Huntingdonshire District Council
Moving to SaaS streamlines Huntingdonshire District Council’s financial processes and mobilises its workforce to help local residents.
Huntingdonshire District Council is a local government authority based in England’s historic county of Cambridgeshire.
The council was using 20-year-old, self-hosted financial systems which were struggling to keep up with the changing needs of different parts of the organisation.
Huntingdonshire District Council’s Chief Finance Officer, Claire Edwards, said large amounts of budgeting and forecasting information were being manually entered into different spreadsheets, with invoices stored in a separate software system.
“We were still having to move paper invoices around the organisation, filing them in boxes and sending them off for scanning. People were having to come out of our finance system and go into another one. It really wasn’t a very lean way of working,” she said.
The maintenance of on-site, legacy IT systems was also proving to be expensive.
“We had a lot of different systems sitting on servers and our IT team wanted to get away from the cost of having to buy and maintain them,” said Edwards.
Huntingdonshire District Council wanted to future proof its financial planning, accounting and forecasting systems, with a new solution.
“We needed to change the culture and bring in more of a self-service system that could automate a lot of the mundane processes,” Edwards said.
“We also wanted to provide improved forecasting and budget setting capabilities across different parts of the council. Rather than waiting for the finance department to run reports, we wanted to help business managers and save them time, by allowing them to call up the information and reports themselves,” she added.
Huntingdonshire District Council ran a joint-procurement process with two neighbouring local authorities, Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire District Council. The three council’s chose TechnologyOne’s OneCouncil Software as a Service (SaaS) solution.
OneCouncil is a preconfigured, mobile-enabled, enterprise resource planning service that supports the day-to-day operational and strategic requirements of councils in a single integrated solution. Council employees can access the business information they need at any time through a secure, intuitive online portal.
“While other suppliers showed similar functionality, we felt that the TechnologyOne system had a fresher, more intuitive feel to it,” said Edwards. “And, from an IT perspective, the company’s SaaS platform helped future proof the organisation.”
All three councils – Huntingdonshire, Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire – went live with OneCouncil in 2018, with 237 active users at Huntingdonshire moving to the new system in July 2018.
The council now uses TechnologyOne’s OneCouncil solution for budgeting, forecasting, performance planning, accounts payable, purchasing and debtor functions.
“The joint procurement has been beneficial for a combination of reasons. There’s an expectancy it will have cost benefits for all three authorities,” said Edwards.
All three councils are also benefiting from shared knowledge and best practice when it comes to using the TechnologyOne platform, with employees often working together in the different council’s offices to collaborate on projects.
By digitally transforming Huntingdonshire’s finance operations, the council has also seen time saving benefits delivered through automation. Whereas the council used to have to sort through hundreds of paper invoices and purchase orders and then send to be scanned, this is now done electronically.
The council has also managed to reduce its bank account reconciliation process, that used to require numerous spreadsheets and considerable data cross checking, down from a month-long process to between seven and 10 days.
“That's been a big positive. By freeing up time and removing the time constraints, the person who carries out bank reconciliation now spends a lot more time working on more valuable activities for the council,” said Edwards.
Dozens of budget holders across the council, alongside the finance team, can now access the SaaS system wherever they are via their Council laptop. This has added to greater business intelligence across the council, as well as ensuring faster access to important financial information.
“The system is really intuitive and by having more information accessible in a self-service way, business managers now have more visibility and ownership around forecasting and budgets. They can also drill down in granular detail to even see copies of supplier invoices in the same system,” said Edwards.
“As well as automating more processes and data entry, we’ve been able to improve commitment accounting, forecasting and budget setting. We’re seeing a higher use of purchase orders and reporting, with budget holders more engaged,” she added.
Where TechnologyOne really came into its own, was in helping the council pay COVID-related business support grants to local businesses. It was a big task and TechnologyOne was instrumental in this.
By replacing legacy finance systems that had been in place at Huntingdonshire District Council for 20 years, the council has realised a number of benefits, from reducing costs and downtime caused by on-premise IT upgrades, through to making the organisation more resilient when unforeseen crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, arise.
By switching to TechnologyOne’s SaaS solution, the software company now seamlessly upgrades the platform on their behalf, instead of council IT staff on-premise, saving the finance department huge amounts of downtime.
“When we used to upgrade the old system, we lost three to four days use, whereas now it can all be done remotely overnight. Security patches are going in without the system being down as well,” said Edwards. “It’s also a lot easier to schedule upgrades, as we're not relying on the IT support within our own organisation, which has to balance competing priorities.”
By moving to TechnologyOne SaaS, powered by Amazon Web Services, the council’s finance team also managed to function as normal, when the COVID-19 pandemic caused office and council service closures in March 2020.
“Thankfully, remote working wasn't a problem for us, as TechnologyOne dove-tailed nicely into our ‘Council Anywhere’ approach, where employees could access business systems via laptops from home,” said Edwards. “But where TechnologyOne really came into its own, was in helping the council pay COVID-related business support grants to local businesses.”
To support local businesses during the pandemic, the UK government asked councils to support them with awarding grants. The finance team managed to draw upon the extra functionality that TechnologyOne’s system offered.
“We paid all the business grants out via TechnologyOne, and it was because we were able to import the information and manipulate it, that it really came into its own. It was a big task and TechnologyOne was instrumental in this. It was a big tick in the box for them, winning over quite a few people in the business to the new system,” said Edwards.
Mindful of the financial challenges that councils face post-COVID, Huntingdonshire District Council has now signed-up to TechnologyOne’s Application Managed Services (AMS) programme.
AMS is a pre-paid consulting service which provides Huntingdonshire District Council with guaranteed consultants to help manage, maintain and optimise its solution.
Through greater access to TechnologyOne’s consultants and industry specialists, Huntingdonshire will drive greater value and performance from its enterprise resource planning SaaS platform.
“There are new services that we want to develop and new things that our management still want in the way of reporting. So, through the AMS programme, we’re looking to bring on any parts of the system that we're not using at the moment, or not utilising to their full capability. The first few years were about establishing the new system and people getting used to it. Now it’s about realising its full potential,” said Edwards.
Huntingdonshire District Council is looking to introduce new contracts and procurement card functionality, as well as new reporting and dashboard services for business managers.
“In this post-COVID world, there's going to be stresses and strains on local authority budgets. Councils have to be even more on the ball when it comes to knowing what their income and expenditure is,” said Edwards. “Real-time data is going to be absolutely key for people making decisions in councils going forward and that’s something we’re very much focused on.”
About Huntingdonshire District Council
The council is headquartered in the English market town of Huntingdon and serves a population of around 178,000 people across 510 square miles of countryside and nearby towns including St Ives, Godmanchester, St Neots and Ramsey.
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