From on premise to cloud: building a cloud-first strategy in city government for Southampton City Council
Making the decision to move to cloud isn’t always straightforward – even when there is a strong business case. This is especially true in the public sector, where complex requirements, the existence of outsourced services, and the sheer breadth of organization types that might rely on an implementation have traditionally pushed IT leaders towards self-managed, highly customized on-premise solutions.
At X4U this October, we hosted our customers from Southampton City Council, who’ve been with Unit4 for nearly 20 years and have recently made the jump to ERP in the cloud. Below you can read a little of their story, the challenges they faced maintaining an on-premise ERP system, and the steps they’ve taken to ensure a smooth transition that allows their new cloud solution to deliver at its full potential.
Southampton Council is a unitary authority in the South of England. The authority became a Unit4 customer in 2001, originally with an on-premise implementation managed in-house with 3 yearly updates.
With 3500 staff and estimated annual expenditure of £515m, they deal with complex payroll and job/pay structures, as well as a large number of suppliers for purchases, services and buying commodities.
In 2017 a review of their IT systems identified the need to streamline Finance, HR, payroll and income management into one comprehensive ERP. With all data in one place they would have one version of the truth for reporting. In addition to this, a large amount of services they outsourced to Capita were brought back in-house in 2019. Creating a need for a system that could handle many more functions while also delivering a modern digital experience for the citizens using the council’s frontline services.
Furthermore, the council’s experience during the COVID crisis highlighted the need for joined up systems and processes that could allow departments across the authority to work more closely together.
These factors created a strategic environment demanding a strong focus on using digital technology to meet strategic priorities. Southampton’s growing digital economy – combined with the expectation from most of the council’s customers of a strong digital option as a “first choice” lead to a set of corporate objectives focused on digital first. Demanding secure, accurate, and well-managed digital data, and a fully “joined up” environment for the digital delivery of public services.
Confronted with the need to manage a variety of new services and processes which had been previously outsourced – alongside their already complex HR and payroll structures – ERP presented the logical choice. A unified platform for administration and planning would also provide the much needed “joined up” service environment, eliminating waste and making collaboration and data sharing across departments much easier – as well as consolidating resources for reporting to streamline the process and avoid potentially costly errors.
As well as the “familiarity factor” and the ease of training on a provider that the council’s employees were already familiar with, Southampton made the choice to go with Unit4 because the platform offered the required functionality at a value for money and projected ROI unmatched by any other vendor.
With a traditional local authority IT department and a fully owned and managed data center, Southampton considers cloud-first as an option for all new systems. While its not always the right option at a particular time, the need to control costs for equipment and limit the strain on the data center means that any large-scale project that implements new functionality is a strong candidate for a cloud implementation.
With the added benefits of great resilience and better access for users, cloud was the obvious choice for Southampton’s new ERP project.
And how was the implementation?
The project wasn’t without its challenges. Cloud became the obvious choice only once implementation had begun and the full scope of the council’s needs had been ascertained – necessitating a re-implementation from scratch.
After a delayed go live, it was quickly realized that size and utilization limits would need to be increased.
Continuous monitoring of performance was needed to rectify any problems encountered, and third-party software, for example, invoice capture, ran into problems due to large volumes, because it was a cloud platform this was easy to rectify.
Beyond implementation teething problems, the authority also experienced some anxiety about losing control of their systems through migration to the cloud. But this worry proved to be unfounded. More serious were the security concerns raised by remote access to confidential systems, which were addressed with a system of whitelisting and augmented access management through Active Directories.
However, despite this, moving to the cloud put Southampton in a better position than most when Covid hit. Cloud systems afford a degree of flexibility that many local authorities lack, and remote access to systems and great reporting around absences and resource needs helps ensure that service delivery has been maintained at a high level without major disruptions.
What does cloud provide that on-premise cant?
1) Full disaster recovery in place. No additional servers needed saving money.
2) One version of the truth within Unit4 ERP – expediting reporting processes and ensuring resources can be directed efficiently.
3) Environments up to date with all upgrades – with no periods of disruption or downtime. The system is always improving, allowing Southampton City Council to realize ever more ambitious goals.
4) Our dedicated Customer Success Manager has helped resolve all issues and is always there to help whenever problems do arise.
5) Removed need for significant new hardware – turning capital expenditures into operational expenditures and removing the hidden costs of maintenance, power, cooling, and real estate.
6) The platforms the city requires are already in place to enable and drive future efficiencies and business improvements – without having to worry about any additional implementations or redeployments in the future.