live, with people being trained remotely on the new system using Teams. 

The aim of FP&A is to get away from using Excel spreadsheets and to give budgeting managers better insights. Ward explained: 

We knew we needed a better budgeting system. Budgeting for us was literally using Excel spreadsheets, hundreds of Excel tabs, one for each cost center, all trying to link together, with everyone working in their own little spreadsheet and then trying to feed that data back into the planning module within the ERP. 

It was all being done on spreadsheets remotely, which was an absolute nightmare, because there was no real control. With FP&A, it takes the best bits of our spreadsheets, but gives us something that we can control and use. We could just design it for how we wanted it to be used. 

The budgeting process is now so much easier than doing it the old way. People really like it and we save hours and hours of time trying to reconcile it back, to all agree at the end. Being able to feed it forward into this current financial year, we can move budgets around and identify where the problems are. 

We've seen lots of time saving, but there are also improvements around how we can get information out to our budget managers. With FP&A we can share it with them, they can see it, and we can ask them for their input. 

To read diginomica stories from Unit4's X4U digital experience visit our Experience4U 2021 event hub. The virtual event runs from November 16-17th and sessions will be available afterwards to view on-demand. Click here to see the agenda and register now.

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