Upper Hutt City Council
Upper Hutt City Council boosts transparency with
CorPlan and IBM Planning Analytics with Watson
“We’ve seen excellent system knowledge and a transfer of skills which enables our finance team to expand on the solution ourselves. We’ve gone from an old reporting system which we called ‘the phone book’, to a dynamic solution which is smart, fast and reliable.”
– Talor Gilmer, UHCC management and systems accountant.
Seeking improved access to budget performance information, Upper Hutt City Council got specialist performance management solution provider CorPlan in for the deployment of IBM Planning Analytics with Watson software.
As a result, the finance department has substantially improved communications between finance and the leadership team, supporting a direct benefit to ratepayers with improved visibility of spending across Council activities.
Upper Hutt City Council (UHCC) is the local authority of the city of Upper Hutt in the Wellington Region of New Zealand. UHCC administers the city with its surrounding rural areas, parks and reserves, which cover an area of 540 km2 and makes it the third-largest area of a city council in New Zealand, after Dunedin and Auckland.
The Upper Hutt region is home to an estimated population of some 47,700 people.
While UHCC’s finance department has software in place for financial reporting, it is difficult to use and an output of PDF documents limited appeal to the intended audience.
The Council’s management and systems accountant Talor Gilmer says the consequence was financial information including progress against budgets and targets was somewhat opaque. “We wanted to make financial information and results more available and accessible for the leadership team – giving them a way of seeing reliable results in a digital format. In addition to helping with what
they wanted to see, we also wanted to let them dive deeper if needed.”
This information includes numbers relating to revenues, operational expenditures, personnel costs, and capital expenditure. “This is the essential information which shows how the council is spending,” says Gilmer. “And with the priority of the leadership team being strategy, communications and infrastructure rather than the financials, we wanted a system which connected these attributes with the numbers, making the correlation between cost implications and those priorities.”
With prior experience of IBM Planning Analytics with Watson, Gilmer says the software was a known quantity for UHCC and himself, with the selection of a solution provider with a proven track record just as important. “CorPlan has a sole focus on delivering business intelligence, enterprise performance management, data analytics and AI solutions from IBM, so they were the right choice for the project, though their appointment predated my own,” he relates.
Delivery, he says, was exemplary over the course of a year as the first phase of the project got underway. Regular stand-ups saw progress and plans discussed, updates shared on progress from drawing board into development, assessing builds against expectations with bugs ironed out, before moving into production.
Thoroughness is part of the delivery, he notes. “CorPlan actually helped uncover gaps in our analysis and reporting, so this was an opportunity for remediation so that when the reports do come out, they are not only accurate but trustworthy.”
While the physical results of the IBM Planning Analytics with Watson software are, in a few words, better and more frequent reports, the real benefit lies in how the information is received by UHCC’s leadership team.
“Previously, we had PDF reporting that went to email inboxes, this was hard to analyse without going into the system to dig deeper, a time-consuming exercise,” says Gilmer. “Now, the leadership team receives information which makes sense to them, and which they can further interrogate and contextualise as they see fit.”
This has resulted in ‘an increase of conversations and awareness about the financial implications of decisions’, Gilmer explains. “For example, we can easily see if capital expenditure for the year is running behind and the drawdowns are low, which leads to more discussion on how well we are meeting the needs of ratepayers with capital projects. Another small example is personnel cost: with IBM Planning Analytics, we can analyse current costs against previous years and see how it stacks up, whether it is consistent in terms of headcount, if higher pay rates are causing increases, and how things look moving forward.”
Gilmer has praise for the system’s ability to perform scenarios which allow glimpses into a hypothetical future.
“We can see the past and ask question of the future – what will happen next year and the year after that, if we adjust certain variables. It gives wider scope.”
On a more practical basis, he says the solution is fast, reliable and, quite simply, ‘really useful’. And the delivery by CorPlan has contributed to the positive outcome. “We’ve seen excellent system knowledge and a transfer of skills
which enables our finance team to expand on the solution ourselves. We’ve gone from an old reporting system which we called ‘the phone book’, to a dynamic solution which is smart, fast and reliable.”
The second stage of UHCC’s IBM Planning Analytics with Watson currently under development by CorPlan is a budgeting tool which systemise the budget with built in tools. And Gilmer has every confidence in a successful delivery further empowering the council’s leadership team with correct, accessible information.
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