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The cost of your organisation’s Travel and Expenses policy?

When times are tough and every penny needs to be accounted for, many organisations will look at their travel expenses costs in a bid to make efficiency savings and trim some of the waste.

Increased control over business expenses often means further processes and control mechanisms being put into place, rules being formulated and extra layers of authorisation being added. With all of these extra controls in place and less out-of-policy expense reports slipping through the net, you might assume that immediate savings would be made.

However, more time will inevitably be needed to for more detailed corporate travel management, and frustrations from the claimant and the expense accounting teams will occur when reimbursed expenses are late or sometimes not even made. Issues with timely employee reimbursement can quickly develop into a deep-seated grudge held by the employee, which can in turn affect productivity. Costs to the organisation can also occur when VAT is not rightfully claimed back due to receipts or information not being collected or having been lost.

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Guest blog: Zeitgeist – ERP benefits for the commissioning model

Zeitgeist – ERP benefits for the commissioning model
Guest blog by Mircea Rogojan-Rush, ERP Consultant at UNIT4 partner Methods Enterprise

ERP systems and the commissioning model in local government

Following central government funding reductions and coupled with an increase in demand, we believe the current local government model is unsustainable. This is largely due to faults in design, namely inflexible structures and silo operations with little interface between each other. As a result large areas of business operations function inefficiently, delivering outcomes nobody needs or requested. In addition, similar inefficiency can be seen when it comes to software selection and utilisation. It’s not uncommon for different departments to choose different solutions that meet their specific needs with little thought to the needs or objectives of the wider organisation. The net result can be that core business processes and functions, such as business intelligence, analysis and reporting are not straight forward even at departmental level. The situation needs redressing.

So what is the impact of the new fiscal reality and how is it affecting a local authority’s choice of technology?

The reduction in funding from central government has sent local authorities in search of different ways to deal with the new fiscal reality, and so far commissioning has emerged as a winner. According to the government’s own Commissioning Academy Programme, commissioning allows local authorities to focus on understanding and responding strategically to the needs of their communities. Rather than being involved in business as usual operational matters, a local authority’s role changes to one where it monitors the performance of service providers and ensures that services are delivered efficiently to meet the needs of the wider community.

Let’s look at the role ERP systems play in the commissioning model

The commissioning model demands that local authorities think ahead and consider future software needs. So what are the steps they need to take?

–       Firstly, assessing needs so transactional accuracy, reporting across multiple business areas and ensuring access to reliable, comprehensive information.
–       Secondly, designing services. They need the ability to run scenarios to assess what is required, when and by whom.
–       Thirdly, sourcing providers. This is where procurement modules and running the tender process will be crucial.
–       And finally effective monitoring and evaluation processes need to be in place so, ensuring key performance indicators can be set and reviewed and that reporting and spend analysis are timely and accurate.

Typically many local authorities do not have the right systems and solutions in places to meet the challenges imposed by the new commissioning model and are faced with a gap between what they have and what they need to have in order to meet these requirements. This is where an ERP solution can add value and really make change happen.

ERP deployment – it’s all in the timing

At its heart an effective ERP solution collects, manages and distributes critical business, financial and operational information across functional boundaries, in effect breaking down the barriers and silos that exist in many organisations. So far so good but while making the decision to look for an ERP solution is a no brainer, timing is key.

Based on my experience in a large local authority, which was in this very position, there are three available options as to when to deploy ERP. There is overlap in all three scenarios so I’ve classified them based on when the main bulk of activities take place.

1. Prior to beginning the commissioning journey – while it may seem counter intuitive at first, implementing an ERP system before making the transition to a commissioning model offers plenty of benefits. For example, resource wise, the organisation still has the capacity required to procure, fine tune, test and implement a large project; strategically, the new model that it aspires to is still fresh in everyone’s memory, providing the right impetus and taking advantage of the enthusiasm on this side of the bell curve. Financially, provided the budget has been managed with caution, there should still be scope to secure the right solution rather than the cheapest option. The looming question is of course, can the organisation predict the future shape with such accuracy as to design the ERP system a couple of years ahead of the curve? Luckily, software platforms have become more flexible in recent times and agile systems such as UNIT4 Agresso have been designed to allow organisations to make systems changes quickly and easily even after implementation.

2. Concurrently. This approach allows all the benefits of the first option, enhanced by a clearer vision as the model crystalises through the various stages of the transformation. In my opinion though, this choice leaves very little room for error. ERP implementation has been proven to be typically a costly and time consuming affair, with many projects going over time and budget significantly. Coupling such an exhaustive task with a complex local authority transformation programme may induce change fatigue and prevent the organisation from excelling at either tasks. So while it may seem like the safest choice in theory, in practice the end result would be a constant warring between competing projects, resources, funds and priorities. Hardly, the cooperative environment required to build a cross organisational commissioning model.

3. Finally, a post commissioning ERP implementation may provide a solution from the gaps in rationale of the first two timing choices. On one hand, the organisation has changed and it knows exactly what software it needs to become successful in the new world and there are no competing major transformation programmes. Also the new model should be conducive to facilitating an efficient procurement and commissioning process as well as a shorter implementation time span. On the other hand, the organisation would be missing out on the benefits that an ERP system offers in expediting its transformation journey; the journey itself may be more fluid than anticipated, making it difficult to decide on the cut off. And of course, the organisation will have to deal with the double whammy of a new commissioning model underpinned by a software not fit for purpose, all this while trying to implement a new ERP system.

My view…
Local authorities aiming for the adoption of the commissioning model have or are considering an ERP solution to manage their business and financial processes and information. Of course there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the choice of ERP or the timing of any implementation but based on my experience my recommendation is to select and embed you chosen ERP solution first and then manage the transition to the commissioning model. This staggered approach allows your inter-departmental teams to understand and utilise the full breadth of ERP capabilities and to maximise your return on investment while placing your resources on the right side of the bell curve prior to any further changes in how you conduct or manage your operations.

Reference:
UK Government Commissioning Academy Programme – https://www.gov.uk/the-commissioning-academy-information

For more information about Methods Enterprise please visit http://methodsenterprise.co.uk/

Cloud Myth # 5: The cloud is one-size fits all

After dispelling a number of myths surrounding cloud computing it is time to conclude the series.

If you want to see the series continued then by all means let us know what you consider are some of the biggest misconceptions and we’ll look to address them!

Would you choose a grocer for you family’s requirements that only sell vegetables in 50kg bags? Would you frequent a café that only sold fried eggs, forget tea, the sausage, bacon and mushrooms?  As both fail to cater to individuals’ requirements it would be highly likely that they would not be very busy. For many their experience and understanding of business cloud computing is based on pretty much the same ‘one size fits all’ offering.

If this were the reality for all cloud solutions it would be totally unacceptable. Firstly the inability to adjust software would not be received well by executives who require solutions that support evolving strategy and organisational nuances. Additionally the business community would not want to be wholly tethered to the vendor’s philosophy on how best to adapt to the fast-pace nature of external markets.

While this is still the model for some vendors, it is not the case for all, if it were I think cloud ERP would be non-existent. While some processes are commoditised many of the business services that ERP underpin are complex, they are impacted by internal and external forces. We realised this early on at UNIT4, in fact we market ourselves as “the global leader in software that supports business change”. So it will come as no surprise to you that early on (our first cloud solutions date back to 1998) we did everything we could to incorporate flexibility to our cloud solutions, we are the antithesis to one size fits all. Our clients can configure the cloud the way they need it.

It has to be that way; the organisations we work with provide diverse services in incredibly changeable sectors.  Of course other vendors who jumped on the cloud bandwagon are also belatedly jumping on the flexibility message. We would advise any potential ERP buyer to road test promises and ask for any associated change costs. For UNIT4 the unique architecture of our software allows organisations to make extensive configurations largely in house without the need to call upon external consultants. Similarly configurations are fast and with minimal business disruption.

So as this series draws to conclusion I think it fitting that we have addressed perhaps the most damaging myth and highlighted that the truth, in combination with cloud’s other benefits, is perhaps the most powerful of features, you just have to choose the right vendor!

Learn more here about cloud computing with UNIT4.

UNIT4 sponsors Finance for the Future awards

Few would question the need to protect and build the health and stability of our communities and the natural environment and the role businesses can play in that effort. Greater focus needs to be placed on encouraging sustainability in all areas of an organisation’s strategy, operations and reporting and it was with these things in mind that The Prince’s Accounting for Sustainability Project and ICAEW launched the Finance for the Future awards.

The awards celebrate the crucial role financial decision-makers play in embedding sustainability into business-wide operations and strategy and in changing how business is conducted. They highlight the importance of the role that the finance team plays in helping businesses achieve positive long-term financial, environmental, social and economic impacts. Entrants are judged on their ability to demonstrate how managing environmental and social impacts has helped to make their organisation more resilient and financially sustainable.

Helen Sutton, UK & Ireland Managing Director for UNIT4, explains why the business was so keen to get involved and sponsor these awards: “Long term economic success is dependent on the health and stability of our communities and the natural environment and we all need to look at how we conduct and run our operations and how we all plan for the future. As a provider of financial and business systems, we pride ourselves on the ability of our solutions to facilitate and adapt to change quickly and with minimal disruption. So we are very keen to see where we can help further the efforts being made by HRH The Prince of Wales and the ICAEW and to help drive change such that sustainability in all areas of business operations becomes the norm. ”

UNIT4 sponsored the Innovative New Ideas category and Helen presented the award to Threadneedle Investments, a global asset manager with a strong reputation in equities, fixed income, commodities, property, socially responsible investments and multi-asset. They invest £92.8 billion for a wide range of institutional, intermediary and retail clients. Their approach is active, client-focussed and performance driven. This is underpinned by their culture of debate, sharing of knowledge and communication.

To meet the growing need for social investment in the UK, Threadneedle has partnered with Big Issue Invest to launch the Threadneedle UK Social Bond Fund. The first fund of its kind with daily liquidity, the UK Social Bond Fund aims to achieve both a solid investment return and a positive social outcome by investing in fixed income securities of organisations that support socially beneficial activities and economic development.

Helen said: “We would like to congratulate all those who took part in these awards. These organisations and their teams are doing some really inspiring things to change the culture of our society as a whole in terms of how we approach and do business. They are helping to build a sustainable future for the people they work with and for, the services and solutions they offer and for our wider economic and environmental well-being.”

Wigan Council selects Invoice4 to drive process efficiency and cost reduction

UNIT4 has announced that Wigan Council has purchased the UNIT4 Invoice4 solution as part of its objectives to drive process efficiency, automation and transformation within the Accounts Payable and Purchase to Pay processes.

The Invoice4 solution will enable the council to scan incoming paper invoices and automatically import invoices that are received by email, once imported the Invoice4 solution will use intelligent data capture technologies to extract key information and identify invoice exceptions at the earliest opportunity. By adopting Invoice4, purchase invoices will be received into the UNIT4 ERP solution faster, with less effort and greater accuracy. It will also provide easy and rapid access to the electronic images held in the council’s existing UNIT4 ERP solution and deliver a structured process for managing highlighted exceptions.

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