Dynamics Matters Podcast: Episode 9 - The most important factor to consider when choosing technology

With special guest Simon Gray, Head of ERP at Agilisys.

This episode covers:

✓ How to know what technology is right for you

✓ How connecting remote workers to back-office is essential

✓ Local Government focus


Michael Lonnon – 00:01

Welcome to the HSO dynamics matters podcast, your regular sonic dive into the world of Microsoft technology related matters, and much more besides. I’m your host, Michael Lonnon, where today I’m joined by Simon Gray, head of ERP, at public sector experts and our esteemed partner Agilisys. Simon and I had a good chinwag about the important things to consider when deciding what technology is right for you. We spent some time really getting to the nub of understanding why you might need something before committing to the investment. So grab a brew, sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

Michael Lonnon – 01:11

Start big or start small?

Simon Gray – 01:14


Michael Lonnon – 01:15

We’re talking about the idea of local government authorities taking on technology and identifying the things that are right for them and the approaches that are right for them. From your perspective, in the case of the start big start small, if a local government authority is deciding what technology is right for them, how do they go about it? What sort of things would they be thinking about?

Simon Gray – 01:41

Okay, so the really key point is to think about the broader strategy. So, a mistake that can be made is to think of ERP, or finance in isolation. So actually, to have a view of what outcomes it is that you want to achieve, how the technology will benefit you. So actually, what impact is going to save you money? Is it going to empower your staff? Is it going to enable better services just having a clear idea in terms of, I want to do this, and I want the outcome to be ‘x’. If you do that through a rigorous process, then the technology will actually speak to those outcomes and that vision, rather than saying, here’s a bunch of technology, I’m going to buy this and then see what I make of it.

Michael Lonnon – 01:21

Okay, so you’re not looking at the technology we’re saying and selecting the thing that you think is the best fit, you’re thinking about the problem and the strategy and where you want to go forward before you then say, okay, we’ve got that in place, now we’re going to look at the technology that might fit into these different things that we’re looking to achieve. Is that the kind of sort of approach

Simon Gray – 02:39

Yeah, technology is part of the jigsaw; it’s an enabler. But you know, local authorities, their business is not technology, their business is not, you know, configuring and developing applications. What they want is something that will help them achieve their outcomes, which is better outcome for citizens, better value for money in terms of council tax, and actually, freeing up time from their staff, which is the most valuable resource. So having a clear view of that and then saying, okay, how would I do that? How would technology enable me and support that, and thinking of the change journey, thinking of, well, I’ve got this problem to fix now, where am I going to be in 5 years’ time, in 10 years’ time? How does that fit? Lots of councils put off this conversation, just because they see it as too difficult or it’s a burning platform, so they only replace when it becomes a problem that they have to fix. Rather than thinking of, what is it that I actually want to achieve? What could I do?

Michael Lonnon – 03:31

Is it a lot to do with….you mentioned it’s difficult or is perceived as being difficult. Do you also see it as cost consciousness, there’s a lot of that within local authorities?

Simon Gray – 03:42

So all local authorities, by their very nature are cost conscious, you know, it’s our money effectively, it’s our services and there are a lot of pulls on their finances, in terms of providing support for children, adults and the wider community. So you know, a finance system is not the thing that drives them. So yes, they want to deliver money as efficiently as possible and to spend money as efficiently as possible. That’s the main drivers of proven services. So if you speak to anybody on local authority, what they’re passionate about is how do we improve? How do we get things done? And there’s a lot of pressure in local authorities. So I actually think that, you know, a conversation says, we’re willing to make difficult decisions, we’re willing to go on a difficult journey. We just want to know what is best for our people and fits to our strategy and that drives it.

Michael Lonnon – 04:27

I think that’s a great message; I think that’s the best message. These local authorities are thinking about the people they’re serving the needs of the communities they’re effectively serving. In supporting those communities and in supporting those needs and delivering the services, do you think there are some quick wins to help them? We often talk in technology circles about this big bang approach? You know, you think you’re going to rip everything out and chuck in his big new foundation and that’s going to get you from A to Z probably but that’s going to take ages and cost lots of money. Are there more quick wins that you can put in place for potentially those more budget constrained authorities or those who just want to get some services sorted fast. Are there any quick wins that come to mind?

Simon Gray – 05:15

So you can definitely look at the problems that you face as an organisation and not try and bite it off in one chunk. So you can split finance from HR for example. You can go on a journey, you can look at how you’ve integrated your systems. So actually, have I plumbed all of this stuff together? Data is absolutely fundamental. So one thing that wastes a lot of time in local authority, delivery for the staff that’s involved, is moving data from one place to another or joining the data up. So having a view that you can actually, how do I get a picture of this? How do I see where the money’s going, how I’m spending it, how I can deliver efficiencies, there can be very quick wins just from understanding your data. There’s obviously quick things, invoice processing and things, automation that’s coming into play now. And there’s a lot of work being done around AI, and how that can do with a lot of the processing and automating the steps. So you can look at those fundamental process breaks. But you do need a platform to build on. So you do need to say, okay, if it’s crumbling underneath, then you can put all the plastering you want, but it’s still crumbling underneath. So you do need to look at the basics. And that’s why I say I go back to the outcomes. I want to be there in two years’ time, how do I get there?

Michael Lonnon – 06:26

Okay. What are the sort of general problems and challenges that many local authorities face? You mentioned there a kind of a crumbling foundation, or they’ve got an infrastructure to be built up over time? What are the general things that you’re seeing out there?

Simon Gray – 06:40

A big thing is the pressure of public sectors in general. Looking at the pressures they’ve been put under in terms of their budgets have been reduced, there’s more and more call on their services, and actually, if a lot of the back office teams, that means they’re having to do a lot more work with a lot less funding and availability, resource etc. So that’s the big thing is time is becoming constrained and pressure, and real pressure in terms of service and delivery. So, I think that’s what we’ve got to recognise when we’re dealing with public sector is that they’re there to serve us as the public and community. And we don’t want them wasting their time on things that do not add value and that’s not what they want to do. So, I think, recognising that their level of work is just going up and up and up in public sector, and particularly in local government in terms of delivery services. And actually, their enabling technology isn’t keeping pace. No one’s got a magic wand, but somebody says, oh, and here’s 20% efficiencies that’s going to free up the time of your staff. And people talk about things like self-service as if that’s going to be a magic pill that’s going to fix all the problems. But actually, is it self-service that’s right for those people, will it actually make their lives easier? So that’s what I think we need to understand in terms of challenges for them. It’s a lot of time, a lot of pressure, it’s legislative pressure, you know, it’s statutory to pressure they’ve got to live to, and they’re the people who can, you know, be on the front page of a newspaper, when their services fail. We have to recognise that our job is to give them as much time as possible to deliver those frontline services.

Michael Lonnon – 08:09

So technology is almost the step on. Picture it as this, you’re a local authority, you’ve got a technology platform in place that’s been there for years. It’s been performing what it’s supposed to have been performing. But growing pressures off today; the growing number of citizens are being served; the growing diversity of needs that need to be served; the pressures they’re under; the budgets they’re under, actually, technology will help a lot of those things, will help get services out there faster, and all sorts of things won’t it?

Simon Gray – 08:39

Yeah, a lot of my customers what I found is they’re working harder and harder. So as those pressures increase, the job has to get done and they understand those pressures. So you know, they just put their heads down, and they work longer hours and longer pressure. No one’s fixing the underlying root causes the problems, they just have to respond and get things done. I think, you know, that’s what, when we talk about outcomes, and the one I can keep going back to that message, okay, the end goal here is you spend less time doing non value add tasks that we automate, or you make things more efficient, and we make things easier for you. Because I can guarantee we’re in the middle of COVID right now. There’ll be another challenge in 12 months’ time and 5 years after that, etc and they’ll have to reshape, reorganise and actually redeliver, you know, redefine how they deliver services. They need flexibility to do that and you need enabling technology that allows it,

Michael Lonnon – 09:31

If you had to offer, I think I know where you’re going with this, but if you have to offer one piece of advice to a local authority who’s looking to empower their workers to provide better services to connect, or collaborate better with their back office staff, where should they begin or where might you advise that they will begin?

Simon Gray – 09:54

Data is a great place to start in terms of understanding what’s actually going on in your organisation. I think for a lot of teams, if you have to look at actually the work that’s being done to produce the outputs, you don’t realise how much work goes into that in terms of manual manipulation or fixing processes along the way. So I think having a clear understanding of that data and then understanding what your technology can actually do for you. I mean, a lot of these customers, they’ve been dealing with a static technology provision for a long time. They just don’t know what they don’t know and why would they, that’s not their market. So I think part of our role is to say, actually, do you know, we can automate that we can take that pain away, but we can make that easier. And I think making sure that they’re having that torch shone on their processes to say, we can help it’s not just about spending money to make the problem go away. It’s about actually freeing time up of your staff.

Michael Lonnon – 10:47

Simon’s key message was to not think about ERP in isolation, but to consider the broader strategy. Always have an eye on your eventual outcomes and what you want to achieve. And Simon believes as a starting point, data is a great place to begin. Because data helps you understand what’s really going on in your organisation. Insight that can then guide you on deciding what your best next steps are when it comes to technology decision making. Now I hope that gave you some useful insight and the good news is there’s more to come. So stay tuned for more on dynamics matters podcasts by visiting www.hso.com/dynamics-matters. And until next time, take care of yourselves.

Listen to more...