West Coast Regional Council

Sharing service arrangements and procurement of financial software with other councils leads to better and more cost-effective services.

Better financial services through collaboration

West Coast Regional Council logoWest Coast Regional Council has been involved in setting up or participating in a number of formal and informal shared services arrangements during the past few years. “When you want to do the best for your community, it’s the only way,” says Chief Executive Officer, Chris Ingle.

One of the organisation’s more recent examples of collaboration is sharing the cost of purchasing new financial software. The old system was no longer being supported and the organisation was faced with a lengthy and expensive Request for Proposal (RFP) process to replace it. “We are small with only 30 to 40 computer users so we can’t bulk buy,” says Mr Ingle.

Based on positive past experiences – such as being the first South Island council to sign up to the Palmerston North City Council’s after hours call centre, and its involvement in the civil defence initiative Lifelines being heralded as an example of best practice – West Coast Regional Council realised the answer lay in collaboration.

Effective is being more productive and doing a better quality job. Efficiency is doing more for less, particularly in terms of money.

The idea of sharing IT procurement or services with other councils in the region had first been mooted about five years ago. A consultant was brought in to provide some concepts around establishing a purchasing company, such as BOPLASS1 and MWLASS,2 but it wasn’t quite what was wanted at the time.

The idea was raised again in 2010, when the IT Manager, Les Gibbs, prepared an IT strategy for the organisation. He also looked at the IT needs of the three local councils and identified common gaps. One of these was that all three councils would need new financial software in the next one to four years. The chief executives decided to join forces and split the cost of hiring Colin Anderson of Effectus to pinpoint what they needed from a financial IT system and what would best suit them.

Based on this knowledge, the Regional Council, West Coast District Council and Grey District Council developed an RFP. They also kept Mr Anderson on board to guide them through the process. “This was not something we had time to do ourselves, nor did we have the expertise in-house,” says Mr Ingle. “Colin understands how local government and IT works, and knows the tricks of the trade when it comes to RFPs. It was invaluable.”As of mid-2012, the new software is being rolled out.

In addition to getting a high-end product for a fraction of the price, the other benefit of sharing IT systems with other councils is having a common capability. With minimal staff at the best of times, the organisation often relies on seconding people to cover staffing gaps. Having the same software makes it easier for staff to come up to speed in their new workplace.

One of the biggest lessons Mr Ingle has learnt is the importance of positive attitudes. “Probably the biggest reason for shared services going belly up is people, often at the second or third tier of management, who see it as a threat,” he says. “Some staff will not engage and throw up barriers. Just don’t put negative people in the room as it can torpedo the whole project. It can be awkward but you have to think of the whole and choose the person with the right attitude, not the right job title.”

The other is that shared service arrangements need not always be with an immediate neighbour. “When you’re looking for opportunities to get the best for your ratepayers, for the same price or not much more, look further afield.”

For anyone thinking of identifying and developing an RFP for shared services, Mr Ingle advises against trying to do it themselves. “You don’t have the time on top of your usual business so it won’t get done. And you won’t have the expert knowledge. Don’t be afraid to spend money on good consultant advice.”

Based on an interview with Chris Ingle, Chief Executive Officer, on 22 June 2012.

1: The Bay of Plenty Local Authority Shared Services company.

2: The Manawatu-Wanganui Local Authority Shared Services company.

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