Best in Class Finance Functions For Police Forces

Background

Police funding has risen by £4.8 billion and 77 per cent (39 per cent in real terms) since 1997. However the days where forces have enjoyed such levels of funding are over.

Chief Constables and senior management recognize that the annual cycle of looking for efficiencies year-on-year is not sustainable, and will not address the cash shortfall in years to come.
Facing slower funding growth and real cash deficits in their budgets, the Police Service must adopt innovative strategies which generate the productivity and efficiency gains needed to deliver high quality policing to the public.

The step-change in performance required to meet this challenge will only be achieved if the police service fully embraces effective resource management and makes efficient and productive use of its technology, partnerships and people.

The finance function has an essential role to play in addressing these challenges and supporting Forces’ objectives economically and efficiently.

Challenge

Police Forces tend to nurture a divisional and departmental culture rather than a corporate one, with individual procurement activities that do not exploit economies of scale. This is in part the result of over a decade of devolving functions from the center to the.divisions.

In order to reduce costs, improve efficiency and mitigate against the threat of “top down” mandatory, centrally-driven initiatives, Police Forces need to set up a corporate back office and induce behavioral change. This change must involve compliance with a corporate culture rather than a series of silos running through the organization.

Developing a Best in Class Finance Function

Traditionally finance functions within Police Forces have focused on transactional processing with only limited support for management information and business decision support. With a renewed focus on efficiencies, there is now a pressing need for finance departments to transform in order to add greater value to the force but with minimal costs.

1) Aligning to Force Strategy

As Police Forces need finance to function, it is imperative that finance and operations are closely aligned. This collaboration can be very powerful and help deliver significant improvements to a Force, but in order to achieve this model, there are many barriers to overcome. Finance Directors must look at whether their Force is ready for this collaboration, but more importantly, they must consider whether the Force itself can survive without it.

Finance requires a clear vision that centers around its role as a balanced business partner. However to achieve this vision a huge effort is required from the bottom up to understand the significant complexity in underlying systems and processes and to devise a way forward that can work for that particular organization.

The success of any change management program is dependent on its execution. Change is difficult and costly to execute correctly, and often, Police Forces lack the relevant experience to achieve such change. Although finance directors are required to hold appropriate professional qualifications (as opposed to being former police officers as was the case a few years ago) many have progressed within the Public Sector with limited opportunities for learning from and interaction with best in class methodologies. In addition cultural issues around self-preservation can present barriers to change.

Whilst it is relatively easy to get the message of finance transformation across, securing commitment to embark on bold change can be tough. Business cases often lack the quality required to drive through change and even where they are of exceptional quality senior police officers often lack the commercial awareness to trust them.

2) Supporting Force Decisions

Many Finance Directors are keen to develop their finance functions. The challenge they face is convincing the rest of the Force that the finance function can add value – by devoting more time and effort to financial analysis and providing senior management with the tools to understand the financial implications of major strategic decisions.

Maintaining Financial Controls and Managing Risk

Sarbanes Oxley, International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), Basel II and Individual Capital Assessments (ICA) have all put financial controls and reporting under the spotlight in the private sector. This in turn is increasing the spotlight on financial controls in the public sector.

A ‘Best in Class’ Police Force finance function will not just have the minimum controls to meet the regulatory requirements but will evaluate how the legislation and regulations that the finance function are required to comply with, can be leveraged to provide value to the organization. Providing strategic information that will enable the force to meet its objectives is a key task for a leading finance function.

3) Value to the Force

The drive for development over the last decade or so, has moved decision making to the Divisions and has led to an increase in costs in the finance function. Through utilizing a number of initiatives in a program of transformation, a Force can leverage up to 40% of savings on the cost of finance together with improving the responsiveness of finance teams and the quality of financial information. These initiatives include:

Centralization

By centralizing the finance function, a Police Force can create centers of excellence where industry best practice can be developed and shared. This will not only re-empower the department, creating greater independence and objectivity in assessing projects and performance, but also lead to more consistent management information and a higher degree of control. A Police Force can also develop a business partner group to act as strategic liaisons to departments and divisions. The business partners would, for example, advise on how the departmental and divisional commanders can meet the budget in future months instead of merely advising that the budget has been missed for the previous month.

With the mundane number crunching being performed in a shared service center, finance professionals will find they now have time to act as business partners to divisions and departments and focus on the strategic issues.

The cultural impact on the departments and divisional commanders should not be underestimated. Commanders will be concerned that:

o Their budgets will be centralized
o Workloads would increase
o There will be limited access to finance individuals
o There will not be on site support

However, if the centralized shared service center is designed appropriately none of the above should apply. In fact from centralization under a best practice model, leaders should accrue the following benefits:

o Strategic advice provided by business partners
o Increased flexibility
o Improved management information
o Faster transactions
o Reduced number of unresolved queries
o Greater clarity on service and cost of provision
o Forum for finance to be strategically aligned to the needs of the Force

A Force that moves from a de-centralized to a centralized system should try and ensure that the finance function does not lose touch with the Chief Constable and Divisional Commanders. Forces need to have a robust business case for finance transformation combined with a governance structure that spans operational, tactical and strategic requirements. There is a risk that potential benefits of implementing such a change may not be realized if the program is not carefully managed. Investment is needed to create a successful centralized finance function. Typically the future potential benefits of greater visibility and control, consistent processes, standardized management information, economies of scale, long-term cost savings and an empowered group of proud finance professionals, should outweigh those initial costs.

To reduce the commercial, operational and capability risks, the finance functions can be completely outsourced or partially outsourced to third parties. This will provide guaranteed cost benefits and may provide the opportunity to leverage relationships with vendors that provide best practice processes.

Process Efficiencies

Typically for Police Forces the focus on development has developed a silo based culture with disparate processes. As a result significant opportunities exist for standardization and simplification of processes which provide scalability, reduce manual effort and deliver business benefit. From simply rationalizing processes, a force can typically accrue a 40% reduction in the number of processes. An example of this is the use of electronic bank statements instead of using the manual bank statement for bank reconciliation and accounts receivable processes. This would save considerable effort that is involved in analyzing the data, moving the data onto different spreadsheet and inputting the data into the financial systems.

Organizations that possess a silo operating model tend to have significant inefficiencies and duplication in their processes, for example in HR and Payroll. This is largely due to the teams involved meeting their own goals but not aligning to the corporate objectives of an organization. Police Forces have a number of independent teams that are reliant on one another for data with finance in departments, divisions and headquarters sending and receiving information from each other as well as from the rest of the Force. The silo model leads to ineffective data being received by the teams that then have to carry out additional work to obtain the information required.

Whilst the argument for development has been well made in the context of moving decision making closer to operational service delivery, the added cost in terms of resources, duplication and misaligned processes has rarely featured in the debate. In the current financial climate these costs need to be recognized.

Culture

Within transactional processes, a leading finance function will set up targets for staff members on a daily basis. This target setting is an element of the metric based culture that leading finance functions develop. If the appropriate metrics of productivity and quality are applied and when these targets are challenging but not impossible, this is proven to result in improvements to productivity and quality.

A ‘Best in Class’ finance function in Police Forces will have a service focused culture, with the primary objectives of providing a high level of satisfaction for its customers (departments, divisions, employees & suppliers). A ‘Best in Class’ finance function will measure customer satisfaction on a timely basis through a metric based approach. This will be combined with a team wide focus on process improvement, with process owners, that will not necessarily be the team leads, owning force-wide improvement to each of the finance processes.

Organizational Improvements

Organizational structures within Police Forces are typically made up of supervisors leading teams of one to four team members. Through centralizing and consolidating the finance function, an opportunity exists to increase the span of control to best practice levels of 6 to 8 team members to one team lead / supervisor. By adjusting the organizational structure and increasing the span of control, Police Forces can accrue significant cashable benefit from a reduction in the number of team leads and team leads can accrue better management experience from managing larger teams.

Technology Enabled Improvements

There are a significant number of technology improvements that a Police Force could implement to help develop a ‘Best in Class’ finance function.

These include:

A) Scanning and workflow

Through adopting a scanning and workflow solution to replace manual processes, improved visibility, transparency and efficiencies can be reaped.

B) Call logging, tracking and workflow tool

Police Forces generally have a number of individuals responding to internal and supplier queries. These queries are neither logged nor tracked. The consequence of this is dual:

o Queries consume considerable effort within a particular finance team. There is a high risk of duplicated effort from the lack of logging of queries. For example, a query could be responded to for 30 minutes by person A in the finance team. Due to this query not being logged, if the individual that raised the query called up again and spoke to a different person then just for one additional question, this could take up to 20 minutes to ensure that the background was appropriately explained.

o Queries can have numerous interfaces with the business. An unresolved query can be responded against by up to four separate teams with considerable delay in providing a clear answer for the supplier.

The implementation of a call logging, tracking and workflow tool to document, measure and close internal and supplier queries combined with the set up of a central queries team, would significantly reduce the effort involved in responding to queries within the finance departments and divisions, as well as within the actual divisions and departments, and procurement.

C) Database solution

Throughout finance departments there are a significant number of spreadsheets utilized prior to input into the financial system. There is a tendency to transfer information manually from one spreadsheet to another to meet the needs of different teams.

Replacing the spreadsheets with a database solution would rationalize the number of inputs and lead to effort savings for the front line Police Officers as well as Police Staff.

D) Customize reports

In obtaining management information from the financial systems, police staff run a series of reports, import these into excel, use lookups to match the data and implement pivots to illustrate the data as required. There is significant manual effort that is involved in carrying out this work. Through customizing reports the outputs from the financial system can be set up to provide the data in the formats required through the click of a button. This would have the benefit of reduced effort and improved motivation for team members that previously carried out these mundane tasks.

In designing, procuring and implementing new technology enabling tools, a Police Force will face a number of challenges including investment approval; IT capacity; capability; and procurement.

These challenges can be mitigated through partnering with a third party service company with whom the investment can be shared, the skills can be provided and the procurement cycle can be minimized.

Conclusion

It is clear that cultural, process and technology change is required if police forces are to deliver both sustainable efficiencies and high quality services. In an environment where for the first time forces face real cash deficits and face having to reduce police officer and support staff numbers whilst maintaining current performance levels the current finance delivery models requires new thinking.

While there a number of barriers to be overcome in achieving a best in class finance function, it won’t be long before such a decision becomes mandatory. Those who are ahead of the curve will inevitably find themselves in a stronger position.

US Markets in green on Friday; Dow 30 up over 345 points, Nasdaq Composite, S&P 500 up nearly 1%

US Markets were trading in the green on Friday with Dow 30 trading at 30,678.80, up by 1.14%. While S&P 500 was trading at 3,701.66, up by 0.98% and Nasdaq Composite 10,690.60 was also up by 0.71 per cent

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US Markets in green on Friday; Dow 30 up over 345 points, Nasdaq Composite, S&P 500 up nearly 1%
Earlier today, Indian stock markets ended the week on a winning note. It was the sixth straight gains for equity markets. Source: Reuters
US Markets were trading in the green on Friday with Dow 30 trading at 30,678.80, up by 345.25 points or1.14 per cent. While S&P 500 was trading at 3,701.66, up by 35.88 points or 0.98 per cent and Nasdaq Composite 10,690.60 was also up 75.75 points or 0.71 per cent. A Reuters report said that today’s strength was on the back of a report which said the Federal Reserve will likely debate on signaling plans for a smaller interest rate hike in December, reversing declines set off by social media firms after Snap Inc’s ad warning.

Source: Comex

Nasdaq Top Gainers and Losers

Source: Nasdaq

Earlier today, Indian stock markets ended the week on a winning note. It was the sixth straight gains for equity markets. The BSE Sensex ended at 59,307.15, up by 104.25 points or 0.18 per cent from the Thursday closing level. Meanwhile, the Nifty50 index closed at 17,590.00, higher by 26.05 points or 0.15 per cent. In the 30-share Sensex, 13 stocks gained while the remaining 17 ended on the losing side. In the 50-stock Nifty50, 21 stocks advanced while 29 declined.

Tips for Focusing Your Photographic Efforts on Your Garden

Why Take Garden Photos?Record Keeping
Taking pictures of your flower and vegetable gardens can help you keep records of what you grew and where you grew it. Many gardeners practice some form of crop rotation, being especially careful not to plant the same vegetables in the same location year after year. A photo or two can be a big help in keeping track of where you planted your tomatoes the previous season. Digital photos are especially helpful, since you can store them on your computer, label them, and click on the photo’s “properties” to see exactly when the photo was taken. A photo might also be a good reminder next year if you planted some things too close together this year.ID that Bug or Disease
The old cliche that a picture is worth a thousand words is certainly true when it comes to identifying pests, damage from pests, or disease symptoms in the garden. One or two good photos can be compared to photos online to identify the pest or disease.Send Photos to Friends
Serious gardeners enjoy sharing their garden experiences with their gardening friends and extended family. Today’s digital technology makes it easy to capture the wonder and beauty of your garden and email or text it to a special friend.Garden Photographs as Art
Photos help us preserve the beauty of our gardens. Roses will fade, sunflowers will wither, and the visiting monarch butterfly will fly away… but great photos from the garden can last a lifetime. Digital photography enables us to take lots of pictures, edit and crop them, and print them on our computers or have them printed by professionals… at a fraction of the cost than we used to spend when all cameras had film!Garden Photographs as Gifts
A great photo from your garden or from a friend’s garden can make a wonderful gift, too. Online companies can help you turn a photo into a wonderful print for framing, or your shot can be used to decorate a tee shirt or a coffee mug. With a little help from online companies, a collection of garden photos can be used to make a very personalized calendar. Personal computer software also makes it possible for you to make your own greeting cards from garden photos.Digital Slide Shows
If you’ve had the opportunity to visit one of the great public gardens in the USA, you probably took a lot of pictures. You can post them on one of the photo-sharing websites and invite others to see them, or you can make your own digital slide show by loading the images onto your personal computer, tablet, or onto a digital picture frame. With additional equipment, like Apple TV, you can play the slide show through your TV.How to Take Better Garden PhotosEquipment
By far, the two most convenient types of cameras for garden photography are compact digital cameras and smartphone cameras. They’re easy to have on hand for that spontaneous opportunity, and you can take multiple shots without worrying about wasting film. Digital photos are also relatively easy to edit and crop, and they’re very easy – and affordable – to share.If you have a digital camera with interchangeable lenses, you can be even more creative and can expand your garden photo opportunities considerably. Telephoto lenses allow you to get close-up photos of birds and bees without scaring them away. And, telephoto lenses will allow you to narrow the depth of field of your photograph so that a single bloom or piece of fruit will more clearly be highlighted.Composition
By far, composition is the most important consideration when taking a photograph for any artistic use. Composition – the design of your photo – determines how the subject is framed and how other elements can be reduced or eliminated to avoid any distraction. Many of us can improve the composition of our photos by merely moving in closer to the central subject.With a little practice, you can learn to compose interesting photos by focusing on smaller elements or interesting patterns that you may have overlooked in the past. Many people claim that a developing interest in photography has helped them see the world in different ways.Distractions
As mentioned above, good photo composition enables us to eliminate distractions that would otherwise make a photo less attractive. If the objective is to highlight the beauty of a single rose bloom, try to avoid including any foliage that might have black spots or insect damage that could distract from the beauty of the bloom.Similarly, background buildings, tools, and people can distract from the intended focus of your photo.Light
All photographers become more aware of light, and its effect on their photos, as they develop their skills. Almost all garden photos are taken outdoors, with natural light as the source. Early morning and early evening light tends to be a little warmer and softer, while a bright afternoon sun might be a little harsh. But, any light condition can be used to make interesting photos, so long as you are aware of the effect of the light on your subject.With experience, photographers see what the camera sees… good shadows or bad shadows, depending on the desired effect. Backlighting a photo, where the subject is between you and light source, can also create dramatic and lovely photos. And, certain lighting conditions can allow you to photograph a garden element as a silhouette, purposefully focusing on the shape rather than color or depth of the subject.Depth of Field
Depth of field is simply how much of the photograph is sharply focused, and it is determined by the size of the aperture (or opening) of the lens. Most automatic cameras will strive for as much depth as possible; but, you can override the camera’s settings to reduce the depth of field in order to create more artistic results. While your eyes may be focused on a single bloom, remember that the camera may very well see all of the surrounding foliage as equally important. Get to know your camera’s settings and options to create more interesting photos.Focus
While slightly blurry or “soft” images may be very artistic (especially when photographing people), most photographers usually strive for well focused central subjects. Great in-focus shots are achieved by having as fast a shutter speed as possible, and holding the camera still when shooting. If possible, it will help to have something to lean on, or against, to reduce your body’s movement when pressing the shutter. Professionals will often use tripods or other tools to help keep the camera steady while shooting.Tip:
Instead of pressing or “punching” the shoot button, hold the button down for a second or two, focus on the subject, and then release the button. Your smartphone photos will be sharper and perhaps better composed as well.Where to Get Help to Become an Even Better PhotographerOf course you can take online courses, or enroll in an adult education program. You may be motivated to subscribe to a photo magazine for a while to learn more about techniques and equipment. A simple Google search on “photographing your garden” will lead to hundreds of suggestions for books or articles to read online.If you are interested in buying a book or two to add to your library, Photographing Your Garden by David Bjurstrom is a beautifully written and lavishly illustrated book that will help you become a better garden photographer.Garden photography, like gardening itself, is a wonderful lifelong journey, with lessons and surprises, frustrations and delights, and opportunities to learn and improve. Enjoy the journey.