01 Oct Suffolk County Council Face the Future with Confidence
“The system we have developed using Sage CRM means that we can easily demonstrate that we provide a good quality professional service at a very competitive cost.”
Sally Longmate, Practice & Business Development Manager, Suffolk County Council
The Client Profile
Suffolk is a large shire authority. Legal Services sits within its Scrutiny and Monitoring Specialist Support function which comprises professionals and specialists.
Legal Services delivers accredited services to both internal and external customers and operates in partnership with district and borough council legal teams as part of the award-winning Doing Business Better project.
In 2006, Suffolk sought a case management system that would combine time recording with document management. The aim was to make it easier to share legal expertise and capacity between councils in Suffolk and to closely track the time spent on projects.
The strategic direction was providedby the 2003 Gershon review of public sector efficiency emphasising further the impetus for identifying and delivering efficiencies in service provision.
For many years, the Council had been using a time management software package developed by Sage Business Partner Tricostar. It was the first step in moving to a more business-like approach to the management and delivery of the in-house service. There was recognition that to deliver a more effective and efficient service, with access to comprehensive real time management information was fundamental in informing key decision making.
The natural progression was to a new package, also from Tricostar, which was based on the well established Sage CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solution. Tricostar had customised Sage CRM to include a time recording component and tailored the field names to fit and support legal departments, with field names reflecting the typical legal processes.
The solution, known as TCM (Timebase Case Management), is web-based. It integrates fully with Microsoft Outlook and can also be easily linked to any corporate email system.
Once the system had been rigorously tested, installation at Suffolk took onlya couple of days. The system had to meet the challenge of customisation across seven other independent legal teams working in partnership, with a view to shaping themselves to meet the Gershon efficiency targets. The innovative result was the first example of a shared service with a web-based CRM system.
The system underpins a ‘virtual team’ model that means benefits are not limited by structure and geography, and expertise can be shared. Using browser-based technology, the system can be accessed by staff working remotely, wherever there is an internet connection. It also supports flexible working for the county’s employees, who can access all the information they need to work from any location across the county or from home.
The project has transformed the future approach to delivering services and managing business processes. Sally Longmate, Practice & Business Development Manager, explains the value the system has brought: “As it underpins all our legal work, the most valuable element and the one we have placed our main focus on is refining the time-recording function and that alone has enabled us to have confidence in the in-house value for money commodity that is legal services.”
The system provides improved information on costs for client departments and external customers. Giving an example, Sally says: “We can apply the system to a major project, for example, which may take three months to bring to fruition. We can quantify, in a simple pie-chart format, exactly what activities took place that made up the composition of that project and, most importantly, the associated cost in terms of staff time, differentiated by different levels of hourly rates, such as clerical, technical and, managerial. The information realistically reflects what work was done, who it was done for and what it cost.”
Critically, the case management system is not just about recording time. It ensures a flow of seamless and accurate management information for sound business decisions. By monitoring the department’s activities and analysing the information generated, managers have gained a firm operational grasp and an in-depth understanding of the skills required to handle a complex workload. This equips them to devise a clear strategy for taking the department’s work forward.
The full system is made up of over 150 users, including district and borough legal teams, with security and integrity of data being protected by bespoke firewalls. A major benefit of a cross-county approach is the availability of a system to smaller in-house teams who individually would not have been able to acquire such a powerful system.
The next-stage desired outcome for the system is the application of process improvement moving to operational workflow management. The aim is to reduce duplication and inefficiency and increase capacity. One of the key learning outcomes is that, to maximise the benefits of the CRM system, Legal Services has, as a team, had to challenge its processes rather than merely replicate what it currently does. This whole team approach to change has been the most significant learning headline for the Suffolk team. Previously unknown inefficiencies have been identified and more efficient ways of delivering the service have been developed.
Sally comments, “We have learnt to understand the way people handle their day-to-day work, and taken important ‘time out’ to stand back and dig deep into what happens and therefore what is required, day in and day out. The benefits are that we are keeping our best practices, identifying more efficient ways of working and creating a team-lead shared knowledge and precedent bank approach using the Sage CRM system.”
She continues, “Being able to apply process improvement to document and email templates linked to workflows, where appropriate, will reduce duplication and inefficiency and increased file capacity for professional staff and mean significant changes in the way people work.”
A key achievement has been the integration of both ISO 9001 standard and Lexcel, the Law Society quality standard, into the system. This means that Suffolk’s quality processes are embedded in everything the team does; this is an important advantage when competing for work.
The undoubted strengths of the system in supporting district and borough level of collaborative working have been recognised at corporate level and Suffolk County Council has already rolled use out across other functions.
The innovative approach of Suffolk Legal Services has also been recognised with two major private sector awards: The Cipfa, Shared Services Award in 2007 and the first outright winner of the In House Legal Department Initiative of the Year Award in 2008.
Sally sums up, “What is the minimum a business should know about itself: what it does; who it does it for and what it costs. Link this with the expectation that our council tax will be utilised in the most cost-effective way and you have the starting point for our in-house legal team’s approach to case management. The system we have developed using Sage CRM means that we can easily demonstrate that we provide a good quality professional service at a very competitive cost.”
In the current climate there is no room for complacency. Suffolk is aspirational and constantly looks for new ways to extend its usage of the system.
There are obvious next stages which the system has been developed to provide – court bundling and case bundling (electronic archiving), realistically now seen as an essential requirement for a professional legal service.
The obvious benefits from the expansion of the document management side include improved access to information primarily for customers, who will be able to access directly the current status of legal work. A major benefit for Suffolk will be in reducing the cost of archiving paper files (Electronic Archiving) as it will simply be the case that, once closed, a file will be held as a PDF. This will definitely help it to meet its green objectives.
- A system that supports an innovative approach to increasing efficiency
- Tracked information on time provides a firm foundation for planning and budgeting
- Economies of scale with a countywide system
- Improved sharing of legal information, expertise and capacity within a secure environment
- A system that retains learning and knowledge and is flexible and responsive when developing new ways of working
- Continued expert support from Sage Business Partner Tricostar
Read More Case Studies from Tricostar
Timebase (based on Sage CRM) can be configured to a client’s requirements without any effects on the underlying code. It comes with a powerful user driven workflow and reporting engine that enables government organisations to manage processes and share data within their various departmental organisations.
The system’s multi-layered security model permits the inter-departmental sharing of the database and the hardware platform. This significantly reduces the organisation’s overall infrastructure and knowledge costs required to maintain the system environment.
Click here to read more detail about Timebase from Tricostar.