When your finance system can't grow with your organisation
Boudica Schools Trust's story
A growing academy trust needs an agile finance system that can continually develop to support the finance team. Anything less than this quickly becomes unproductive and costly.
Phil Beecher, a Chartered Accountant and Chief Operating Officer of Boudica Schools Trust, experienced this frustrating situation. A sizable Norfolk based academy trust comprising ten schools, from nursery to sixth form, their finance system couldn't meet the growth requirements set by the stakeholders.
"The system we had was costing us money in terms of finance team downtime when it was unavailable. When it was down, or there were issues, they weren't being resolved quickly enough. Too much time was spent trying to get through to the support desk, and when we finally did get through, the quality of provision was poor. The people you spoke to weren't particularly competent in the system themselves, so you'd often get passed to another person, and then another.
Basically, the system wasn't meeting our needs. We have a technically competent finance team and we wanted the system to do far more and be more efficient than it was. We were clearly hitting the limits of the system and being hindered by the capability of the support team."
Despite their frustrations, the team at Boudica persisted for a further 12 months. It then became abundantly clear that they had to find something better. They started to research other systems ahead of a full tender process.
Finding a system to grow with them
Phil said his external auditors were a valuable source of information. They saw many different finance systems operating in other academy trusts, so they could highlight the advantages and disadvantages with a larger trust in mind.
Phil's team also carried out their own research, organising live demonstrations of several different systems. And this, Phil said, should be a critical stage for any such procurement: "If you write a tender specification without seeing live demonstrations, you'll write it for what you know is available. It's important to have an options appraisal. A lot of people make this mistake in procurement. They end up buying what they've had before and don't find out what they could have."
After no shortage of research, a closed tender was carried out involving three providers. The final decision was made using a scoring system that considered costing, including costs for further schools joining the trust, and more than 100 different functionalities. It assessed these factors based on how the trust was operating currently and how it might develop in the future. Phil was determined to choose a finance system that could grow with their needs.
"On balance, across all the different areas, Hoge 100 was the best." said Phil.
"Hoge are unique in their speed of response to feedback"
With the system changeover planned for the new school year, Phil was happy with how it went.
"We were steered really well through the different decisions we could make, understanding the pros and cons of each. Hoge would say: 'You could do it this way, but other organisations have done it in a different way, and these are the problems they had.' How our system has been built and configured has been the result of informed decision making, so we've ended up with a great system that suits our needs," he explained.
Up and running on Dimensions for Academies, complete with Finance Portal, the Boudica finance team soon had some developments they wanted to task Hoge 100 with. And they were very impressed by the speed of response.
A big benefit has been how rapidly we've seen the system develop, based on our feedback. With the dozens of finance systems I've dealt with, I would say Hoge are unique in their speed of response to feedback. The length of time between saying: 'Could we have this?' or: 'Could this work another way?' to it actually happening has been measured in weeks with Hoge. With other providers, it could sometimes be measured in years.
As an example, we wanted invoice scans to display from a single mouse click on Finance Portal, rather than going through two or three different screens to get the invoice to pop up. Based on previous experience, for that sort of thing to change, I was expecting it to take at least a year. When it was available in under two months I was really impressed. I could wax lyrical about how impressed my team and I have been in terms of Hoge's responsiveness to feedback.
Changing the invoice to appear in one click has made a huge difference in terms of aggregate time saved, and in getting people to engage with the system, moving away from hard copy sign off.
I'm really impressed with Finance Portal. It's fast, with good usability and great potential for development in the way we use it," said Phil.
"They're people you can do business with."
So, Boudica School Trust found the finance system that could grow with them as their demands became more complex. And they found a provider that delivered a fast and capable service.
Phil explained how the demands of a finance system would never be static. He told us the speed of change required to keep up with system demands would only increase. With Hoge, he's confident he has a system that can measure up to this challenge./p>
"Hoge are very pragmatic, they're people you can do business with. Their main strength is, when something isn't working, or needs to change, they work with you on a solution and deliver it. Quickly. The product differentiation is really good. What you need in six months' time is different to what you'll need in three years' time. Things are going to move on rapidly. For example, the level of integration and the customisability we'll need to automate more tasks. I'm really confident that with Hoge 100, we've got a system that's going to be agile enough to meet those demands. With some of the other systems, I'd be far less confident,"