Financial Ombudsman Service mining for gold in cloud HR and finance

The Financial Ombudsman Service is reaping the benefits of the cloud-based human resources and finance system it implemented last year

After successfully rolling out and bedding in its cloud-based human resource (HR) and finance system, the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) is now digging into its functionality.

In November 2021, alongside service partner IBM, the FOS completed the roll-out of the system from Workday and moved into a new phase of using the software, which set out to replace about 14 separate systems as a bedrock of its digital transformation.

Nicola Wadham, CIO at the Financial Ombudsman Service, told Computer Weekly that the service was already seeing the benefits of replacing multiple systems with a single cloud service, which she described as “the power of one”.

“We are up and running – we are stable, paying people and we have got through the key moments,” she said.

The organisation has also set a timeframe for pulling out of its datacentre, with all systems in the cloud. “The legacy systems are awaiting the executioner now. We have archived what we have to do and have a datacentre exit project,” said Wadham.

Set up in 2001 by MPs, the Financial Ombudsman Service settles disputes between consumers and financial services providers. It is contacted by more than one million people each year.

It is planning to digitally transform its entire back office, with Workday’s cloud-based software a foundation stone. The roll-out of Workday at the FOS was far from standard, coming as it did during the Covid-19 lockdown when people were forced to work remotely.

“In usual circumstances you would have in-person drop-in centres, floor walkers and the swivel chair to allow you to ask people how to do things,” said Wadham. “Instead, we had virtual drop-in clinics and good support information.” The FOS now has a hybrid working pattern where staff are in four days every fortnight.

Finding the gold

But implementation is only ever half the task, according to Wadham. “It can go horribly wrong, as we all know, but it is the usage of the system and its exploitation where the gold is,” she said.

Three groups of users at the FOS will benefit from the new HR and finance system. Professional users who work in the finance and HR departments will be required to do less double-checking, less manual work, and processes that would normally require two people will now require one. This will reduce processing times significantly.

Meanwhile, managers can use the system for onboarding workers, ending employment contracts or doing appraisals. They will be able to see more information about their workforce than they used to, and do more self-service, according to Wadham.

“We are now transitioning to the continuous improvement phase. There is a lot of good [functionality] out of the box, but you have to discover it, which is something we have to work on”

Nicola Wadham, Financial Ombudsman Service

The organisation is educating managers about the functionality available to them so they can get more out of the system. “It’s about helping them understand how to do the action and making sure they have got the right guide. Now we are back in the office, we are able to promote and advertise clinics that help people get on their way,” said Wadham.

It is also focusing on getting staff across the board to use the new systems, which is a challenge when they have used the same systems for decades. In the past, all these users were interacting with different systems, accessing different pockets of data.

“This is an important part of the wider digitisation strategy because you have to get your staff interacting with the new technology,” said Wadham.

Once staff begin to use the system, they can discover the less obvious, but valuable, functionality, or “the gold”, according to Wadham.

“We are now transitioning to the continuous improvement phase. There is a lot of good [functionality] out of the box, but you have to discover it, which is something we have to work on.”

An array of tools

The FOS is also using Workday Innovation Services, of which there are 24 available. The FOS has already adopted eight of them.

For example, it has implemented Workday Everywhere, which offers integration with Microsoft Teams so users don’t have to leave Workday to use Teams.

It is also using Workday Assistant, a chatbot that uses natural language to help staff complete tasks through voice requests, such as booking holidays or finding their pay slips. “I am hoping users will adopt that because it is going to make things quicker,” said Wadham.

Wadham and her team are currently looking at an interview scheduling function, which would allow candidates to schedule interview slots without telephoning. “This is niche, but powerful,” she said.

In the longer term, the FOS plans to use the system for workforce planning. “This is big for us, because we are demand-led and it helps us understand the make-up of our workforce, give case work to the right people and ensure that our people have the right skills,” said Wadham.

The Workday-based transformation of the back office follows the FOS’s project to put its core front-end systems, such as its case management system, in the cloud.

It has used Microsoft Dynamics 365 for its case work since 2019. It is currently transitioning its case work system support arrangements to IT services provider Tata Consultancy Services and is building a consumer-focused portal with the supplier.

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