Hillingdon Council embraces innovative technology

Published Wednesday, April 4, 2018 10:00 AM by Nick Wilson, Managing Director, Public Sector, Health and Care, Advanced

Local authority delivers 50% time efficiencies with Advanced web-based budgeting tool

Hillingdon Council has revealed how finance automation and collaborative planning technology is empowering its budget managers to take greater ownership of managing their budgets as it undergoes a period of digital transformation.

Since implementing a web-based financial budgeting and forecasting solution from Advanced, the authority has reduced the time spent on the monthly budgeting process from three weeks down to between one to two weeks, equating to about 50% in time savings.

The news solidifies a recent report that councils are not ‘digital dinosaurs’ and see the benefits of big data, automation and technology for strong financial management. Hillingdon Council is successfully implementing its Business Improvement Delivery (BID) programme – which uses technology, innovation and communications to put residents at the heart of everything it does – and it is both the council’s leadership team as well as local political support that is driving successful adoption of the programme.

The implementation of Advanced’s financial tool, Collaborative Planning, is another string to the council’s bow with its sweet spot of process automation and empowering effective collaboration. Email alerts flag when forecasts are required, for example, and parameters are set for forecasting deadlines. The streamlined workflows make the process a priority for budget managers and ensures their participation. In addition, the system makes financial data and reports more transparent and digestible, giving greater context to budget spend and forecasting. The system is now used across the authority, which allows all budget managers, the leadership team and the Leader of the Council to have a real-time view of what is happening with budgets and adapt future financial strategies accordingly.

Andy Evans, Deputy Director Corporate Finance, Hillingdon Council said: “The production of monthly budget monitoring data used to be reliant on manual intervention and spreadsheets to extract information from our general ledger system. We wanted our data to be accessible in ‘manager speak’, so our non-financial users could use – and act upon – the data with ease and encourage them to take ownership of their budgets.

“Now, we have a single view of budgets in around 50% of the time it used to take; this puts us on the front foot from a budgeting perspective. The Collaborative Planning tool has allowed the accountants that run our financial processes to concentrate on analysing the data, identifying risks and other value-added activities.

“We are pushing on with extending the application of the system and will be implementing capital budget monitoring in 2018/19. We are also looking at ways of combining activity data and key management information from other systems with the financial data from Collaborative Planning to enhance our reporting outputs."

From the budget manager perspective, Sandra Taylor, Assistant Director, Provider and Commissioned Care at Hillingdon Council said: "Collaborative Planning implementation has been a really positive shift towards budget managers being able to independently update their own cost centres, with comments and detail that allows me to review. The 'pull through' of data is especially helpful as it gives a good history of budget management decision making and information each month. Overall, the introduction of Collaborative Planning has been really positive for my team and has helped upskill resource managers"

As with all local authorities, Hillingdon Council is under increasing pressure to improve the way it works and enhance the services to its residents whilst dealing with ongoing funding reductions and increased demands for key services. Research continues to show the benefits that technology can bring to the public sector and how it can make resources stretch as far as possible – vital when ensuring that frontline services are not affected by shortfalls in funding. According to PwC’s annual local government survey, a digital approach is the way forward. 65% of councils are confident they can make the necessary financial savings without impacting the quality of service in the next year, while 76% are confident in their digital approach to help them deliver on these outcomes.

Nick Wilson, Managing Director – Public Sector, Health & Care - Advanced concludes: “Hillingdon Council is a superb example of how a local authority can deliver financial insights and savings through technology. In fact, automating budgeting and forecasting processes and adopting new ways of working with a collaborative approach could save the organisation significant sums. Adding Collaborative Planning to its technology armour is really strengthening its position as a stand-out authority in driving efficiencies and delivering greater value for money.”