Best in Class Finance Functions For Police Forces

Background

Police funding has risen by £4.8 billion and 77 per cent (39 per cent in real terms) since 1997. However the days where forces have enjoyed such levels of funding are over.

Chief Constables and senior management recognize that the annual cycle of looking for efficiencies year-on-year is not sustainable, and will not address the cash shortfall in years to come.
Facing slower funding growth and real cash deficits in their budgets, the Police Service must adopt innovative strategies which generate the productivity and efficiency gains needed to deliver high quality policing to the public.

The step-change in performance required to meet this challenge will only be achieved if the police service fully embraces effective resource management and makes efficient and productive use of its technology, partnerships and people.

The finance function has an essential role to play in addressing these challenges and supporting Forces’ objectives economically and efficiently.

Challenge

Police Forces tend to nurture a divisional and departmental culture rather than a corporate one, with individual procurement activities that do not exploit economies of scale. This is in part the result of over a decade of devolving functions from the center to the.divisions.

In order to reduce costs, improve efficiency and mitigate against the threat of “top down” mandatory, centrally-driven initiatives, Police Forces need to set up a corporate back office and induce behavioral change. This change must involve compliance with a corporate culture rather than a series of silos running through the organization.

Developing a Best in Class Finance Function

Traditionally finance functions within Police Forces have focused on transactional processing with only limited support for management information and business decision support. With a renewed focus on efficiencies, there is now a pressing need for finance departments to transform in order to add greater value to the force but with minimal costs.

1) Aligning to Force Strategy

As Police Forces need finance to function, it is imperative that finance and operations are closely aligned. This collaboration can be very powerful and help deliver significant improvements to a Force, but in order to achieve this model, there are many barriers to overcome. Finance Directors must look at whether their Force is ready for this collaboration, but more importantly, they must consider whether the Force itself can survive without it.

Finance requires a clear vision that centers around its role as a balanced business partner. However to achieve this vision a huge effort is required from the bottom up to understand the significant complexity in underlying systems and processes and to devise a way forward that can work for that particular organization.

The success of any change management program is dependent on its execution. Change is difficult and costly to execute correctly, and often, Police Forces lack the relevant experience to achieve such change. Although finance directors are required to hold appropriate professional qualifications (as opposed to being former police officers as was the case a few years ago) many have progressed within the Public Sector with limited opportunities for learning from and interaction with best in class methodologies. In addition cultural issues around self-preservation can present barriers to change.

Whilst it is relatively easy to get the message of finance transformation across, securing commitment to embark on bold change can be tough. Business cases often lack the quality required to drive through change and even where they are of exceptional quality senior police officers often lack the commercial awareness to trust them.

2) Supporting Force Decisions

Many Finance Directors are keen to develop their finance functions. The challenge they face is convincing the rest of the Force that the finance function can add value – by devoting more time and effort to financial analysis and providing senior management with the tools to understand the financial implications of major strategic decisions.

Maintaining Financial Controls and Managing Risk

Sarbanes Oxley, International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), Basel II and Individual Capital Assessments (ICA) have all put financial controls and reporting under the spotlight in the private sector. This in turn is increasing the spotlight on financial controls in the public sector.

A ‘Best in Class’ Police Force finance function will not just have the minimum controls to meet the regulatory requirements but will evaluate how the legislation and regulations that the finance function are required to comply with, can be leveraged to provide value to the organization. Providing strategic information that will enable the force to meet its objectives is a key task for a leading finance function.

3) Value to the Force

The drive for development over the last decade or so, has moved decision making to the Divisions and has led to an increase in costs in the finance function. Through utilizing a number of initiatives in a program of transformation, a Force can leverage up to 40% of savings on the cost of finance together with improving the responsiveness of finance teams and the quality of financial information. These initiatives include:

Centralization

By centralizing the finance function, a Police Force can create centers of excellence where industry best practice can be developed and shared. This will not only re-empower the department, creating greater independence and objectivity in assessing projects and performance, but also lead to more consistent management information and a higher degree of control. A Police Force can also develop a business partner group to act as strategic liaisons to departments and divisions. The business partners would, for example, advise on how the departmental and divisional commanders can meet the budget in future months instead of merely advising that the budget has been missed for the previous month.

With the mundane number crunching being performed in a shared service center, finance professionals will find they now have time to act as business partners to divisions and departments and focus on the strategic issues.

The cultural impact on the departments and divisional commanders should not be underestimated. Commanders will be concerned that:

o Their budgets will be centralized
o Workloads would increase
o There will be limited access to finance individuals
o There will not be on site support

However, if the centralized shared service center is designed appropriately none of the above should apply. In fact from centralization under a best practice model, leaders should accrue the following benefits:

o Strategic advice provided by business partners
o Increased flexibility
o Improved management information
o Faster transactions
o Reduced number of unresolved queries
o Greater clarity on service and cost of provision
o Forum for finance to be strategically aligned to the needs of the Force

A Force that moves from a de-centralized to a centralized system should try and ensure that the finance function does not lose touch with the Chief Constable and Divisional Commanders. Forces need to have a robust business case for finance transformation combined with a governance structure that spans operational, tactical and strategic requirements. There is a risk that potential benefits of implementing such a change may not be realized if the program is not carefully managed. Investment is needed to create a successful centralized finance function. Typically the future potential benefits of greater visibility and control, consistent processes, standardized management information, economies of scale, long-term cost savings and an empowered group of proud finance professionals, should outweigh those initial costs.

To reduce the commercial, operational and capability risks, the finance functions can be completely outsourced or partially outsourced to third parties. This will provide guaranteed cost benefits and may provide the opportunity to leverage relationships with vendors that provide best practice processes.

Process Efficiencies

Typically for Police Forces the focus on development has developed a silo based culture with disparate processes. As a result significant opportunities exist for standardization and simplification of processes which provide scalability, reduce manual effort and deliver business benefit. From simply rationalizing processes, a force can typically accrue a 40% reduction in the number of processes. An example of this is the use of electronic bank statements instead of using the manual bank statement for bank reconciliation and accounts receivable processes. This would save considerable effort that is involved in analyzing the data, moving the data onto different spreadsheet and inputting the data into the financial systems.

Organizations that possess a silo operating model tend to have significant inefficiencies and duplication in their processes, for example in HR and Payroll. This is largely due to the teams involved meeting their own goals but not aligning to the corporate objectives of an organization. Police Forces have a number of independent teams that are reliant on one another for data with finance in departments, divisions and headquarters sending and receiving information from each other as well as from the rest of the Force. The silo model leads to ineffective data being received by the teams that then have to carry out additional work to obtain the information required.

Whilst the argument for development has been well made in the context of moving decision making closer to operational service delivery, the added cost in terms of resources, duplication and misaligned processes has rarely featured in the debate. In the current financial climate these costs need to be recognized.

Culture

Within transactional processes, a leading finance function will set up targets for staff members on a daily basis. This target setting is an element of the metric based culture that leading finance functions develop. If the appropriate metrics of productivity and quality are applied and when these targets are challenging but not impossible, this is proven to result in improvements to productivity and quality.

A ‘Best in Class’ finance function in Police Forces will have a service focused culture, with the primary objectives of providing a high level of satisfaction for its customers (departments, divisions, employees & suppliers). A ‘Best in Class’ finance function will measure customer satisfaction on a timely basis through a metric based approach. This will be combined with a team wide focus on process improvement, with process owners, that will not necessarily be the team leads, owning force-wide improvement to each of the finance processes.

Organizational Improvements

Organizational structures within Police Forces are typically made up of supervisors leading teams of one to four team members. Through centralizing and consolidating the finance function, an opportunity exists to increase the span of control to best practice levels of 6 to 8 team members to one team lead / supervisor. By adjusting the organizational structure and increasing the span of control, Police Forces can accrue significant cashable benefit from a reduction in the number of team leads and team leads can accrue better management experience from managing larger teams.

Technology Enabled Improvements

There are a significant number of technology improvements that a Police Force could implement to help develop a ‘Best in Class’ finance function.

These include:

A) Scanning and workflow

Through adopting a scanning and workflow solution to replace manual processes, improved visibility, transparency and efficiencies can be reaped.

B) Call logging, tracking and workflow tool

Police Forces generally have a number of individuals responding to internal and supplier queries. These queries are neither logged nor tracked. The consequence of this is dual:

o Queries consume considerable effort within a particular finance team. There is a high risk of duplicated effort from the lack of logging of queries. For example, a query could be responded to for 30 minutes by person A in the finance team. Due to this query not being logged, if the individual that raised the query called up again and spoke to a different person then just for one additional question, this could take up to 20 minutes to ensure that the background was appropriately explained.

o Queries can have numerous interfaces with the business. An unresolved query can be responded against by up to four separate teams with considerable delay in providing a clear answer for the supplier.

The implementation of a call logging, tracking and workflow tool to document, measure and close internal and supplier queries combined with the set up of a central queries team, would significantly reduce the effort involved in responding to queries within the finance departments and divisions, as well as within the actual divisions and departments, and procurement.

C) Database solution

Throughout finance departments there are a significant number of spreadsheets utilized prior to input into the financial system. There is a tendency to transfer information manually from one spreadsheet to another to meet the needs of different teams.

Replacing the spreadsheets with a database solution would rationalize the number of inputs and lead to effort savings for the front line Police Officers as well as Police Staff.

D) Customize reports

In obtaining management information from the financial systems, police staff run a series of reports, import these into excel, use lookups to match the data and implement pivots to illustrate the data as required. There is significant manual effort that is involved in carrying out this work. Through customizing reports the outputs from the financial system can be set up to provide the data in the formats required through the click of a button. This would have the benefit of reduced effort and improved motivation for team members that previously carried out these mundane tasks.

In designing, procuring and implementing new technology enabling tools, a Police Force will face a number of challenges including investment approval; IT capacity; capability; and procurement.

These challenges can be mitigated through partnering with a third party service company with whom the investment can be shared, the skills can be provided and the procurement cycle can be minimized.

Conclusion

It is clear that cultural, process and technology change is required if police forces are to deliver both sustainable efficiencies and high quality services. In an environment where for the first time forces face real cash deficits and face having to reduce police officer and support staff numbers whilst maintaining current performance levels the current finance delivery models requires new thinking.

While there a number of barriers to be overcome in achieving a best in class finance function, it won’t be long before such a decision becomes mandatory. Those who are ahead of the curve will inevitably find themselves in a stronger position.

Don’t Get Burned By Web Designers

If you bring up the subject of web design with small business people, it wouldn’t take long to find someone who has been burned by a web designer. Perhaps they have even come to the conclusion that a web site is not worth the expense. Let’s look at how and why that happens, and outline some success principles that will help you when you need web design services. Since so many web designers get it wrong, the web design principles that actually work may surprise you.One of the problems with web design is that software programs have made it seem easy to create a web site. If you have the software, it would not take you long to build a web site. There are an abundance of inexpensive templates available to make it even easier to put together a web site. Getting a professional looking web site is not difficult at all. So you may wonder, why is that a problem?The process of creating a web site does not end with making it look professional. In fact, that could very well be one of the least important aspects of a web site design. Let’s face it, there are ugly web sites that make a lot of money. Since life is not fair, there are great looking web sites that make little or no money. I’m not saying the professionalism of your web site is not important; I am saying it’s not enough.There is a serious flaw in the web design industry, and small business owners are especially prone to fall victim to it. The problem is that usually, very little business planning goes into a web site design. Too many web designers are more concerned with selling web design than taking the time to build an effective web site.This deficiency stems from the fact that very few web designers are marketing people. Small business people do not have big advertising budgets, so they are easily attracted to the low rates of average web designers. Good marketing means setting priorities and effectively using your resources to accomplish goals.The one element I find seriously missing in web design is the very thing that is fundamentally important; that element is uniqueness. A Unique Selling Point (USP) is one of the basic tenets of marketing. You must answer the questions: why should I buy from you, and, what makes you different from my other choices? If you fail in this area, your web site visitor will not be kind to you. They will leave and not come back; they will probably not tell you why they left either.Read your web site copy to see if it contains another common error. Does it say, “We this,” and, “We that?” Do not “we” on your web site visitors! Your web site copy should speak to the visitor, address their needs, and solve their problem. It must compel them in some way. You need to draw them in and sell them on your solution.When you take notice of how many web sites violate these basic marketing principles above, you will begin to see how you have the opportunity to rise above your competitors. Just think, if the majority of business web sites are violating even these most basic principles, how much more could you benefit from hiring a web designer who understands marketing?There is a lot of emphasis placed on search engine optimization (SEO), and there should be, because this is very important if you want to have your web site found by people using the search engines. For most web sites, search engines account for 80% to 95% of all visitors. However, as important as SEO is, if you have a web site that is not creating sales with the visitors you are already getting, SEO is the wrong priority.The next principle is the one you will probably find the most surprising. People actually read web sites! Yes, they do have a short attention span, and we will look at that point next, but they do read. There have been many studies done to document the way people use web pages. Even though so much attention is given to graphics, the studies show that well over 75% of the time, web page users read the text before they notice graphics.This does not mean that graphics are unimportant. Visual elements are one of the many advantages a web site can provide. When you consider that people use the Internet to seek information, then it does makes sense that they will read your web site’s content. Providing the right information can mean the difference between winning a customer, or surrendering them to your competition.I also promised to cover the short attention span issue. It is often called the 3 second rule. According to web studies, if you cannot capture the attention of your visitor in approximately 3 seconds, that’s how fast they usually leave your web site. I suspect the reason is because so many web sites are such a horrible waste of time, that people’s patience has been worn down. The solution is to have a fast loading page that quickly clues them in that you can solve their problem. If they can “skim” in a few seconds, and you grab their attention, you have successfully drawn them in so they will stay a while.Statistically, it takes 7 visits before you make a sale. If your web site is not done correctly, you will have dismal results because you can’t get them to come back seven times. That is why so many web site owners are disappointed with their success. That is why some web designers provide what seems to be a bargain, while other web designers have to charge more to give you a better value. It takes more time to plan and create a good web site design.The good news is that most of your competitors will go for the bargain and suffer the same fate as everyone else who does not realize the value of an effective web site design. Very few of them will invest the resources needed for success. If you do, you can win. This does not mean you need the big budget of a major corporation, or that it has to be expensive, it just means you need to be willing to do better than average. The rewards are much greater when you stretch beyond the norm.

Where to Find Bespoke ‘Travel and Tour’ Services Online

When it comes to planning your perfect getaway, is it really possible to find a truly personalised holiday package – a travel itinerary that’s been especially curated according to your needs and preferences? Luckily for keen jetsetters and tourists, the answer is a resounding yes.Bespoke holiday providers can be found online by doing a little digging and performing some basic research. This may involve combing customer review sites to find the most reputable service providers, as well as comparing quotations from competing travel agencies. You may also know somebody that can recommend a good company to use.Bear in mind that the best travel and tour providers tend to be located near to where you’re staying. This way, not only will they be able to impart valuable information about the local area, they will also be on hand to help should any problems arise during your visit. Some even provide management staff to help with your daily duties and security.With that in mind, the first thing to consider is what kind of holiday experience you’re looking to have. Are you travelling alone, or with your family or friends, for example? Do you have a romantic city break in mind, or a fun-filled fortnight of activities for the kids to enjoy, with poolside relaxation during the evenings?You will also need to have an idea about to location you wish to visit, as this will help you narrow down your travel company options. Some franchises will specialise in Sandals resort holidays, for example, whereas others may provide travel to the world’s most remote islands, capital cities or beaches – this may require a little research.If you’re open to suggestions about your holiday destination, it’s worth sitting down with an adviser, as they will be able to use their skill and contracts to find you the best deals and a number of location options. This often works out well for those jetting off at the last minute, as there will be an abundance of discounted flight and hotel options available.Once you’ve decided where you want to go, narrow down your online search options according to the dates you wish to fly and the type of accommodation you’re looking for. If you’re travelling with a large party, you may consider renting a private villa for the week, which can generally accommodate up to 27 people (though smaller villas can be found).If you’re planning a more low-key holiday, you may still wish to look at renting privately. This will allow you to enjoy more space and make use of your own facilities. Options may include villas, condos, holiday homes and apartments. Make contact with an agency in the local area and ask them to find you something that suits your budget.If you’re hoping to learn a little about the local culture, it’s a good idea to look into the ‘travel and tour’ options provided by the company you choose. If you have specific places in mind that you would like to see, it’s worth contacting the company to discuss your requirements in detail so they can come up with a personalised itinerary for you.The holiday company you choose should be able to assist you with every detail of the booking process – from organising the most convenient and cost-effective flights, to planning activities for you when you arrive. They may also be able to recommend local restaurants, cultural sites and places to visit, along with a range of other services.Wherever you choose to visit, make sure the company you book your holiday with offers 100% financial protection and are members of the ABTA.