Local authorities, which rely on public funding for the services they provide, must plan their budgets extremely carefully.
One example is Torbay Council, which provides services for up to 200,000 residents. It recently invested in Logi Info to make it easier for its staff to generate reports on financial management data across the organisation.
“We were looking at upgrading our system to something more modern,” says Jeff Scott, principal finance officer in the council’s financial systems team. “The previous software still worked, but it didn’t have a lot of the functionality we were looking for.”
Previously, the financial systems team would provide all the council's departments and the Torbay Economic Development Company (TEDC) with static documents containing the results of financial management reports.
The reports were generated by the old system for senior managers, and would then be saved either as an Excel document or a PDF and be manually uploaded to a central location that could be accessed by about 100 budget holders across the organisations.
But when the council was told its business intelligence system would no longer be supported, it sought to replace it with a new one that provided better functionality rather than upgrade the old system.
“With our previous software, we were using it to generate static reports, so you can run stuff and save it as Excel or a PDF,” says Scott.
“There was no user interaction with those documents, and what we were looking for was something more web-based, so our users could actually run things on demand. So, rather than us running something for them and saving it as a PDF in a place where they can pick it up, they could run it themselves dynamically as and when required.”
After dialling into a daily demonstration of Logi Info’s software, Scott’s team decided to buy it off the shelf and develop it to meet the council’s needs. Scott says the price of the software was “very competitive compared to IBM or Microsoft products”.
Adding depth to the system
“We did everything ourselves,” says Scott. "We basically bought the product straight out of the box and then we could have picked someone else to develop it for us, but we wrote all our own dashboards.
“To get something up and running took us about two months. To get it to the stage we were after for the long term has taken us about a year.”
Scott’s team spent the first three to four months replicating the functionality of the previous system to allow budget reports to be generated and viewed online, and then spent eight months developing the new system with extra functionality.
Once the system had been replicated and users were comfortable with its new functionality, Scott’s team turned the old system off.
“We didn’t need to migrate any data because all our data is still sitting in the same place – it’s still sitting on the live servers in our data warehouse,” says Scott.
Cutting out manual processes
With the previous system, reports generated for departmental managers were often quickly out of date because the documents could not be altered, leading to new reports having to be generated daily, weekly and monthly.
Now, because Logi Info can be used to run reports using data from multiple sources, including the data warehouse, and deliver the results though as web-based application, a lot of the manual processes of the old system have been removed.
Now council staff who are in charge of budgets can access information in real time at a high and more detailed level, allowing issues to be dealt with more quickly.
“Logi Info has enabled us to move from using static PDF documents to a more dynamic interactive web-based application,” says Scott.
“There has definitely been a massive improvement in terms of time-saving. This system is so much easier and has so much more user functionality built in to it.”
Scott explains that as far as budget information is involved, councils, as public bodies, must be transparent in their activities.
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“As an organisation, we have certainly become more transparent because before, a lot of the data was there, but unless you really knew where to go and dig for it, you wouldn’t know it was there,” says Scott.
“Certain departments would obviously know where the data was and knew what you could get hold of, but other departments didn’t.”
Now, because the system is dashboard-driven, data can be retrieved at the click of a button, such as accounts receivable and scheduled payment activity, and alerts have been set up to inform relevant staff if errors occur.
“This is the type of thing people like because you don’t have to sit there waiting for somebody to come along and say ‘you’re not doing very well at this’ – you can just go on the screen and look,” says Scott.