Monmouthshire County Council is the unitary local authority for the Monmouthshire area in South East Wales, whose 4,500 employees work toward delivering on its three main priorities of ensuring all residents have access to great education, protecting vulnerable people and supporting a strong local economy.
As a local authority, the County Council is always looking to improve cost control and operational efficiency to deliver better value for residents and employees. And as its Deputy Chief Executive, Peter Davies, explained to us, one of the areas it identified as a great area to investigate for efficiency savings was payroll and HR operation.
Making sure colleagues feel empowered
This project had two aims, he states: a recognition that it was "past time" to move these core back office systems into the cloud to become more agile and cost-effective, as well as improve overall system performance and improve the working conditions of team members. Davies says:
In addition to providing exceptional public services, we're also passionate about delivering a great experience for our employees, making sure they feel empowered to do their work effectively and efficiently. Creating strong digital experiences for employees is very high on our agenda.
The context was that Monmouthshire's previous on-premise solution was deemed to be getting too inflexible. Originating as part of a previous public sector collaboration with other councils, now, he says, it was being seen as at the root of "slow, cumbersome processes" for the team. Davies adds:
Even before we began needing to work remotely due to COVID-19, it was clear that this system needed upgrading, both to drive efficiency savings and to deliver on our commitment to be a leading example of digital transformation in the public sector, and to become a digital council of the future.
This was absolutely crucial
Davies and the Council's IT department say they solved their accumulating problems by extending the services it uses from supplier Zellis; Monmouthshire has been using the latter's ResourceLink payroll and HR administration for some 15 years, and has now upgraded to the Zellis HCM Cloud, in fact being one of the first UK users of the application out of beta. Davies explains:
We felt that a cloud-based, highly extensible solution would help us to overcome a lot of the challenges we're facing at the moment, as well as fit in quite nicely with our long-term digital roadmap. For example, because of COVID many new starters needed to be onboarded remotely, whilst many existing employees were limited-and continue to be limited-to virtual interactions with the wider organisation. This meant that providing seamless remote access to HR and payroll functions was absolutely crucial, and played a major part in our decision to move these operations to cloud.
Davies cites the product's "strong focus" on data integration and analytics as a particularly interesting feature, as he and IT are interested in using data not only to improve decision making but also to create "a single version of the truth" across payroll and HR operation, which he sees as critical to a fuller digital transformation of the organisation.
The vendor's ability to integrate with the County Council's existing Microsoft 365 and Power Platform tools was also a major plus point as IT investment could be preserved. Another benefit was that now staff can easily request holiday time or submit their expenses claims while remaining in their normal flow of work. Davies says:
We have a large number of managers in the organization, and for them to be able to seamlessly approve holiday and expenses requests directly within their Outlook inbox makes their job that much easier, while also boosting the overall quality of the employee experience.
Access to third party solutions
Another pay-off from the move has been on-demand mobile support for payroll and HR services, he adds. This is useful for both pandemic-related remote working but also for staff who need to be out and about in the community as part of their job descriptions.
In the immediate future Davies wants to see full integration of this new cloud app into the authority's wider infrastructure. In the mid-term, Monmouthshire plans to experiment with robotic process automation (RPA) and more sophisticated uses of data, including further developing chatbots and AI to drive further efficiency and experience improvements across the council. There is also internal interest in the partner's intention to create what's effectively an app store based on the package, as this opens up the possibility of access to a range of additional HR and payroll solutions and third party applications, which he sees as enabling the organisation to build a more substantial technology ecosystem "over time".
Does this move to cloud based Council HR and payroll functionality fit into any wider digital transformation strategy at the authority? Yes, is the answer, as Monmouthshire County Council is aiming to be a leader in public sector digital transformation. In practical terms, he tells diginomica:
This cloud-based HCM (human capital management) solution means we can empower employees with technology and data-improving the workforce experience through the power of digitalization, and with that taking a big step forward in our ambition to bring not just our infrastructure, but also our working practices and mindsets, into the digital age.
The software we've chosen also supports our wider aim to improve the way in which our ‘people data' is used: keeping this information clean, secured, managed and properly analyzed is all crucial to underpinning a successful digital transformation, and it will go a long way to helping us improve the way in which we use and interact with data going forward.
Learning to think one step ahead
Finally, we asked what the most surprising thing Davies has learned as Deputy Chief Executive throughout this project. He replies:
That digital transformation is constant and ongoing. You don't just implement a new technology and sit back; you've got to be constantly aware of and thinking about future milestones, and how current systems could be upgraded or integrated more effectively.
The standard for exceptional digital solutions is always increasing, and so learning to think one step ahead has been critical to the success of this project.