Intelligent finance

The challenge for the public sector, as with the private sector, is to keep IT investment low, while continuing to provide a high quality of service to customers. Many software suppliers, including our members, are now focused on helping customers to streamline processes, allowing management and staff to concentrate on value adding tasks.             

Having all the information at your fingertips helps you make the right decisions based on accurate analysis. Particularly with the current economic downturn and squeeze on IT budgets, there is a desire for all organisations to make more from the systems they already have and enjoy the promised returns on their investments.
    
With today’s fully-integrated business system, you can instantaneously access critical data that provides a complete and up-to-the-minute view of your operations – so that you can respond to customers faster and more efficiently.
    
Some of our members have first-hand experience on what seems to be the main driver in the public sector for investing in Financial Management Software and what kind of visible benefits they are looking for.

E-procurement
Bernard Snow, director of Corero’s Business Systems Division, comments: “eProcurement has always been regarded by the FE sector – as in many other areas of government – as an excellent idea but there were doubts as to whether it was possible to implement efficiently and cost-effectively.
    
“Viewed as a complex operation, many colleges were doubtful of the return on investment and weighed down by the perceived change in culture they faced, trying to decide where to start and how to fund the fundamental change.
    
“One of the main challenges to colleges was the need to set up collaborative partnerships, locally and nationally, with other colleges in order to reap the real benefit of eProcurement. Also many existing college operational systems and internal processes simply didn’t support day-to-day requisitioning – never mind eProcurement.
    
“However, colleges are now far more proactive, joining and supporting collaborative alliances with other colleges where necessary, to get eProcurement on board. Corero itself has a very active College Resource User Group, which has enabled our clients to benefit from other college’s positive experiences.    
    
“This movement towards eProcurement within the sector has been instrumental in securing longer-term contracts and improving relationships for colleges with their major suppliers and ultimately in driving down prices. Colleges buying solely from nominated contractors also brings significant corporate governance benefits, making the purchasing process more robust to auditor scrutiny.
    
“And finally, once fully implemented eProcurement is a system that adds long-term value by supporting growth within a college without the need to take on more staff to manage the process.”
    
Paresh Patel, accountant at Loughborough College, is one of Corero’s customers: “We added Web Requisitioning to our Corero Resource system three years ago to enable each budget holder to order directly from approved suppliers. In addition to dealing with normal internal requisitions, the software also links directly to the UNITY eMarketplace, providing us with the benefits of consortium driven eProcurement giving us the best possible prices from a much wider range of approved suppliers.”
    
Mark Thompson, managing director at COA Solutions, comments: “The public sector’s investment into financial management solutions is currently being driven by a number of factors. These include improved process efficiencies such as faster payment processing in order to meet government supplier payment targets, and ensuring greater financial and budgetary control, especially in light of the increased media focus on public spending.
    
“Electronic procurement, document management, cash flow forecasting and budgeting technologies are amongst the solutions being demanded by public sector organisations in order to fulfil their purchase-to-pay and budgetary needs. As public sector bodies require a single, holistic view of their finances, they are demanding that these solutions are tightly integrated into their central financial management systems.
    
“Public bodies are looking for a number of benefits from their purchase-to-pay, budgetary and forecasting software investments including a fast return-on-investment, cost savings, faster payment processing and an ease of financial reporting. Although not necessarily the initial drivers for the software investment, reduced paper use and carbon emissions to support their green agendas are also welcome additional benefits.”

A clear picture
London Borough of Havering is one such organisation that has recently invested in COA Solutions budgeting and forecasting software to provide an accurate and real-time picture of existing and forecast spend across the council, improving financial transparency and enabling greater control over costs.
    
Denis Riddle, systems accountant at London Borough of Havering Council, explains: “With Collaborative Planning, the time-consuming production and consolidation of spreadsheets will be eliminated, enabling managers to budget and forecast with greater ease and efficiency. We also expect time savings in terms of finance staff time, allowing them to focus on supporting managers with the creation and monitoring of their budgets and examining and challenging forecasts.”
    
Julian Buck, general manager at Version One, comments: “The public sector is keen to maximise efficiencies and streamline procurement whilst reducing costs and is increasingly recognising that document management integrated into financial management systems is key to fulfilling these needs. By replacing manual-based procedures with automated processes, organisations are electronically creating, delivering, storing, authorising and managing their financial documents, providing a return-on-investment within six months. Document management also cuts postage, printing and photocopying costs and speeds-up invoice approval enabling public bodies to pay suppliers in a timelier manner whilst supporting their environmental policies by cutting paper use.”

Shared services
Another trend likely to increase in public sector is shared services. “This has been on the agenda for some years, particularly in the NHS,” said David Turner, group marketing director of public sector ERP specialists Agresso CODA. “With the growing pressure on public finances, though, we anticipate further drives to encourage organisations to share resources and increase efficiency through shared back-office operations in areas like local and central government.”
    
A good example where this has worked well is in Berkshire Shared Services. Established in 2001 it provides a wide range of non-clinical support services to the NHS and other public sector bodies in Southern England, all based on a single instance of the Agresso Business World system. Using the web-functionality of Agresso 5.5 has helped the shared services organisation deliver significant productivity and efficiency improvements, while removing paper-based processes.
    
Grant Buckley, director of Finance at BSS, says: “We have been able to deliver cash savings of £3 million to our clients. We have also exceeded client expectations for service delivery.” Clearly such savings will be sought in all areas of public sector administration in years to come.
    
Other trends influencing our members:
The Business ‘Cloud’ trend: There are a growing number of companies offering ‘software as a service’ over the web and providers of out-sourced IT. The software is delivered as a service or ‘rented’, which is easy to turn on in good times but just as easy for businesses to turn off in a downturn. A study conducted by Forrester Research has indicated that while such solutions currently account for one per cent of the IT management software market, this is likely to increase to ten per cent by 2013.
    
Reflecting this growth in online business applications, a number of BASDA members have set up a cloud special interest group (SIG) with a view to raising the profile of business Cloud computing applications, exploring ideas around standards and best practice and producing deliverables that benefit members, partners and end users.
    
The ‘Green’ trend: Ignoring the environmental benefits, being green also makes excellent sense in terms of reducing costs and meeting government targets. BASDA is working closely with its members to help achieve this through its BASDA Green Charter which includes signatories from over 30 BASDA members of all sizes who are already working with their customers to integrate carbon emission monitoring and measuring into their business systems. About BASDA
Jairo Rojas is Director General of BASDA, the Business Application Software Developers Association, a UK-based, member-driven organisation that represents business software organisations of all sizes from the world’s largest business software suppliers through to UK headquartered medium and small sized businesses. For more information
Tel: +44 (0)1494 868 030
E-mail: jairo.rojas@basda.org
Web: www.basda.org

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