By Chally Kacelnik and Ludwig Kraayenbrink
ICT: everyone in a contemporary organisation relies on it, everyone wants it to solve their problems, and not a whole lot of people understand it in technical detail. ICT business units are traditionally overburdened and often struggle to focus on strategic issues in the midst of reactive work. How on earth are local government ICT staff meant to be responsible for the huge burden of integrating distinct business systems for an amalgamation or shared services arrangement? Here are our principles for doing it once and doing it right.
A diligent, structured, and strategic approach to ICT will be crucial to the success of newly amalgamated Councils as it is integral to everything from customer relationship management to information management.
The local government ICT environment is growing ever more complicated, with increasing technical complexity, commodification of ICT infrastructure, and communications and information centricity. The ICT needs for a successful amalgamation are also substantial, including everything from the big picture (eg integrating different infrastructure) to the fine detail (eg cleansing, formatting, and transferring data). The amalgamation, then, is both a huge challenge and an opportunity to start off right. Investment in previous systems should not be considered a waste: rather, this is an opportunity to harvest the ICT best practice for the future.
Here are six main ICT areas to consider while amalgamating:
- Infrastructure: the legacy Councils may have leased or purchased outright any combination of hardware (eg servers, computers, photocopiers, or printers). It is important to have the same technical infrastructure in place, such as a standard operating environment for desktops, with communication switches having been installed and tested
- Software: strong leadership is required to adopt a common application platform and the best available business processes. Even if the legacy Councils had the same prior software, their unique implementation will still mean that a fresh start is needed. Strategic decisions need to be made, including whether to pursue cloud solutions and whether to take a best of breed or single supplier approach to software (LKS Quaero recommends a single supplier approach for ease of integration)
- Data: the current data needs to be in a good state (including property and name/address data as a matter of urgency) so that it can be easily extracted, converted, and uploaded to the common application
- Customer contact systems: these should be tested and made available as a matter of urgency, including the website, property and rating, customer request, and phone systems as well as some back office systems (eg payroll, accounts payable, debtors, a single finance account structure)
- Site connectivity: all remote sites must be cohesively connected to the central site using a stable communication network
- Training: a realistic training programme needs to be established, with staff time and costs resources allocated
The amalgamation process is the opportunity to think big so that your new organisation is in a good position to seize the best technological opportunities, not just scramble to patch problems or get swept up in the winds of change. Here are matters to consider right now:
- Develop an Strategic Technology Plan: in contrast with an ICT Strategic Plan, a Strategic Technology Plan not only considers information and communications technology, but also considers and incorporates other technologies such as energy LED, social media, mobile devices, and RFID technologies. Such plans will benefit forward-thinking Councils
- Investigate the scope for online real time business transactions: make sure that as many transactions as possible can be integrated with financial institution interfaces, your software, and your customer records in order to provide well integrated customer service provision and records
- Encourage self-service internally through appropriate use of technology: provide guides to basic, common problems so that staff can solve their own problems as much as possible
- Drive solutions with suppliers: seek out robust and responsive systems that work with Council’s current and projected needs (e.g. mobile interfaces to assist those in the field)
- Develop interim processes: it will take much time and effort to see the IT elements of the transition through. Don’t wait for the new systems to come into place before changing processes. Instead, use this time to prototype future state processes, using manual interim solutions if need be. This will allow you to shepherd in the new culture now and it is also an opportunity to learn more about Council’s requirements so that you are fully informed about what solutions are needed from suppliers
At LKS Quaero, we help clients with effective amalgamations and shared services arrangements, underpinned by effective IT strategies. If you’d like to know more, visit us at lksquaero.com or follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.