Cherwell District Council (CDC) is a non-metropolitan district council representing and providing services to over 150,000 residents and the businesses of Banbury, Bicester, Kidlington and the rural parishes of North Oxfordshire.
The Council is a modern local authority with locational strengths and unique drivers for business competitiveness such as Begbroke Science Park (University of Oxford), Banbury & Bicester College and London Oxford Airport.
The Council has a ground-breaking approach to municipal services in North Oxfordshire, including the environment, housing and regeneration that also extends to its own digital transformation, through the Council’s visionary, laser-like focus on digital, citizen-centric service. The Council’s ambitious Finance Systems Solution (FSS) is a central focus of this transformation.
The existing finance system relied on data that was tied to separate, disconnected silos. This, in turn, resulted in a drain on time and resources, with insufficient information and significant manual intervention required to support everyday finance transactions. For example, budget management and reporting relied on complex, manual spreadsheets and large print volumes. Likewise, the year–end closure and production of the Council’s statutory accounts were labour-intensive and slow.
The other challenge that no-one could foresee was the impact of Covid-19. Claire explains: “What is remarkable about this project is how people worked as one to implement an entire finance system virtually. Indeed, many of the teams didn’t meet one another physically until after the go-live.”
Once the go-ahead was given for the finance transformation strategy, a Unit4 Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platform was selected to underpin the new operating model.
Claire Taylor, Corporate Director for Customers, Organisational Development and Resources explains, “The Unit4 platform is tailored around our local government needs. It also connects easily with other systems, is intuitive to use, and offers unmatched financial management integrity.”
The next test was to choose the right partners to support the ERP implementation. Step forward EntecSI and Embridge Consulting. EntecSI had been involved with CDC for several years and worked collaboratively with them and Embridge to deliver this project. According to Clare Aris, Senior Consultant at EntecSI “it was this relationship that really made the difference.”
Claire Taylor said of EntecSI “They’ve always been really flexible and really agile, and always been a challenging and open ear.” Regarding Embridge, she said “As a boutique, mid-tier IT consultancy, Embridge was the ideal partner to support this deployment. They possess the skills, innovation, and commitment – plus a rich seam of public sector experience – to deliver successful finance transformation.”
Emma O’Brien, CEO of Embridge comments, “The advantage to a local authority in choosing Embridge is our size. Unlike the large, multinational SIs, we can be much more agile, respond to situations very quickly, and work as a tight-knit collaborative team.”
The Embridge Value Accelerator (EVA) methodology, a pre-built ERP implementation strategy and configuration, created with industry-specific best practice and includes statutory compliance, also played a key part in the success of the project. According to Dan Chilton, Director of Professional Services at Embridge, “Think of EVA as an IKEA shelving unit: it’s pre-packed so you simply connect the components together. EVA significantly reduced the time and effort involved in the Unit4 transformation programme.”
The onset of the pandemic forced CDC, EntecSI and Embridge to rapidly rethink their approach, adapting their processes for remote working. For example, training sessions were delivered over Microsoft Teams and recorded, enabling people to flexibly work around personal responsibilities, such as home-schooling. The project delivery team also factored in people’s wellbeing to the program. For example, remote quizzes and social events were introduced to keep up the team’s resilience, while timescales were adjusted to mitigate the impact of ‘screen fatigue’.
This best-in-class unified Unit4 ERP system was delivered on time and on budget. It provides budget stakeholders, the finance team, and other Council staff with a complete, timely view into the Council’s finance situation, presented in a user-friendly, graphical format.
The team has near real-time visibility and control over every stage of the record-to-report cycle – from any device, anytime. They also have the flexibility to streamline budget planning and analysis while consolidating data from across the Council into one shared system.
Leanne Lock, Strategic Business Partner at CDC was involved with the project from the start. “At every stage, the finance requirements and budget were placed front and centre. The Council also invested in a dedicated project team and assigned key decision-makers to the project board.”
This forward-thinking finance transformation reimagines finance management at the Council:
· Agility: Reduced time needed for bank reconciliation from up to 18 days each month, to same-day process. Moreover, process automation has reduced the time spent on certain processes from 32 to 18 days per month.
· Informed decision-making: Budget managers across the Council have the information at their fingertips to make fast, informed decisions.
· Efficiency: Over-arching digital transformation strategy has reduced Council’s running costs by about 33% over five years.
· Collaboration: People at the Council share one common view of finance data, enabling trusted collaboration, smarter working, and better outcomes for the citizens of North Oxfordshire.
· On-time, on-budget deployment: The close partnership between the Council and Embridge Consulting delivered an on-time, on-budget implementation, despite it being deployed virtually and remotely during the pandemic lockdown.
· Environmentals: Process automation and modernisation significantly reduced the volume of paper printed, helping the Council meet its CO2 goals and other environmental credentials.
“At all stages, the project has exemplified creativity, collaboration, and care for the people involved, all the while navigating new ways of working. However, EntecSI, Embridge and our Council team never lost sight of their focus; to deliver a business-wide finance system which meets the Council’s fast-changing needs.”Claire TaylorCorporate Director for Customers, Organisational Development and Resources
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