As public sector organisations continue to face austerity measures driven by Government funding cuts of £11.5bn in 2015-16, a robust and integrated financial management system (FMS) is now essential to improve productivity in order to maintain service levels.
With the development of sophisticated FMS functionality, such as procurement, planning, forecasting, budgeting, management reporting and analytics, there is now a greater choice of solutions for organisations to consider and it can be difficult to determine which system is most appropriate for their needs.
Dean Dickinson, Managing Director at Advanced (Public Sector, Enterprise & Education Division), gives his top tips when choosing an FMS:
1. Evaluate your current system – Review the benefits, or lack of benefits, delivered by the current system - such as real time analytics, flexible budget planning, monitoring and forecasting, high level of support and low ownership costs. Establishing the reasons why a new FMS is required is the first essential step to choosing the right system and important to secure management buy-in;
2. Look at the wider picture – Implementing new software can often be the catalyst for wider organisational changes. Think about which areas the new system will come into contact with and what wider processes might need to change as a result. This will help to decide who should be consulted internally about the new system;
3. Establish a project team – Key internal stakeholders who will be impacted by the new FMS should be included in the project team, and a clear leader selected. One of the team’s first tasks will be to clearly define the requirements for the organisation including areas outside of finance;
4. Gain input from others – From the start of the project speak to software suppliers to see what is on offer in order to define the tender requirements. Valuable insight can also be gained by speaking to other similar organisations about what FMS they use, how they deploy it and any changes they have implemented. Engaging an independent market analyst should be considered to gain an expert opinion of key suppliers within specific sectors;
5. Set a budget and timescale – Design a realistic schedule for the rolling-out of the FMS and plan the cost of the project, remembering to account for any set-up costs, future maintenance payments, and time for analysis and implementation;
6. Choose the procurement route – Decide whether you will go through a full Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) process or through an approved framework. Suppliers listed on a framework will already have been assessed, checked and commercial terms agreed, which can reduce the time, risk and cost associated with procuring back office systems;
7. Establish a shortlisting process – Choose what is essential and what is ‘nice to have’ and then compile a scoring system for shortlisting systems;
8. Define what a successful project would look like – The desired outcomes and when and how these would be assessed should be established at the start of the project;
9. Create a comprehensive tender document – As well as the functionality required by the FMS, a tender document should also include strong references to projects undertaken by similar organisations and the ability to ‘future-proof’ the system in case of a change in IT requirements, for example by offering hosting, and after-sales support; and
10. Select a suitable supplier – When selecting a suitable supplier, consider whether they should be UK-based, as this can mean more understanding and quicker responses to legislative changes, whether they run public sector user groups and lastly, whether they are a good fit with the organisation’s culture.
Dean says, “Historically many public sector bodies have invested in costly ERP systems designed for large enterprises, but FMS’s are an increasingly credible option for providing support to organisations in the face of continued cost-cutting.
“A sophisticated FMS offers clear and immediate benefits such as cost savings, a fast return on investment and productivity gains. Whilst selecting a new system may seem like a daunting challenge, with a considered approach the benefits can be reaped by all organisations who are working hard to maintain frontline services on much reduced budgets.”