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.