Case study: driving culture change at the Crown Commercial Service

By on 23/01/2020 | Updated on 03/04/2020

“Our vision is to put finance at the heart of decision making – driving the agenda, not just keeping score”, head of the UK government finance function, Mike Driver, said last year.

When the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) began looking for a partner that could provide an integrated cloud-based service capable not only of real-time finance and HR reporting but of being a catalyst for driving change across the agency, this vision was front of mind.

“It was not intended to be a cost saving project,” CCS finance director, Paul Coombs, explains. “It was about transforming CCS, changing the way of working for all of our employees, and creating improvement in understanding the business and accountability for line managers through staff interacting with the HR and finance processes.”

Workday, provided by the company of the same name, fit the bill. The machine learning-enabled enterprise resource planning (ERP) software combines financial data with operational information and allows users to access real-time reports through an intelligent dashboard and data visualisations.

Speaking during a webinar hosted by Global Government Forum on 16 January – in association with Workday and alongside the company’s account executive Edward Bass – Coombs spoke about CCS’s transition to the new system, its benefits, and about the future of government finance functions.

CCS was very clear from the beginning what its requirements were. The solution had to be flexible and scalable; it had to enable and support capability improvements not just in the finance function but across the agency; it had to provide a full audit trail for all transactions and a common view of human and financial resources for monitoring purposes; it had to reduce manual intervention and maximise efficiencies; and it had to align with the six objectives outlined in the government’s finance function strategy.

Most importantly perhaps, it had to be user-friendly and largely self-service – allowing for self-generated, in-the-moment reporting – and it had to be kept up-to-date by the vendor for minimum incremental cost.

Workday was identified as fulfilling these requirements and is, Coombs says, “a single version of the truth”.

Whereas previously CCS employees spent time reconciling the HR, finance and budget holders’ records, now that everything is fed into and comes out of Workday software, and because of the automation inherent within it, it has, says Coombs, “minimised manual intervention and removed the need for those reconciliations between systems”.

“There’s no alternative record being kept of data or reporting in the organisation,” he says. “Workday is the truth.”

This is one of the key benefits, but more than that, the adoption of Workday is enabling CCS to drive culture change across the agency, Coombs says.

“We’re moving very much away, in our transformation, from a traditional centralised approach to having a much more devolved way of doing finance and HR,” he explains. “We’re making effective management of HR and finance the day job for all managers and staff – empowering them and making finance and HR ingrained in the DNA of the organisation rather than being done in the back office.”

This has meant the agency becoming “much more comfortable” with self-service. And not just in terms of approving orders and payments and filing expenses, in turn enabling finance and HR teams to concentrate on value-adding activities, but empowering staff to interrogate data and gain their own insights into the inner workings of CCS.

“It’s about continuous self-serve, backed up with the more standard, traditional approaches of regular monthly reporting,” Coombs says.

According to Bass, this is very much aligned to Workday’s strategy. “Through the process of self-serve, and putting things back in the line, cost centre managers, budget holders and owners know what’s coming because they’ve been involved in the process all the way through,” he says.

“It’s being able to see insights across HR and finance and being able to apply that insight into the planning piece that allows you to see and avoid and mitigate risk and also to be able to stand up tall as a key information provider. It adds greater value.”

Bass, who at one time in his career worked in finance at the Home Office, pointed out that historically, finance data was “anything that had a pound or pence related to it”.

“There was very little about the key drivers underpinning the fiscal values but when you’re thinking about integrated business planning, one of the key costs is people so you have to have alignment between finance and HR. It’s more than just putting an FTE count on an income statement at the end of the month, it’s about looking at future needs and the capability needed to deliver against those needs.

“If you get down at a driver level and start understanding what’s behind the finance, behind the people, behind the figures, you can then make a strategic difference in terms of the service you’re delivering.”

And it can be taken a step further too. Workday will continue to build machine learning into the system going forward, helping its clients – in UK government departments – to apply learnings from the past, model plans against the expectation of delivery, and, crucially, to better understand and better manage cash flow.

The new way of working for which Workday can be a catalyst is part of a shift that will see finance professionals possess broader skills.

Having data at their fingertips is all very well – having the skills to be able to derive insights from that data is crucial. “In finance we’re looking much more now for people who are delivering insight and action rather than for people focused on transaction processing,” says Bass.

Coombs agrees that finance professionals will need to be more highly skilled in data and analysis but also in partnering. “The heavy lifting the finance professions did in the past is now automated and done behind the scenes so there will be softer, more human aspects to the work of the finance professional going forward.”

Asked for his final thoughts at the end of the webinar, Coombs reiterates that transforming the finance function through the use of a cloud-based digital service is not simply about “turning off your old system and turning on your new one” but about “using your new digital solution as a catalyst for culture change”.

“The emphasis therefore has to be on how the new solution will change behaviours, hearts and minds,” he says. “And that should guide your thinking about the future.”

Watch the webinar on demand and download the slides by completing the form below.

This is the second Workday webinar hosted by Global Government Forum. The first, which took place on 10 July 2019, covered the future of finance in government and how new technologies like machine learning and chatbots can enhance decision making for operational leaders. You can read about the webinar, watch it, and download the presentation slides here.

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