In 2016, the London Borough of Lambeth was coming to the end of a shared services partnership with six other councils that had contracted all of them to use the same Oracle Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software for the previous four years, giving the council the choice between continuing to combine IT systems or to go solo.
"We decided to go on our own," Hamant Bharadia, assistant director of finance at London Borough of Lambeth, tells Computerworld UK.
At the time, the council needed to downsize on its costly central London office space and cope with government funding cuts by diverting cash from back-office expenses to customer services.
Bharadia was convinced that the solution lay in the cloud as it would reduce expenditure on hardware and staff while standardising products and processes, which would help transform the back office businesses. As a result, he chose to deploy the council's ERP, HCM (Human Capital Management), PBCS (Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service) and payroll all in the Oracle Cloud.
Moving from on-premise to the Oracle Cloud and digitising paper documents in Microsoft OneDrive helped the council reduce its workspaces from 14 buildings down to just two properties.
"That delivered four and a half million pounds in savings," says Bharadia.
Lambeth Council had used Oracle for almost 20 years for financials, HR, procurement and payroll, but Bharadia did survey the market for other options before deciding to stick with the vendor.
"SAP, we struggled with," he admits. "We looked at SAP 10 or 12 years ago, and because it's more manufacturing based, it's not really suitable for us. And the other thing was that SAP weren't in the cloud space at all and cloud was one of our key drivers. There were also some smaller players but we weren't quite sure they had the history that meant that they had a solution that was robust enough and would continue to develop."
Oracle stood out by having applications that are straightforward to use and highly automated, which made it easier to find new staff to operate the systems.
"In the old days you had to be an Oracle expert to work with us, but now you don’t because the transaction is standard, so it simplifies that process," he says.
New ways of working
The move to the cloud also created an opportunity to design IT around the newly built office that housed the council's main civic centre, rather than having to retrofit new tech around an old property.
"Our two buildings that we're in now have full Wi-Fi so people can work a lot more flexibly," says Bharadia. "We also have connected desks as well so you can plug in a laptop to the mains. All of that just makes it smoother and easier."
The cloud has enabled more flexible forms of working but traditional patterns are also still supported.
"It's been well received because the information they need is more accessible and it's accessible to more people," says Bharadia.
"All of our staff have laptops, which means it's more flexible to work. And because we've got flexible working policies, most of our staff work from home for up to two days a week, and they can start early or finish late. There's a whole lot of flexibility that we have. Most people find that really helpful and it works for most people. There are some people who prefer the nine to five routine and being at the desk, and we can accommodate those as well."
There were some challenges on the journey to the cloud. Lambeth Council was the first public sector organisation in the UK to go live with a complete Oracle Cloud suite implementation which included Oracle Cloud Payroll, which Bharadia admits wasn't quite ready to roll out at the time.
"When you have to pay people, they do get a bit annoyed if you don't pay them in time and the right amount, so we had quite a lot of engagement with Oracle development to kind of get us through that," he says.
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He advises other councils to embrace the cloud as long as they're sure about the services they want to run there.
"In project management, you need to be sure and have proper governance and decision-making because what you can't have is individual managers saying they want this and that," he says. "The cloud-type platform doesn't give you that flexibility anymore, so as an organisation you need to accept that."