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.

Creating The Ideal Garden

Gardens and landscapes create the most fantastic mood to make you feel that you are one with nature. A garden or landscape coupled with the twitching of the birds; create that relaxing and peaceful atmosphere that everybody yearns especially if you bogged down by a stressful situation. This is the reason why most people often voyage to their country homes when they get an opportunity to take a couple of weeks from work. Green plants whether eaten or planted for aesthetic purposes have a restorative purpose in the human body and by design we cannot survive without gardens or forests.Over the years people have come to appreciate the need of gardening or landscaping in their office or home compounds. This is evident in the fact that landscapes and garden projects can be witnessed as you drive along the roads in most suburban estates or even office blocks with compounds to spare. Gardening and landscaping does not only have to be a preserve for the rich therefore gardens and landscapes can either be planted on a small or large compound. These gardens range from interior landscapes, hanging gardens, roof gardens, therapeutic gardens, kitchen gardens e.t.c. We shall look at each of these gardens and how they can be implemented in various spaces around your home or office.In urban or city living spaces, you could transform your unattractive rooftop into a work of art with a rooftop garden. A rooftop garden has various functional and recreational benefits which includes food temperature control, architectural enhancements, aesthetic beauty, corridors for insect life and an entertainment space for your guests.Secondly, enclosed environments such as shopping malls or office complex could feast their eyes on interior landscaping. This is the practice of designing, arranging and caring for living plants in enclosed environments. This type of landscaping has a wealth of benefits which include temperature control, improves the air quality by reducing toxins, acts as a noise buffer as well as creating that relaxing mood that you would get in an outdoor garden.Thirdly, if your main objective for creating a garden is purely for aesthetic purposes you could create a hanging garden. The most famous hanging gardens were located in present Iraq and they were so beautiful that they were part of the Seven Wonders of the World. In modern times, hanging gardens can be designed and created on walls, balconies, terraces e.t.cFourth, if you have a large compound you could create a therapeutic garden. This garden needs to be created by an expert because of the purpose it serves. Therapeutic gardens are designed to meet the physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs of people therefore they are often found in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and outpatient cancer centers.Fifth, your home must have a kitchen garden. This garden can have a space of its own or serve as a centre feature in your landscape garden. A kitchen garden is where you plant cooking herbs and plants such as oregano, rosemary, sage, mint, kale, spinach, tomatoes, onions e.t.cIn conclusion, it is important to do your research and consult a landscape and gardening expert to assist you craft a plan for your garden in order to meet your desired objective.

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.