Hello PPMA members and friends
In my blog this week I thought I would give you an insight into Programme Athena, a Capital Ambition-funded project that facilitates shared working amongst London’s public sector organisations. It’s focus is on creating opportunities for shared working, shared procurement of systems and shared services, for HR and other functions. In the context of the budget challenges we all face, this is an important area to explore, which is why I have been happy to be involved as the HR Lead on it. It is a practical example of a project which reflects my ambition to encourage greater collaboration amongst public sector organisations.
One strand of the project is called “One Oracle” and six London Boroughs are working together to implement one standard version of the Oracle ERP solution. This is extremely challenging and as the project lead for the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, it is consuming a great deal of my time.
To give you a bit of an insight into Programme Athena, I spoke to the programme sponsor, Nathan Elvery (Deputy Chief Executive, London Borough of Croydon), about the ground the programme has covered in the past 3 years and where it is headed.
“MR: What was the reasoning behind Programme Athena?
NE: Clearly all Councils across the country are facing relentless budget pressures caused by the significant loss in central government funding. Therefore the focus on the delivery of our efficiency and transformation programmes becomes even more important, if we are to protect from line services and avoid more and more cuts.
It had become very clear to us in London that certain core services we provide as local councils are heavily ICT dependant and if we were to be successful in creating shared services across London boroughs the frequently identified technology and systems barrier needed to be removed. Therefore Programme Athena set out on a journey to reduce cost in our ICT systems through better collaborative procurement and implementation and creating single solutions to better enable services to be shared.
MR: So how does the Programme address that?
NE: The two common themes that run through the heart of Athena are: enabling through commonality and value through shared solutions. A significant shift in how these systems are being developed has started since we began working with all 33 London Boroughs, as well as market suppliers, on ways to share back office systems.
MR: The ICT landscape of London is extremely diverse. Where did you begin?
NE: Initial work focussed on identifying which systems were used by which Councils. We found there were 4 suppliers providing 29 Payroll/HR systems, 4 suppliers providing 28 finance systems and 4 suppliers providing 23 procurement systems. Boroughs were using the same systems, sometimes in completely different ways, to do the same thing and deliver the same service and often paying vastly different amounts.
Then we asked Councils to consider the future: did they want to continue with their existing systems or were they open to something new; what options did they want for the future; what was their overall strategic direction?
Using these answers, Athena created working groups of Boroughs using the same systems, which we call ‘One’ groups: One Oracle, One SAP, One Agresso, One CedAr. And, as some Authorities were using separate systems for their HR functions, we added One Northgate and One Midland Trent to the mix. One further group now known as Managed Services, but formerly known as Tri-Borough Project is working toward jointly procuring an outsourced arrangement.
MR: What role do these One Groups play?
NE: They have several functions: evaluating opportunities and developing business cases for shared arrangements; supplier management; growing networks and increasing information sharing and building skill.
As part of the One Group work, Athena facilitates workshops to share practices. Below director-level, people performing the same roles in different Boroughs don’t necessarily get the chance to meet, let alone discuss their ways of working. It’s only through regular communication and close scrutiny of the variety of system processes used that One Group members can find the common ground and shared experiences.
We drill down to specifics: ‘Which modules do you use?’ ‘How effectively are they being used?’ ‘Are they used in the same way?’ With that information out in the open, it then allows each One Group to come up with best practice processes and ‘golden rules’ that everyone using the same system can implement.
MR: That sounds like a lot of detail.
NE: Detail was necessary but too much can mean that the end is never in sight. A combination of clear leadership and strong governance was required to strike an appropriate balance. Athena is able to step in as an honest broker to agree a way forward.
MR: Are there concerns over loss of control or identity?
NE: Yes, that’s a natural reaction, but a great deal of work is going into building both trust and relationships across Boroughs lines and within peer groups. The foundation for this is the overall belief in the value of convergence, the benefits this will bring through efficiencies and the opportunities this will bring through shared services.
MR: So where do things stand currently?
NE: Programme Athena has created four mobilised projects within the Capital which are now resourced, funded and being taken forward by the boroughs. These are:
- One Oracle, where six London boroughs (Lambeth, Havering, Croydon, Barking and Dagenham, Lewisham and Brent) are working on implementing a single shared solution with a further 10 boroughs named on the OJEU Notice who have the opportunity to join and create a 16 borough model;
- One SAP, where two boroughs (Haringey & Waltham Forest)are working on a single SAP shared solution;
- Managed Services, where three London borough (Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea) are working on a single shared solution, with 17 additional boroughs named on the OJEU Notice;
- One Cedar Finance system, where three boroughs (Camden, Hackney and Islington) have committed to working together to take forward a single solution.
Also, three other projects are in progress to agree a clear way forward:
- One Agresso Finance system (Hounslow, Kingston, Ealing, Sutton and Tower Hamlets);
- One Northgate Human Resource system.
- One Midland Human Resource system.
In addition, work is ongoing across London to take forward a strategy for systems that support procurement, encompassing a Pan-London system that provides core pan-London aspects essential in supporting collaborative working, alignment of processes and procedures where this is practical and cost effective and maximisation of the opportunities on e-tendering systems.
MR: So, what does the future hold?
NE: The legacy of Athena will be that London and local government will be in a strong position, able to grasp the opportunities for back office system and services. As the public sector makes its way through the less-charted waters of collaboration, Programme Athena (funded by Capital Ambition) will continue to be at the heart of the journey, guiding London’s boroughs toward convergence. Athena will prove that what once was said as impossible is indeed possible and that if this is possible it will enable other opportunities to be considered in the future which are identified as impossible today.”