Lincoln City Council raises over 10,000 invoices per year equating to almost £7 million.
Collecting debt is thus extremely important to the Council, yet their old debt recovery system was rapidly becoming obsolete and unreliable. The old system was unsupported, presenting a considerable risk in terms of service continuity.
As Lincoln City Council were already a Unit4 Business World (Agresso) user, the conclusion was to implement the new debt collection system on Agresso, and after a competitive tender, the Council awarded Integra the contract to provide the consultancy to develop this system. Given the importance to deliver a system and mitigate the risk of failure of the old system, the Council also asked Integra to provide the client side project management.
The Council had also concluded a LEAN Systems review of the Accounts Receivable function and was keen to incorporate these re-design principals into the migration project.
The redesign principles were:
- Service areas to initiate debt for the correct amount to correct customer
- Exchequer team to support service areas with debts and maintain the accounts receivable system
- Recovery team to collect outstanding debt
The project therefore also had a business transformational aspect, particularly with regards to the service areas having direct access to the new system to initiate the debt.
The approach taken on the project was a structured implementation methodology, using the Integra Structured Implementation Methodology (ISIM). This is a proven methodology, based on best practices, that Integra have used successfully with other local authority clients and is based on a structured ‘waterfall’ approach with defined stages and identified deliverables, and underpinned by ownership and authorisation.
“Project Planning was effective and the documentation was comprehensive and helpful. The knowledge and support from the Integra consultants was excellent - issues arising were dealt with promptly”
The project itself was run on an ‘assisted build’ basis, which meant that Council staff undertook the live build of the new system. This approach focuses on knowledge transfer from Integra consultants to Council staff and fosters self-reliance.
Integra consultants worked closely with the staff assigned to work on the implementation through-out all stages of the project.
Through a series of design workshops run by the Integra consultants, the new system was designed to meet all the Council’s requirements.
The project adopted a train the trainer approach with Integra consultants training the Exchequer and Recovery team key users and they in turn training the Recovery team and services areas.
Cutover to the new system
As the Integra client side Project Manager, Andrew Smith-West states “a key success criteria defined at the start of the project was the seamless transition when moving to the new system. It was vital that: the new system functioned as expected: there were no operational problems post Go-Live, particularly with the integrity of the data transferred across from the old system; and that users were able (and indeed wanted) to use the new system and new business processes.”
Following the completion of User Acceptance Testing, the project was focused on meeting a clearly defined Go-Live criteria before the project Go-Live decision was made. An operational team comprising all project team members, key users and the Council’s Internal Audit function were involved in this process.
There was also a clearly defined data transfer acceptance criteria and the data migration process was thoroughly tested.
Although there were some minor issues post Go-Live, these were very quickly corrected by the Council’s Project Team, and the overwhelming consensus of all Council staff involved in the project was that this success criteria had been fully met. This was also confirmed in lessons learnt survey post Go-Live.
Sharon Clark, the Group Accountant, responsible for the project, attributes the success of the project to the project planning, the knowledge and support of the Integra consultants, and the skills and commitment of the council’s staff.
As well as mitigating the risk of failure of the old system, almost immediately, the Council has started to realise the benefits from the new system, defined in the LEAN review:
- Exchequer team are responsible for the set up and maintenance of new customer accounts to avoid duplication.
- Service areas are responsible for raising debt, leading to improved accuracy i.e. the correct amount is invoiced to the correct customer. The default/standard prices and VATs built into the design of the system are enabling improved consistency.
- Authorisation procedures built into the workflow process, have reduced the need for manual input and thereby improving efficiency.
- Enhanced functionality is allowing the Recovery team to monitor and recover outstanding debt more efficiently, e.g. producing the information for the credit agencies used to take 2.5 to 3 hours on the old system, but now only takes 40 minutes on Business World (Agresso).
Furthermore, as Sharon Clark states “these improvements will allow the Recovery team more time to focus on their day to day tasks which will realise further financial benefits”.
“The Integra Project Manager and Consultants worked well with the internal team. The skills and commitment of Integra consultants and the internal team were excellent and definitely contributed to the success of the project” Sharon Clark