As with all local councils in the United Kingdom, Cheshire Shared Services (CSS), which provides services to Cheshire West and Chester and Cheshire East Councils, is tasked with driving greater efficiency, streamlining services, and reducing costs across all departments. Much of this streamlining is taking place within back-office and administrative functions.
Having implemented Oracle E-Business Suite to generate initial efficiencies across the council, CSS recognized a need to overhaul its processes for submitting pay claims and did this successfully with the introduction of e-forms.
With many council employees in areas, such as social care, working variable hours, and with a manual, paper-driven process for submitting pay claims, the council handled more than 30,000 pieces of paper each month for pay claims alone. The process was slow, time-consuming, redundant, and beset with the potential for errors. Vanessa Coates, Head of HR and Finance Shared Services was keen to exploit technology to bring about improvements, savings, and customer satisfaction.
To address this problem, the Employee Service Centre (ESC) within Cheshire Shared Services developed an electronic pay-claim form that would reduce manual processes, accelerate the payroll system, and reduce errors. By leveraging Oracle E-Business Suite and Oracle Forms 10g to establish electronic pay claims, the councils reduced ESC’s monthly paper-processing volume by more than 95%, minimizing errors, and improving customer satisfaction.
“The implementation of electronic pay-claim forms has been a tremendous success across the councils. Pay claims are accurately processed and customer satisfaction has improved enormously. ESC employees are now facilitators, providing quality service and support for internal customers,” said Julie Davies, client and sourcing manager, Cheshire Shared Services.
Historically, payroll and personnel support operated in separate units. In 2003, the two units were combined as part of an overall efficiency drive. Payroll and HR staff members were cross-trained to develop a team that was fully accomplished across all aspects of payroll and transactional human resources. Oracle E-Business Suite brought together the separate HR and finance systems and eliminated double-keying of data.
The new team, however, was handling an unsustainable volume of paper; therefore a prototype electronic pay-claim form was developed to vastly improve the process. Following the success of the prototype, Oracle Forms was used to develop the form, which was then successfully rolled out.
“We wanted to bring as much work as possible online,” Davies said. “Previously, the team was handling approximately 30,000 pieces of paper per month, including expense forms, overtime forms, and sick leave records. With the implementation of the electronic pay-claim form, we have reduced paper volume by 95%.”
With local government reorganization, the Cheshire West and Chester and Cheshire East Councils were created through merging seven existing councils. ESC, hosted by Cheshire West and Chester Council and located in Chester, now provides transactional HR and payroll on a shared service basis for Cheshire West and Chester Council and Cheshire East Council. Both councils fund the shared services center.
Prior to implementing the electronic pay-claim form, the manual process for payroll functions were long and drawn out, costly, error-ridden, and time-consuming, with a significantly high error rate. After deploying the new electronic pay-claim process, the error rate dropped to less than 0.25% (attributable to local input), significantly enhancing ESC’s reputation.
“Using manual processes, the deadline for pay claims was the 25th of each month, which resulted in costs being spread across two financial periods,” Davies said. “Now, with the electronic pay-claim forms in place, the deadline is the 5th or 6th of each month, and pay claims run from the 1st to 31st. Not only do administrators have an extra 10 days to submit the pay claims, but the finance department now deals with full-month costing and full-month claiming to simplify the month-end close and enhance financial reporting efficiency.”
Payroll employees previously spent a significant amount of time verifying, validating, and interpreting the manual pay-claim forms before making payments. Variable pay rates were complex for temporary teachers and for council staff claiming overtime work after 10:00 p.m. or overnight rates. The validation process was time consuming and prone to errors.
“Pay-claim entries are now validated at the source,” said Mike Lally, system support and development manager, HR and Finance Shared Services, Cheshire Shared Services. “Because the pay-claim form integrates directly with Oracle Payroll, the system processes checks and flags errors for the front-end administrator as the data is keyed. This saves Cheshire Shared Services a tremendous amount of time validating and amending incorrect data, allowing it to meet payroll requirements quickly, and ensuring that employees are paid correctly the first time.”
“The impact on our staff has been very positive,” Davies said. “The process has enriched and empowered staff and has given individuals the opportunity to grow their own knowledge by fully training all employees in both HR and payroll processes. The team is more responsive and has a much better relationship with internal customers.”
An administrator in each school, library, social care establishment, and office is tasked with keying pay variance data onto the pay-claim form each month, as opposed to filling in paper forms and posting them to a central team for keying. That individual can only see data concerning those employed in his or her establishment, resulting in a very secure environment for uploading data. This also takes into account the nature of the council’s business, where most of the staff are front-line and customer facing and do not have direct access to business technology, for examples: teachers and social care workers.
In addition, administrators at the front end can enter pay-claim data throughout the month, whenever it is convenient with their work loads. With a later deadline to input claims, administrators have extra time to complete a particular month’s pay-claim forms, removing monthly time pressures and enabling them to work on other priority tasks.
With Oracle E-Business Suite already in use across the organization, it was essential to implement a solution that would integrate easily with Oracle Payroll and allow online validation. In addition, the finance department was already using Oracle Forms for a number of functions, so Cheshire Shared Services decided to standardize its processes as much as possible.
“Oracle Forms integrates directly with Oracle Payroll to enable us to validate data at the source, accelerate processes, and reduce errors. In addition, Oracle Forms is very user friendly, and since we needed to roll out the service to a large number of administrators across Cheshire, we needed to be sure that individuals could input data easily. Oracle Forms was, therefore, the logical solution for our requirements,” Lally said.
“Oracle is integral to Cheshire West and Chester Council and Cheshire East Council’s business. We have invested heavily in Oracle E-Business Suite and have recently upgraded to Release 12, which provides us with the opportunity for delivering high-profile modules, such as Oracle iRecruitment, in the future. We have gradually rolled out more modules to our employees, especially modules that enable self-service, such as Manager and Employee Self Service,” Lally said.
“As a member of the U.K. Oracle HR Public Sector Customer Forum, we are working with other Forum members and Oracle Development to include volume data-entry functionality as standard within Oracle E-Business Suite. We anticipate it will take the form of a self-service framework together with approvals. All councils across the U.K. would benefit from using this type of solution, especially bearing in mind the efficiency gains we have achieved using E-Forms.” Lally said.
The electronic pay-claim form was developed in-house using Oracle Forms. The forerunner to using Oracle forms was a trial system using a simple spreadsheet, which was tested in departments with a large number of variable inputs each month. It immediately demonstrated the benefits that could be achieved with an integrated electronic form. The process was iterative and a team developed the best solution for the organization.
The Oracle form has been subsequently standardized to accommodate the majority of needs of different departments within the council. It also led to creating a specific form for social care workers, which is prepopulated with care-worker names and details, and another form developed for sickness reporting.
A small client services team was established from some of the savings to be delivered through implementation of this product, which ensured success through a phased roll-out program. Training included half-day classroom courses with groups of 10 to 12 participants. The classes were tailored to specific audiences, such as schools, social services, or libraries to ensure that participants received information pertinent to their roles.
The client services team provides an on-going support program.
Advice from Cheshire Shared Services