Local government is at the apex of change. Councils must move forward technologically to be able to deliver the services their ratepayers now demand and must do so efficiently and cost-effectively on all levels. Legacy systems are old, expensive, inefficient systems. It’s that simple.
Ironically though, council financial managers are still finding it difficult to convince some elected members and the community at large that an investment in technology is key to long-term efficiencies. That is despite the growing number of stories of highly successful transformations that have changed the way a council operates for the better.
There are many benefits associated with moving to a contemporary enterprise system that delivers a real-time view of council finances, according to TechnologyOne Local Government Industry Director, Peter Suchting.
Its fully integrated enterprise software solution, OneCouncil, enables councils to better connect with their communities on any device, anywhere, anytime.
TechnologyOne’s Suchting says the benefits of having a fully integrated enterprise solution with powerful financial capabilities include the ability to draw upon reliable, real-time data to develop accurate reports and forecasts and make well-informed, strategic management decisions.
Access to good data is something that the elected officials – the councillors charged with ensuring local government authorities meet the needs of the community and spend its money wisely – understand.
Brendon Roberts, for instance, is now a councillor at Randwick City Council in Sydney and is also its former deputy mayor.
He describes Randwick as one of the more professional councils in Sydney, and says he and his colleagues rely on council staff to keep them up to date with the latest information.
“When a matter comes up in a monthly meeting that involves expenditure it is put on the agenda for approval. In the report the staff produce for us there is a financial impact section so we know the impact of the decision we are about to make.
“It is the primary source for councillors and we are basically beholden to that advice.”
Those council staff, in return, are beholden to the quality of data they can get from the system.
“In my experience, the staff are always available and open to answering any questions,” Roberts says.
The director of governance and his staff are able to provide very detailed answers. “When the new accounting system came in I had a one-on-one briefing with the director of governance who took me through the accounting system,” he says. “It’s pretty granular accounting.”
Single source of truth
Suchting says councils such as Randwick want to draw on a single source of truth.
“That means they don’t have to find, collate and process information from disparate finance systems. This saves time, streamlines the entire process and reduces the manual work required from staff,” he said.
“As a result, the local community benefits from better, more rapid and relevant decision-making, more effective use of scarce resources and ultimately, enhanced service delivery.
”One of the major differences between the corporate world and local government is that council budgets focus on delivering services, and the most efficient and equitable distribution of scarce resources to deliver those services. With businesses, the focus is on profit, return to shareholders and how best to achieve those goals.”
According to Suchting, the need for councils to become more efficient is being driven by rising costs associated with service delivery – such as wages and materials – and a decrease in funds as rates capping and reduced government backing. As such financial management is incredibly important, particularly over the long term when maintaining quality of assets and service within the constraints of a limited budget.
“Financial management is not all about profitability. It is about managing long term sustainability, and about managing risk,” he said. “For example, it is not acceptable for a bridge to collapse because the council decided to defer spending on maintenance or capital expenditure. Residents also expect their ratepayer dollars to be spent wisely, so it’s vital councils have robust financial management processes to manage the assets, people and property information they’re responsible for.”
Although it has been repeatedly stressed in the digital transformation narrative, it is important to understand why a move to contemporary enterprise architecture is better in the long run.
Legacy systems generally lack integration and provide a very poor user experience making reporting and information visibility difficult due to lacklustre reporting tools and the fact information needs to be manually collated from many disparate systems.
They are also difficult to use. As a result, end users are not engaged and that translates to a higher, often menial, workload for back-office staff. A contemporary system with a consumer grade interface better engages users who are happy to get the job done, Suchting said. For instance, it can be as simple as capturing expenses on a phone by taking a photo of the receipt. By streamlining invoice capture and moving to a model of intelligent transaction processing, back-office users don’t have to spend their days entering invoices.
Another major benefit to financial managers is the data analysis and the transparency of a contemporary enterprise solution. TechnologyOne provides direct customer facing functionality around a council’s day-to-day work. An ERP will normally cover functions such as procure to pay, human capital management, asset lifecycle management and corporate performance management.
“Our solution is purpose built for local government, with specific functionality such as prediction modelling of optimised renewal and upgrade treatments for assets. This links directly to long-term financial plans,” TechnlogyOne’s Suchting said.
“Being a contemporary enterprise software provider, we facilitate more accurate and devolved data capture through an accessible, modern system that is available on any device anywhere anytime and is, therefore, more accessible to the end user and, in our case, also to customers.”
Greater knowledge through data analysis, efficiency, cost savings, better customer service, a happier workforce – the list of benefits from digital transformation is as endless as it is exciting.
To learn more search OneCouncil Effect.
About this author
Mike Gee is a writer for the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit of which Technology One is a corporate member. Members provide their insights and expertise for the benefit of the Which-50 community. Membership fees apply.