Introduction

Wythenshawe Community Housing Group was formed by the merger of Parkway Green Housing Trust and Willow Park Housing Trust in 2013. This group structure has created a combined stock of almost 14,000 properties, providing homes to more than 20,000 people across Wythenshawe, Manchester and a projected annual turnover of £61 million per year. The new organisation has built on the existing strengths of both companies and will enable the preservation of high quality community services and continued investment in the local area.

Background

Following the merger, Wythenshawe went through a system appraisal process and decided on adopting OpenAccounts as the Finance solution for the new organisation, with the overwhelming factor being eBIS facilitates the devolution of financial responsibility to where it should be, the budget managers. With the ethos at Wythenshawe being that Budget Managers own their budgets and are responsible for the coding of financial documents thereby giving visibility of their Financial position, this solution fitted perfectly.

Andrew Eves, Senior Implementation Consultant at Orchard assisted with both the OpenAccounts Core setup as well as the eBIS implementation.  He worked closely with a member of our team whose sole responsibility at that time was the implementation of the system.

During the implementation process, eBIS was rebranded to ePower; ePower – electronic PO’s (for) Wythenshawe Enquiries (and) Reporting. This was for numerous reasons but the main reason being that it brought together users from both Willow Park and Parkway Green into a single system that was universally adopted. This epitomised what Wythenshawe was doing with the solution at the time, but its use since has been extended further.

What has been done with ePower?

Julie Booker, Assistant Director of Finance at Wythenshawe explained Parkway Green had previously used eBIS and so knew what its capabilities were. “It was apparent that there were a lot of paper forms in the business that could be built into ePower. The benefits of putting these forms into ePower being the elimination of duplicated effort and enabling an approval process to be built with full audit trails. Previously paper forms needed to be filled out but they were then re-keyed into the finance system.”

“When we spoke to Andrew Eves, he always offered options from which we would choose the best one for us. Considerations such as licensing and deriving the best value for each process was always something we thought about. One thing we knew we needed to do was consider the prevention of fraud. We wanted to lock everything down as much as possible without bringing day to day operations to a halt. One way to do this was to use ePower for the creation and approval of change requests such as Petty Cash payments, credit card payments, supplier changes and supplier bank changes; all of which  are now done in ePower.”

“Once all this was done, we had a think. What other forms come into Finance? Customer change requests, sales invoice requests as well as general financial enquiries. All of these were then taken care of by ePower. We now push out as much access as possible via ePower in order that non-Finance people self-serve. The result of this is we have a small, but very efficient Finance team. We then looked at Rent Refunds and other rent adjustments and adopted split authorisations ensuring well implemented segregation of duties. Segregation of duties is something our auditors monitor closely.  Expenses were considered but these are done through our payroll system.”

“Finally, we implemented an approval process of our payment runs through ePower so that I can drill into any payment and check for any anomalies. All journals are now raised and approved through ePower, largely by finance people but around year-end also by budget managers.”

Where do you think you have pushed the boundaries of the systems capabilities?

Julie continued, “We have added intelligence to processes. For example, if someone raises a PO for Training it will automatically be checked by HR, or if a PO is raised for IT equipment/software, it will be reviewed by the IT manager.”

Lessons Learned

“An iterative approach worked very well. From the outset we had clear ideas of what to do in order to deliver a Purchase to Pay system, but as the process went on we built on that with other ideas we had. Another lesson was we now know that we need to make more notes as to what the forms we have developed to ensure future upgrade process is easier to manage.”

How did you manage the adoption of the new system by the business?

“There was some resistance initially to the new system by some staff, but we engaged with budget managers at an early stage and got them to “buy-in”. We delivered extensive training and gave them great support. In short, we took them on a journey but we were in charge of the controls!”

“Following go-live we had regular budget monitoring meetings where the budget managers appreciated they had not only sight, but control, over their budgets. We continue to run refresher training on a drop-in basis every two weeks but this is a great tool and staff now recognise it as such.”

What other factors have made this a success?

“We have no invoice approval process. We have a “no PO no pay” policy with our suppliers. When we were implementing this there were objections by our staff, but we asked them to bring examples of invoices they thought might be problematic and we showed them how the system would work. We have always delivered a positive and consistent message to our users that the system would work and we always take the approach that we should sit down and talk to users and always be approachable.”

Future Plans

Julie concluded, “At the moment we are implementing two new subsidiaries and are considering how we make ePower work for them!”

On learning how well eBIS was adopted, Ivan Blythe, Financial Solutions Consultant at Orchard commented, “The adoption of our solutions is really what brings them to life and there is no better example of this than what Wythenshawe has done with the creation of ‘ePower’. Hearing how well Wythenshawe has done with eBIS epitomises why I enjoy my work, and I hope their story inspires other organisations to deliver great solutions to their stakeholders, thereby making people’s day-to-day work lives more productive.”