Housing Technology interviewed Wythenshawe Community Housing Group’s assistant director of finance, Julie Booker, on their decision to adopt Orchard OpenAccounts following a merger of two housing providers.
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 a combined stock of 14,000 properties, providing homes to more than 20,000 people across Wythenshawe, Manchester and a turnover of £61 million.
What was the background to your adoption of Orchard OpenAccounts?
Following the merger, Wythenshawe went through a systems appraisal process and decided to adopt Orchard OpenAccounts, including the eBIS module, as the finance system for the new organisation, with the overwhelming factor that eBIS facilitated the devolution of financial responsibility to where it should be, the budget managers. With the ethos at Wythenshawe being that budget managers should own their budgets and are responsible for the coding of financial documents, thereby giving visibility of their financial position, this solution fitted perfectly.
Orchard’s senior implementation consultant, Andrew Eves, helped with both the OpenAccounts Core set up 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 (electronic POs [for] Wythenshawe enquiries [and] reporting), bringing together users from both Willow Park and Parkway Green into a single system that was universally adopted.
What has been done with ePower?
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 Orchard’s 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 thought about the other forms that come into the finance department, including 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 so that non-finance people can self-serve. The result of this is that we have a small but very efficient finance team. We then looked at rent refunds and other rent adjustments and adopted split authorisations, ensuring a well-implemented ‘segregation of duties’, which is something our auditors monitor closely.
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 have you pushed the boundaries of the system’s capabilities?
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 or software, it will be reviewed by the IT manager.
What have you learned from the implementation?
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. Another lesson was we now know that we need to make more notes about the forms we have developed so that future upgrade processes are easier to manage.
How did you manage the adoption of the new system?
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 the ‘go-live’, we had regular budget monitoring meetings where the budget managers appreciated they had not only sight but also 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.