Huddle: Cheltenham Takes Shared Services to the CloudChristopher Cox of Cheltenham borough council explains how it has used an online collaboration application to support shared services
April 26, 2011
by Christopher Cox
Faced with transforming public services, driving innovation and meeting efficiency targets, collaboration and shared services are now moving to the top of all local authority agendas. At Cheltenham borough council, working closely with the other district councils in Gloucestershire and neighbouring West Oxfordshire is a familiar task.
Driven by government initiatives, such as Choice Based Lettings, we have been working with geographically dispersed teams for a number of years. However, sharing information with our colleagues at other councils was often a time consuming challenge.
To ensure that everyone had visibility of content ahead of a meeting, large files were frequently sent via email. As well as burdening our inboxes with attachments, time was spent at the start of each of our face-to-face meetings establishing which version of a document was the final one. Content had to be cross-checked to verify that everyone’s version incorporated all the comments and feedback that had been distributed via email. With some councils based 80 miles apart, in-person meetings proved costly in terms of both time and money and this certainly wasn’t the best way to spend our time.
With a number of concurrent partnership projects, the use of email as the basis of collaborative working became a recurring issue and a request was made to find an improved means of sharing information. We pulled together a Collaboration Tools Options Paper that examined a number of offerings, including SharePoint. However, many of the tools required a lot of infrastructure work and had a slow design and deployment process. I had used the Huddle online collaboration application for some of my own projects, and saw it had potential for Cheltenham’s partnership programmes.
As there was a clear business need for a secure content management and collaboration tool, the investment costs could be accommodated within the council’s current budgets. Following my recommendation, it was finalised by our assistant chief executive. Being cloud-based, we could get up and running on the application immediately and everyone could securely access the information they needed from wherever they were, which is great for remote teams.
To overcome the challenge of people duplicating materials in a workspace and causing confusion, each project has one or two people responsible for establishing a suitable folder structure. By doing so, team members can find the information they need faster.
Huddle is now being used to support the GO Shared Services Programme, a collaboration between Cheltenham borough council (including Cheltenham Borough Homes), Cotswold, Forest of Dean and West Oxfordshire district councils. The aim of the programme is to establish shared services covering finance, HR, payroll and procurement based on the deployment of an integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) system shared by the organisations.
Using Huddle, we have created a central document repository that is accessible to all partner organisations. All content relating to the GO programme can be viewed, commented on and versions tracked. It is vital to its success that stakeholders from all of the organisations can actively participate in the review, comment and approval of all documentation (including design, business process and policy documents) as we will be aligning and standardising many of the ways of working across all the partners.
With the government budget cuts, councils are looking to save money and come up with new and improved business processes, while continuing to provide the highest level of public service. It is innovative technology such as this that is going to enable councils to deliver true shared services and hit their efficiency targets.