Being tasked with transforming public services, driving innovation and meeting efficiency targets in the face of shrinking budgets is a familiar problem for public sector organisations. But a challenging medium term financial strategy took this a stage further and forced the public sector to radically rethink service delivery so it could plug a significant financial gap. The stated political policy was to make back office savings in order to protect front-line service delivery.
At a local level, the GO Shared Services programme was launched. The programme is a collaboration between Cheltenham Borough Council, Cotswold, Forest of Dean and West Oxfordshire district councils and builds on the successful track record of commissioning smaller shared services (legal, building control and audit) that had successfully retained savings within the partner councils. The overall aim of GO is to establish shared services covering finance, HR, payroll and procurement based on the deployment of an integrated enterprise resource planning system. In order to do this a central document repository was required.
For Cheltenham Borough Council, working closely with the other district councils in Gloucestershire and neighbouring West Oxfordshire was a familiar task. Previous government initiatives, such as Choice Based Lettings, meant we’d been working with geographically dispersed teams for a number of years. But sharing information with our colleagues at other councils had always proved a time consuming challenge.
So that everyone had visibility of content ahead of a meeting, large files were often sent via email. This filled our inboxes with attachments and meant that time was wasted at the start of each face-to-face meeting working out which version of a document was the final one. Content had to be cross-checked to verify that everyone’s version had all the comments and feedback that had been distributed via email. With some councils based 80 miles apart, in-person meetings proved costly in terms of both time and money and this certainly wasn’t the best way to spend our time!
It was clear that using email as the basis of collaborative working simply didn’t work and it certainly wouldn’t be sufficient for the GO programme. A request was made to find an improved means of sharing information and we pulled together a ‘Collaboration Tools Options Paper’ that examined a number of offerings, including SharePoint. Many of the tools required a lot of infrastructure work and had a slow design and deployment process. I had used the Huddle content collaboration platform as a central document repository for some of my own projects and saw its potential for Cheltenham’s partnership programmes.
As there was a clear business need for such a tool, the investment costs could be accommodated within the council’s current budgets and Huddle was approved by our assistant chief executive and deployed. Being cloud-based, we could get up and running on the application immediately and everyone could securely access the information they needed from wherever they were, which is great for remote teams.
To overcome the challenge of people duplicating materials in a workspace and causing confusion, each project has one or two people responsible for establishing a suitable folder structure. By doing so, team members can find the information they need faster.
Using Huddle for the GO Shared Services programme, we have created a central document repository that is accessible to all partner organisations. All content relating to GO can be viewed, commented on and versions tracked. It is vital to the programme’s success that stakeholders from all organisations can actively participate in the review, comment and approval of all documentation (including design, business process and policy documents) as we will be aligning and standardising many of the ways of working across all the partners.
With the government budget cuts, councils are looking to save money and come up with new and improved business processes, while continuing to provide the highest level of public service. It is innovative technology such as this that is going to enable councils to deliver true shared services and hit their efficiency targets.
Christopher Cox, programme manager, Cheltenham Borough Council
Chris is a highly skilled and self-motivated project and programme manager across a wide variety of disciplines and industries. He has more than 20 years experience in software engineering and leading successful IT implementations through the complete software development lifecycle. This includes everything from the requirements capture through to development, delivery, acceptance and on-going operational support. Having worked for many years in the public sector, Chris is adamant that all technology solutions should be cost effective, provide value for money and actually fulfill user requirements and needs.