Flash back to Spring 2019 and Guildford Borough Council in the UK has too much of one thing - standalone business applications - and too little of another - money! The answer to both came with a shift to an integrated ERP offering, a journey that’s still underway today.
According to Claire Morris, Director of Resources at the Council, who has oversight of the legal, HR and ICT teams, Guildford’s situation back then wasn’t unique:
Like many local authorities in the UK, we had a £12 million budget gap. That arose really just because of Government cutbacks due to the austerity program and also increasing demand for our services. So we undertook a program of transformation to review the whole organization and try to identify savings so we could balance our medium term budget. The aim of program was to improve customer focus, to improve our services, but also to modernize our services and, in particular, our systems to make the council more efficient and along with that identify savings to address our budget gap.
As a part of that review, an examination of ICT systems took place and threw up some awkward numbers:
We found that we had 20 in-house finance systems and databases and around 10 other support services systems. In particular, we had a separate Finance, HR and Payroll system and a further separate Income Management system. We also had a number of different ordering systems around the council within different departments. In particular, the HR Payroll system didn't talk to the fFnance system. In addition to that, the HR system didn't cover all of the functionality that you would expect to be able to cope with an HR system or within the HR department.
At this point, although cost savings were clearly a driver for the wider review, it was clear that investment in this area was going to be needed. The search for a replacement solution began with the objective of procuring a single integrated systems that could, as Morris puts it, “do everything for us” :
We were looking for one integrated Finance system covering all aspects of fFnance, HR, Income Management and Payroll. We also thought it was important [for our supplier] to have a proven track record within local government and to support the self service model that we had developed into the Future Guildford transformation framework. We were also looking to implement quickly. We were on a very tight timescale to deliver savings, so we needed an off the shelf product.
What 'good' looks like
The chosen solution came from Unit4 in tandem with its partner Embridge Consulting which brought its Public Sector Model to the table. Emma O’Brien, Founder, Embridge Consulting, explains that this is a turnkey implementation model developed by the firm based on industry-specific best practices:
We've based it on the Unit4 ERP platform as being one of the leading ERP solutions in that particular industry. We've got pre-configured build. We've got all the supporting packs needed to really try to make sure that we are making it as easy as possible for customers to be able to fast track to a successful implementation. The main purpose of the industry model really is to enable our customers to benefit from the industry experience that we have developed over a number of years.
Every time we go into an organization, it's like we're re-inventing the wheel. Every single time we're asking our customers, using a traditional methodology, what this could look like? And really we should be saying, ‘Well, this is what good looks like!’. We're the industry experts, we should know. Particularly with the uptake of SaaS, we saw the market shift. Gone are the days where customers want to create a bespoke ERP system that may take two to three years or possibly longer to implement. We've seen some real horror stories over the years about how much time these things can take to implement and how much they cost. The market was definitely demanding much more of an off-the-shelf solution with quicker time to value and ultimately, with a lower price. We took it upon ourselves to create this Public Sector Model, and a set of best practice processes.
In the case of Guilford, Embridge presented its version of “what good looks like”, according to O’Brien and Morris’s team told them where they could apply it or not. O’Brien praises the willingness on the Guildford team’s part to challenge the status quo during this process:
Guilford embraced the whole concept of the model from day one. Very quickly after the contract was signed in in May 19, we started to mobilize the team in June time, July time. One of the first things that we recognized was some opportunity to deliver some early time to value. One of the areas that we recognized we could get in very quickly was the recruitment solution. So we undertook a very quick phase one with recruitment based on the industry model that we've designed. We managed to actually deliver that within 10 weeks of the initial mobilizations with Guilford support. So that went live in October very quickly.
Then came COVID...
The next goal was to go live with core HR and Finance in April of this year. While HR did indeed go live on time, the Finance switch-on was delayed by the onset of the COVID pandemic. O’Brien explains:
Whilst the original plan was also to include finance, we had to pivot the plan slightly to work together collaboratively with the whole environment of COVID, and the lockdown, just to manage the stress and the workload and, of course, other priorities that the Guildford team were placed under. So we didn't go live with Finance in April to accommodate that.
I've got to say, the Guildford team and the whole entire team worked tremendously together to work through what was actually very difficult circumstances as we launched HR at a time, when just about the whole country was going into lockdown. And they continued with it and it did go live. We were able to deliver Payroll and that went live in July, and more recently Finance in August.
There’s still more work to be done with further modules lined up to go live, but to date the ERP system is delivering results. It’s allowed the council to achieve a 14% headcount reduction across HR and Finance departments as well as contributing around £1.3 million in savings to the Future Guildford program. Morris says the benefits are clear:
We had a number of systems, right across the council for various finance and HR and purchasing processes and we've been able to consolidate those systems into this one ERP system and streamline processes. We try to follow best industry practice along the was because, as with any organization, over time people put in their own little practices and processes and things aren't as efficient as you might think they are. So having the benefit of that external review and saying 'No, actually, this is the way it should be done', that was really beneficial in making us see that maybe the way that we'd always done things wasn't necessarily the most efficient way of doing things. In particular, we’ve reduced our separate HR and payroll systems, separate Income Management system and separate Finance system into one. Having that integrated ERP platform is the main driver and the benefit of doing this.