Friday, 30 November 2012

Example of stepping up the efficiency challenge

This is a great article, published on the SSON website recently, about how a UK council is stepping up to its challenge to become more efficient.

UK Council CEO on Public Sector Collaboration
SSON recently caught up with Kevin Dicks, Chief Executive of Bromsgrove District and Redditch Borough Council in England, to gain an international perspective on transformation and sharing services in the public sector.
Kevin is the Chief Executive of Bromsgrove District and Redditch Borough Council in England. In 2008, the two councils started a 12-month trial to see what efficiencies could be made through sharing services. Nearly four years later, the majority of services are being shared.
The two districts are very different communities: Bromsgrove is rural and affluent – around 83.9 square miles with a population of around 92,000; Redditch is urban – a new town. “If we can do it here, we can do it anywhere,” Kevin explains.
The programme was initially designed to gain quick wins, sharing services around elections and community safety – not necessarily making huge financial savings but setting the foundations for what Kevin describes as a fundamental part of the process: creating trust between the two councils. As the 12 months and a number of projects progressed, it became apparent there was room for further development. The medium-term wins included our IT implementation - we saved over £100,000 between the two councils; Closed circuit television and lifeline, which is a telecare service (an alarm service for people who are more aged) saved us about £150,000,” Kevin said.
“Towards the end of the 12-month project we put a full business case together that made clear that we could share all of the services, even given all the differences between the two areas – sometimes just between Redditch and Bromsgrove, sometimes even across Worcestershire. So here we are, 4 years later, and we have shared the majority of our services now shared.”
This isn't the first time that someone has tried to share services, so we wanted Kevin’s insight on what he thought was key to the long-term success and support he has now achieved.
He explains: “I had the full backing of the leader, particularly here at Bromsgrove, to spend as much time as I needed in Redditch to make this work. It has to be said it was predominantly focused on me in that first 12 months – it was a case of building confidence in me as a person, but also proving to people that the wheels wouldn’t fall off with me splitting my time between two councils, and that council business would continue as normal.
“I spent a lot of time in Redditch initially, with all the stakeholders that I needed to work with, a lot of time quite rightly was also spent with staff so that they could get to know me, and I could get to know them and the services (in Redditch) and why they were delivered in such a way. Also, and this is probably one of the most crucial things, I invested time with elected councillors – getting to know them and building that trust.”
I also invested time with the management team there to get their engagement and trust, as well as with the public. I would go to any meetings they invited me to – even informal meetings – just to outline the vision, what we were doing and why, and reiterating every time I had the opportunity that it wasn’t a formal merger of the two councils politically. It was about trying to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of services for members of the public. So lots of individual time needs to be invested to make this work - I think you can’t underestimate that! It’s also about being clear about what you’re trying to achieve and why.”
Of course, it’s not always plain sailing. Working within the public sector brings restraints with it. The project was first implemented before the majority of public sector cuts had been made in the UK. Within Bromsgrove and Redditch there’s been about a 28% cut in government funding; this is just one of the obstacles the project had to overcome.
“There are two or three issues really. I think one of those is elected member perception, because in contrast to the private sector, we have got elected councillors who are quite rightly democratically elected to serve their public and as such need to understand and agree with what we are trying to achieve and why. We probably need to go through more hoops than a private sector company would.
“If we’ve got a key decision here to try and share a service, we’d have to take it through both corporate council bodies to get that decision, so we have to do everything twice. We’re trying to rationalise that now, but it does take a little bit longer.
“Obviously, staff engagement and keeping them on board is also essential as is the consultation around sharing services, and working with the unions. And, of course, in the UK at the moment we’ve got the impact of the public sector budget cuts so the focus for the union is actually making sure we do everything appropriately, so we have to spend lots of time with the unions to make sure we’ve got them on-board and have addressed all their concerns.
“We’re quite pleased we started this journey back in August 2008 and took the time to build that trust . If we were starting now, because of the budget cuts, I don’t think we’d have as long.”
There is a long way to go and, as Kevin explains, it starts from the top. “The austerity measures that the public sector is now having to face can actually help as it gives people a focus to make this work – more so now than ever before and it stops organisational bureaucracy and barriers from getting in the way.
“You need leadership from the top to actually make shared services happen, to drive it forward and to remove those barriers and stop people being organizationally precious about things. I don’t think, given the current economic climate that we’re facing, that we can afford to allow those things to get in the way.”

Thursday, 8 November 2012

How our Business is Developing Internationally

From Small Beginnings

Over the last 10 years or so, SouthWestern has developed from a small public sector outsourcing company to a developing international brand, focused on niche markets in Ireland and gathering momentum in the UK and international markets.

Whereas our first experience in outsourcing was in the provision of key services for the Irish Department of Agriculture, our first experience in international delivery started with the media sector.  This developed into the delivery of service to other private sector businesses where we sold into international markets.  We developed relationships in our core sectors of Agriculture, Media, Travel, Food, Manufacturing, Financial Services and Utilities that were borne out of the Irish market and targeted to new markets.

Clear Market Focus

The UK outsourcing market, for example, is well served by the major outsourcing companies, like Capita, Serco, HCL, Firstsource etc.  These companies service huge contracts which are valued in the tens of millions to hundreds of millions of pounds in value.  They employ thousands of people in large contact and processing centres, often from India and the Philippines. 

SouthWestern offers a more customer focused and friendly choice to organizations which may not have this massive scale, but nonetheless want to take advantage of centralized service, managed compliance, and lower costs.  We approach some of the sectors as follows:

Food and Agriculture

We have developed the animal traceability systems and processes based on the EU requirements and the needs of the Irish Government.  The Irish traceability system is internationally recognized to be one of the best in Europe.  It protects key elements of Ireland’s €9bn annual food exporting business.  Furthermore, in the agricultural sector, we represent Ireland's national food marketing organization, Bord Bia, in the inspection and branding of Irish produce for its Quality and Sustainability.  Our field auditors have been trained to carry out Quality and Carbon/Green sustainability inspections.  We have also formed strong relationships with farming organizations in Northern Ireland, including Countryside Services Ltd. and AMT Sybex who provide Electronic Identification systems for Northern Ireland and other rural development programmes.  We provide many other agri-related data services for Cattle Breeding Federations and artificial insemination services.  Agricultural data processing is a core competency of our company.


In the media sector, we already provide back office services for international and regional newspaper and magazine titles.  This is a ready-made, "Back Office in-a-Box" service.  It includes everything from advertising and distribution orders to cash processes, vendor management, order and payment processing, human resources administration to payroll management.  These services are underpinned by our capabilities in financial and data reporting.  Our service offering has been designed to provide a flexible and low cost delivery model for an industry that is undergoing seismic change and completely reinventing itself from a very old to a very new technology led industry.  Our specific workflow systems allow us to take the cost out of the transactions and to process the back office more effectively.


In the travel sector we provide a complete "administration, reservation management, customer query and back-office, in-a-Box” service.  This is done in a multilingual centre covering 15 languages in a dedicated call centre which has webchat, email and web reservation support.  For example we manage corporate reservations for Accor Hotel in Poland and car reservations for a major company covering the United States, Canada and all the countries of Europe.  We also provide treasury services and back office accounting and administration for a mid-sized international airline.  Our belief is that you can’t buy this level of quality, multilingual, social technology based capability in this market niche anywhere else.

Financial Services

We run customer experience compliance measurement for a number of international banks, which is used for Net Promoter Score Measurement and FSA compliance and we provide efficiency to financial services companies through our lean management of closed books of business.

Other Sectors

We have a similar product set in Finance and Administration outsourcing for the Food, Manufacturing, Retail and Distribution sectors as well as in the Utility and Telecom sectors.  Once again, our workflow technologies take out the cost through converting paper to digital format and speeding up transaction times through clear and controlled work-paths.  Our bespoke systems for accounts receivable processes have really improved working capital management for a number of our clients.  Faster cash, cheaper, with no bad debt write off!  It is end-to-end finance.

Delivery Centres

We have delivery centres in the south of Ireland, Poland and England and these centres provide local and experienced service to the clients in these regions.  We have sales offices in Dublin and London. SouthWestern is a founding member of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce and international standards and certificate holders in many sectors.  Our company’s roots are in West Cork, an area well known for its agriculture, hospitality, friendliness and gentle ways.  These traditions combined with the most efficient, technology driven processes in the sector and our dynamic and long-serving employees ensure premium customer service is delivered to all our international clients

Our business growth over the last number of years has been exciting but the good news for our clients and our people is, we are only just getting started.  We invest in long-term relationships with our clients and we are proud of our reputation in delivery.  With niche expertise, our technology enabled workflows and our customer friendly approach we believe we are the ideal outsourcing partner for the mid-large scale market.  We are here for that market and we have an unrivalled track record in delivering it.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Learning & Development Networking Event hosted by SouthWestern

On July 12th we hosted the members of the Cork area Learning & Development network. The network members meet once every 2 months to promote best practice in the area of L&D. Each member hosts the network in turn and this month it was the turn of SouthWestern and our HR/L&D team!  
I was delighted to share our story of winning Cork Company of the Year 2012 as this was a key area of interest for our guests.
We heard from our guest speaker - the acclaimed HR/L&D expert Samantha Plant from Paramount HR who gave an insightful talk on 'The strategic Influence of Human Capital'.
Our own head of HR, Aine O'Sullivan gave an overview of our commitment to our People here at SouthWestern and we heard from L&D specialists, Dolores Mahony and Monica Murphy in our unique and structured approach to promoting service excellence to our Employees when it comes to their own development.
Our guests included professionals from a variety of industries from Pharma to Financial Services who expressed admiration for our blended learning initiatives and in particular, our E-Learning success story. We finished the morning with an hour for networking and refreshments.
We are looking forward to the next L&D networking event in September which will be held in UCC.
Well done to all concerned!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Outsourcing of 30,000 Public Service Jobs to Be On the Agenda

Chambers Call for Three Year Pause on Increments

Outsourcing of 30,000 Public Service Jobs to Be On the Agenda

Chambers Ireland has today (28/06/12) called on the Government to deliver further additional savings under the Croke Park Agreement. Recommendations include a commitment to business process outsourcing of public services and a pause on pay increments for the next three years. The call came at the launch of Chambers Ireland’s White Paper on the Croke Park Agreement.
Speaking this morning, Dónall Curtin, Chairman of the Board of Chambers Ireland said “This document identifies how Government can use the Croke Park Agreement to support the domestic economy rather than producing a fresh round of costs on business and taxpayers. We fear that the Government may be more focused on tax rises as it starts its budgetary calculations, however Chambers believe that the core strategy must be on spending cuts and cost containment measures which will help the economy rather than tax increases which will do more damage.” 
Seán Murphy, Chambers Ireland Deputy Chief Executive continued, “While we can see from the latest progress report on the Croke Park Agreement that it has achieved some significant savings and enhanced flexibility, the State is still borrowing over €1bn per month to fund itself. It follows that we need even more cost savings to be delivered urgently. We have identified a number of measures which can generate significant savings while also protecting public service jobs such as outsourcing, pension reforms, a pause on increments and more proactive management of sick leave—especially in the HSE.”
“In the context of increments, 63% of the civil service are eligible for increments. Increments paid in 2011 cost the Exchequer €250m. Given that a company in examinership would be very unlikely to give pay increases, it is hard to justify the Government doing similarly in its present financially straitened circumstances,” Murphy concluded. 
The report makes a number of recommendations, including:
1.       Over €1 billion can be saved over ten years through outsourcing 30,000 public service jobs. This would allow public services to concentrate on their core services while benefitting from the expertise of specialist companies
2.       All pay increments to be paused for three years
3.       Move all public service pensions to Career Average Revalued Earnings (CARE) schemes thereby ensuring their future sustainability
4.       More proactive management of sick leave—this cost €284 million in the HSE in 2011 alone
5.       Management in the public service must be held to account for the decisions they make; however, they must also receive support in the work they do e.g. Improved sanctions for non-performance
6.       The public services must help indigenous businesses by ordering goods and services from local firms and consortia
7.       Apply the lessons learned from the experiences in New Zealand when, in the early 80’s, it found itself in a similar financial position as Ireland

To download a copy of the report, please click here.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Social Media: Ignore it at your peril! It’s not going away

This article should be of interest to those of you who are interested in the area of Social Media and the value it brings to a business.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Outsourcing in the Public Sector in Ireland - where to next?

Having presented last week at Public Affairs Ireland conference titled 'Shared Services and Outsourcing in the Irish Public Service', I came across a similar themed article by Pearse Ryan of Arthur Cox who discusses the topic 'Outsourcing in the Public Sector in Ireland' and he asks ‘where to next?’

Monday, 5 March 2012

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Cork Company of the Year award

SouthWestern claims Cork Company of the Year Award

What a fantastic way to start the year!!  I am deeply honoured to accept the award on behalf of all the staff at SouthWestern. The timing couldn’t be better.

This is a hugely important time in our growth cycle and winning an award such as this is a great boost to business. We believe SouthWestern and companies like us have a vital role to play in assisting the public sector reform agenda and we look forward to engaging with the relevant stakeholders on that issue. We have developed new products for the financial services sector and we are confident we will grow our business in that area both in Ireland and the UK.

We’re a very proud Cork company and winning such a highly prestigious award is an endorsement of our customer focused approach and the innovative ways we use the latest technology. In these times, it is more important than ever to promote a winning mentality and Cork Chamber  and sponsors Vodafone deserve great praise for helping to foster and develop that in this region.

Have a look at our winning story:

Thursday, 26 January 2012

LONDON, January 24, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ --

Creating Sustainable Cost Management Through Outsourcing

In September 2010, Financial Director magazine stated: "Waxing lyrical on building an economic recovery is all very well, but there is a growing belief that 2013 will be the year a second recession kicks in. Which is why cost cutting is not about to go away, a well-worn topic though it is."
Now this situation is even more pressing.
The recent study of 750 small businesses by the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) reveals that 78% of small business owners identify rising costs as the most significant threat to their company this year. More than two thirds of firms have seen their profit margins hit by increasing costs over the past three years.
However, KPMG, in their authoritative global survey conducted by the Economic Intelligence Unit, report: "Businesses are under constant pressure to reduce costs, yet many find it hard to do so in a sustainable fashion". The survey included interviews with senior executives in a cross-section of industries and large, midsize and smaller organizations and experts in the field of cost management. It revealed that 9 out of 10 companies are potentially missing out on major opportunities to boost profits.
They found that:
Just eight percent of businesses reach or exceed their targets for cost-saving initiatives
One of the single biggest barriers to achieving these targets is the lack of adequate processes to drive cost reduction
Getting people to assume personal responsibility for cost management is always difficult
The survey concluded that many businesses seem to be aware of this, but too few are acting to redress the situation. Too many firms treat cost reduction as an unpleasant exercise in abstinence; a pressure do the same things only a little bit more efficiently.
KPMG repeated their advice in their recent paper, The Cost Boomerang. "In this environment, businesses that are able to identify and exploit sustainable cost-efficiencies will enjoy significant competitive advantages over their peers: better profit margins, more flexible working capital and a greater alignment for future growth."
While opening this year's Financial Director Summit, Professor Doug McWilliams, founder and chief executive of the Centre for Economic and Business Research, caused a sharp intake of breath among members of the audience listening to his speech. He predicted the end of the euro and added that the kind of annual growth Western nations enjoyed in the decade before the economic crisis would unfortunately be consigned to the past. His thoughts cement the position of cost management at the top of the FDs' agenda - and as something that will be a real leadership issue for the next few years. He stated: "Procurement is an ever more troublesome jewel in the cost-management crown."
In their 'Eight Strategies for Surviving the Downturn', ICAEW offered the advice that "now is a good time to review the structure and cost base of your business critically. Do you have the right business model to see you through the recession and put you in the best possible position to take advantage of the upturn when it comes? If you need to make savings, examine carefully how you can get the best value out of your business and enable your business to emerge leaner and fitter at the end of the recession."
Finally, they ask - 'Is outsourcing a possibility?'
In a recent edition of FM World, the Facilities Management journal, Kevin Stanley wrote: "With cost-cutting still an economic necessity, the question of whether or not to outsource services has never been more relevant. Which is best - insourcing or outsourcing? The issue has long been a source of debate. The key drivers of large-scale outsourcing are cost reduction, efficiency and the expertise, knowledge and support gained from a specialist provider. What better time to put outsourcing to the test than in a recession, when every penny counts?"
In the same article, Richard Thompson, Managing Director of PBMS (UK & Ireland) agreed, "I believe it can. In an economic downturn, outsourcing is a smart way to get your organisation moving forward. Managing processes internally can distract an organisation from focusing on growing the business and can possibly contribute to missing out on growth opportunities. Sometimes people fail to act in this type of economy, to create positive change through a new partnership."
The consensus certainly seems to be turning towards outsourcing cost management.
Established in 1994, Auditel is the premier independent cost and purchase management consultancy in the UK, with over 200 fully-trained specialists. Their services include a free Business Health Check which consists of an examination of all expenditures associated with making effective cost management decisions. This free service coupled with their performance-driven contingency fee model, means the service is totally self-funding. There are no up-front fees, no hidden charges and no extras.
Chris Allison, Auditel's Managing Director, confirms: "As a result of the recession, we've all become a lot more cost-conscious. Everyone understands the need to keep operating expenditure as low as possible. However, to achieve long-term, sustainable savings that take all the direct and indirect costs of products and services into account, you need expert knowledge, buying power and above all, time. With over 3,500 satisfied clients on our books, we can safely say that Auditel's brand of sustainable and ethical cost and purchase management is playing a pivotal role in that equation.
"Our Total Cost of Purchase ® is a holistic way of reducing and managing the costs of doing business. It enables organisations to lower their business costs year-in and year-out. For 2012, we would encourage our existing clients to take a look at some of the less visible items. Cleaning, merchant cards, stationery, alarms, insurance and janitorial supplies and many others, for example, where savings achieved range from 22% to 64%."
Farnham Maltings is a multipurpose arts and community centre set in the heart of Farnham in Surrey, attracting more than 350,000 visitors a year. With savings achieved of 13% on electricity, 26% on telecoms, 13% on gas, 23% on merchant card fees, 47% on franking machines, and 60% on alarms. General Manager Chris Maddocks, affirms:"I see Auditel as another member of my management team and we've got a stream of projects that will keep them busy this year. Auditel offers us lots of guidance and experience and altogether I see the experience as being 100% positive. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Auditel to any business, large or small."