Scottish Borders Council
PROACTIS eProcurement improves control & visibility of procurement across the council
Scottish Borders is a region within South East Scotland that covers over 1,800 square miles and is governed by a unitary council of 34 single member wards, originally set up in 1995 following a reorganisation of local government. The Council is charged with delivering major services such as Education, Social Work, Roads and Transport, Housing, Leisure and Recreation, Environmental Health and Cleansing across the region.
Like many local authorities, Scottish Borders Council spends hundreds of millions of pounds on goods and services each year. In 2004, the Scottish Executive called for all local government authorities to implement eProcurement systems to address the challenge of maintaining control and visibility of this spend. Scottish Borders Council recognised the benefits that eProcurement could bring and wanted a system that would truly meet its unique requirements. Above all, the council wanted the ability to devolve purchasing responsibilities to staff throughout the organisation, whilst maintaining central control and visibility over its spend and reducing the costs associated with processing transactions.
Historically, responsibility for procurement within the Council lay with the Corporate Procurement Unit, but ad hoc purchases could be made by other members of staff across the organisation. Processes, such as commitment accounting, were in place to try to manage spending and achieve visibility of the cost pipeline but these were not mandatory. What's more, complex accounting codes and procedures discouraged staff in some departments from complying with procurement policy. Purchases weren't always made by staff with the correct authority or knowledge about the goods and services required.
Not only did the procedures meet with resistance from staff but they also gave rise to an extensive paper chase, which becomes apparent when you consider that the Council deals with on average 100,000 purchase orders and some 8,000 different suppliers each year.
With so much paper being chased from department to department, it was difficult to get an overall view of the organisation's spend and cost pipeline at any one time, and maintaining audit trails was next to impossible. Information available from the Council's financial ledger was somewhat limited. It could only provide a record of invoices which had been paid and while it was able to say that, for example, £1,000 was spent on stationery it could not provide the capability of drilling down to find out exactly what had been bought, by whom and from which suppliers.
If Scottish Borders Council was to get real visibility of all of its spend, it needed to implement a system that would handle every single purchase, from stationery to toiletries, and deliver valuable management information about that spend. They needed a system that would make it easy for staff to buy the goods and services they need to do their job but difficult to buy those items they aren't authorised to purchase. This would require some degree of business process transformation and culture change, so it was vital to choose a system that was easy-to-use in order to secure the buy-in of a user base of 1,500 staff.
The ability to configure a system that would fit its unique requirements was very important to the Council as it needed to set up specific cost codes, departments and most importantly an authorisation hierarchy that would allow the right departments and people to authorise the right products and services. Equally, being able to mix and match the modules of an eProcurement solution would allow the organisation to only implement the modules it really needed.
After a rigorous review of eProcurement technologies on the market, Scottish Borders Council selected PROACTIS to implement a purchase-to-pay solution that could meet all of its needs. The two organisations worked together to identify the Council's unique requirements and configure the system accordingly. The system went live, piloted among two small departments, and by the end of the first year, 85 members of staff outside of the Purchasing and Finance teams were using the system.
The system is now live in four of the council's six major departments with over 400 users trained on the system, providing greater control and visibility of spend for those departments.
By implementing a system that was easy to use, yet met all of its requirements, Scottish Borders Council was able to change internal culture and devolve purchasing to enable the Procurement team to focus on their core skills. The team has achieved a transparent overview of the entire purchasing process. Not only can it see a full audit trail of the authorisation process but it can also drill down into valuable management reports which draw information from the Council's financial system. Visibility of its payment pipeline now enables the organisation to ensure that it does not overspend and that it is able to track any payments that are expected.
Success is already visible, with 75 percent of orders being transmitted electronically, by email or fax, and all invoiced transactions are now being scanned - these scanned images are now visible for users from their own desktops right across the organisation. Based on the experience of the implementation pilot Scottish Borders Council is hoping to make efficiency process savings right across the user community within the organisation by processing transactions in a more streamlined fashion.
Ewan Forrest, Senior eProcurement Officer at Scottish Borders Council, comments: "We have known PROACTIS to be very reliable, responsive, forward looking and particularly customer focused in implementing its solutions, which is why we chose the company and its eProcurement solution in the first place."