Staffordshire councils look to reap benefits despite shared services project delays

A flagship shared services centre for 10 local councils was delayed by more than six months because of a lack of preparation by some of the councils and difficulties with commercial partners.

A flagship shared services centre for 10 local councils was delayed by more than six months because of a lack of preparation by some of the councils and difficulties with commercial partners.

All 10 councils in Staffordshire have been implementing a jointly procured customer relationship management system as part of a shared services programme called Staffordshire Connects.

The project is one of the largest shared services implementations in local government and its progress will be closely monitored by other councils that are under pressure to collaborate to deliver shared services.

In a frank appraisal of the project at the Society for IT Management's Business Transformation conference in Birmingham last week, Staffordshire Connects programme manager Tim Chesworth highlighted both the benefits it would deliver and the frustrations in implementing it.

He told delegates, "We should have aimed to get everybody live by the end of 2004. I think that would have been a realistic timescale."

However, work on implementation of the Oracle LG45 CRM application did not begin until May 2004, with the first council, Lichfield District Council, going live in September 2004.

The other councils involved are Cannock Chase, East Staffordshire, Newcastle-under-Lyme, South Staffordshire, Stoke, Stafford, Staffordshire County, Staffordshire Moorlands and Tamworth.

Most of the remaining authorities did not go live until last summer, while Staffordshire County Council, one of the two big authorities in the shared service project, is still implementing it.

Key lessons from the project, said Chesworth, include having commercial partners who understand the systems "inside out".

He added, "We did not give enough support to some of the districts. Because of the [state of] readiness of some of the authorities, it took a little bit longer than anticipated."

The CRM implementation would also have benefited from more staff and better training of the call-centre staff who had to use the application, he said.

One implementation of Oracle LG45 will run across all 10 authorities. The councils have saved more than £2.5m by procuring the system jointly rather than independently.

Implementation problems emerged when the project deviated from the Prince 2 project management methodology. It also became clear that despite each authority signing up to a common platform to link front-line services, each had its own goals and corporate objectives.

Despite these difficulties, Chesworth was enthusiastic about the project's potential. "We had no commonality of services, but now I believe we are about to leverage major efficiencies," he told delegates.

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