Durham budgets for Web savings

Durham Council budget managers are using a new Web tool to get the data they need, writes Karl Cushing.

Durham Council budget managers are using a new Web tool to get the data they need, writes Karl Cushing.

Durham County Council is implementing a new Web reporting tool to enable 700 budget managers at council sites, including more than 300 schools, to receive budgeting data online.

As well as providing the council's budget managers with a high-level overview of all their budgetary information, the system provides the ability to drill down for more detail, while page-level security ensures that unauthorised parties do not see financial information to which they are not entitled.

The council began looking for a new financial reporting tool in October last year. On top of the Government's 2005 target for electronic service delivery, a key driver was that the existing software was "getting on a bit" and the supplier, GEAC, would stop supporting it at the end of 2002. The council was also keen to move away from client/server to Web-based reports.

It eventually chose the e-reporting suite from information delivery technology firm Actuate, which was tasked with conducting a proof-of-concept pilot.

David Beeby, a senior manager within the council's IT department, says the implementation for the pilot was "very straightforward - it was up and running within a day".

Although the pilot was completed in December last year, the council is still using the test version of the software. Beeby explains that this is because the council is awaiting the arrival of new hardware. It wants to get the new kit in place before it loads the software so that it does not have to do the job twice.

The Web-based model of information delivery is much more efficient than the previous method and offers quicker access to financial statements for both internal and external staff, says Beeby. He says that getting financial information out to all the budget managers used to be "an expensive headache".

The council's finance department should now be able to produce reports in a matter of hours instead of days. The council also expects to make savings on paper costs - it estimates that its finance department will be able to do away with about 40,000 pages of paper-based reporting a month.

Another advantage of the Web-based system is that it is reasonably intuitive. The online reports will have the same structure as existing documents, minimising the need for retraining. The Actuate product also supports multiple output formats, including DHTML, PDF and XML.

In an extension of the original pilot, the council is planning to implement Actuate's e.Spreadsheet Server product - a Web-based spreadsheet information delivery tool - later this year. This will enable staff to create, manage and deploy business reports as Excel documents over the Web. Beeby says this should save a lot of the time that staff currently spend re-keying spreadsheet data.

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