Shared services, whereby departments or organizations team up to use the same technology platforms or applications, don't always work out as planned. They can offer greater efficiencies and cost-savings compared to purchasing the products alone. But as Hamant Bharadia, Assistant Director of Finance at London Borough of Lambeth, noted they tend to have their own challenges. He explained:
When you've got six people around the table, it's always a challenge to get everybody to agree to same thing.
Bharadia was referring to the “painful experience” Lambeth had encountered as part of a shared partnership around core enterprise applications.
It wasn't any issues that we had with our instance. The shared platform issues weren’t because of Oracle, it was due to the choices that we made.
Lambeth Council has been an Oracle customer since 2000, using it for financials, procurement, payroll and HR. Fast forward to 2012 and Lambeth entered into a shared contract with six other councils, which would see the group running a single instance of Oracle ERP and payroll.
Aware that the shared contract was coming to an end in July 2018, Lambeth made the decision to strike out on its own again. This coincided with a major transformation project the council began working on in 2015, dubbed Future Lambeth.
One of the biggest elements of the Future Lambeth project was to consolidate the council’s 14 buildings down to two – a town hall and civic center, which would act as the campus site. This offered huge cost savings to the council - £4.5m in all.
But it meant Lambeth needed to undertake a huge shift in how staff worked. The council decided to provide just five desks for every 10 staff employed, and it therefore needed the technology to deliver and support that reduction, allowing people to work from anywhere at any time.
Just as the council was sure about exiting the shared services contract for the technology aspect of the project, it was also sure that sticking with Oracle was the right approach. Hence the firm didn’t undertake a major tendering and procurement project to assess Oracle’s offerings against others in the market.
We didn't do a detailed analysis. What we said was if we do, if we were to go and switch off to something else, then we’re not going to hit the 12-month deadline. The contract with the provider for the shared platform was going to end in July 18. So that informed some of the decision making.
A cloudy future
But while Lambeth decided to stick with a familiar vendor, it did decide to go through a major shift from on-premise to cloud-based.
The reason for the move to the cloud was we were starting a program to rationalize our estates and staff, and part of that was offering new technology applications to reduce our in-house IT requirements, so we wouldn't need server rooms and that kind of stuff. It takes that back end out of it. When you look at the cloud, you get an application that generally works and it’s supported, and upgrades are easier to manage so that we don’t have to put our resources into that.
We knew Oracle, it generally worked, it did what it said it would and we were comfortable with it. So our preferred option was Oracle Cloud and that got us to where we were when we kicked off the project. If we were going to do something else, the amount of procurement effort required, and then designing the product and implementing it, you're looking at a minimum of two or two-plus years if you’re lucky. We didn't have that window.
Lambeth now has ERP, HCM, payroll, and planning and budgeting on the cloud, and has plans to add analytics and integrated database capabilities.
We have customer databases and systems for social care and for housing, which are separate. What we want to do is try and bring all that information together so it improves decision-making. It will help us get better insight.
To go alongside the technology deployment, Lambeth also rolled out a change management element, providing staff with a new workforce policy and handbook.
We wanted to ask staff behaviors to be right because they're not going to be in the office, I can't see them all the time, but I still need them to do the job. And that requires a change program around that.
In the technology strategy we had, we already had work happening around that with Microsoft SharePoint, OneDrive, Skype for Business, Skype conferencing. So we have no telephones in any of our buildings, everybody's either moved on to mobiles or Skype services. And everybody just works on a laptop.
Although the technology strand of the Future Lambeth project was precipitated due to the shared contract coming to an end, the broader program was in response to the reality of shrinking government funding.
Our big driver was, central government funding is reducing and will continue to reduce. On that basis, if we want to continue delivering services for our customers, then we have to do different things and behave differently.
If you standardize technology applications and you use what's available, then you're reducing costs, and the maintenance and the upgrades should hopefully get easier.
Lambeth has adopted a flexible approach to staff working patterns to ensure the reduction in desks doesn’t lead to a reduction in productivity. Core working hours are 10am to 4pm but employees can choose to work any point between 8am and 8pm, whether in the office or from home – with most staff working two days per week from home.
It’s not about getting all new people, it’s showing people here is how you can do your job more easily, more simply, and it's smarter and it means you can access all your information on all of your devices wherever you want. So there is no desperate need to come into the office.
Lambeth started moving staff into the new building between December 2017 and March 2018.
The go-live for Oracle was critical because it was about messaging to staff that you're in the new building, there's a new way of working and here's the technology that helps you do this.
Lambeth managed to complete the technology project in 12 months, a timeline Bharadia said the council achieved due to sticking to vanilla versions of the applications.
We were very clear that we wanted it to happen so that it would be live in time. When we had the shared arrangement with the other councils, the Oracle technology we were using had lots of customizations, each council had a unique feature.
Part of the cloud implementation plan was we're going to strip all of that. Now what we are going to do is basically take the Oracle product that's in the cloud and make it work for us.
The language that I've been told I have to use is to adopt, not adapt.