Over the years, I’ve helped many local governments to replace their enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions. These systems provide huge value as they help councils be more efficient and effective. However, the community doesn’t see any of this which makes it hard for councillors to justify spending money on upgrading IT systems. I believe this is where councils are going wrong. The solution is for councils to change the way they implement these solutions.
Why councils upgrade?
Councils replace their ERP solutions as their existing system or software is running out of support, possibly due to changes in the underlying technology, or the council has simply outgrown its current system. I have been in meetings where councillors have asked, prior to replacement solutions going ahead, whether the current system produces accurate rates notices, pays suppliers, and caters for regulatory events. The answer in almost all instances is yes, which leads to the question, 'why does the system or software need to be replaced at all?'.
Councillors know these types of solutions do not attract votes as the community has no way of seeing the value of these internal systems, unlike, for example, road replacements, community buildings, parks and amenities. With limited budgets, councillors are conscious that every dollar spent on internal systems is a dollar not spent on more crowd-pleasing community-facing solutions.
What happens next?
Currently, the majority of ERP replacements are completed in two stages. First, existing functionality must be replaced, then systems can be improved. In most cases, the first stage can produce the desired results. But, as project fatigue sets in, the rest of the promised improvements may not eventuate. These promised improvements often include online capabilities for communities, and improved reporting (business intelligence) and communications with the community. These modules are exactly what is needed to demonstrate the value of information technology to the community, yet, I suspect, many councils have not implemented these modules.
What needs to change?
Community solutions should be implemented first and not at the back-end of the project. Many solutions have ERP as a prerequisite for online and community-facing solutions, which forces councils to go ERP-first. But this is holding many councils back. There are now solutions available which achieve these community-facing requirements upfront.
If councils were able to demonstrate to the community that any investment in information and communication technology is relevant to them, it may then justify further investment in other IT solutions, such as asset management, geographic information systems, document management solutions, and other back-end solutions. In fact, the advent of open solutions (native cloud) will make the information in these solutions relevant to the community and continue to reinforce the relevance of IT.
Better community outcomes
Better services delivered through online channels will allow councils to enable communities to self-serve and allow councils to redeploy staff to front-line services. These savings and improvements in service will then help pay for the replacement of back-end solutions, which, in a modern scenario, should be Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) anyway.
Demonstrating better community services is key for a council to show value for money. This helps councillors and, ultimately, the communities they serve.