Karen Clarke, Managing Director, Northern Europe at Anaplan discusses the need for connected planning and how technology is helping government – at all levels – to collaborate smarter
How often do we hear the phrase ‘Can you update your budget and send it back to me as soon as possible’? or ‘This workforce plan is going to take me all week to remodel, I’m going to take it home this weekend’ or, better still, ‘I’ve sent the spreadsheet to you, but someone’s changed the calculations, so I’m not sure what’s correct’.
No matter what organisation you work for, public or private, these phrases are all too common. Yet for the public sector, the net impact of planning in isolation can have a significant impact on the cost of delivering services to the public and thus a negative impact on taxpayers’ money.
Workforce planning, performance planning, in-patient/out-patient capacity demand planning or just FP&A – no matter what public organisation you work for, be that NHS, central or local Government, all plans have a joined up financial impact on each other. Getting one wrong breaks the chain and can often lead to an unexpected overspend, as delays in incorporating new information will have a detrimental longer term effect. Given this, speed and collaboration in the planning process become ever more important in a sector not known for its agility. Yet, agile and efficient is what’s expected of planning teams under immense pressure.
One way to meet the challenge is to be as adaptable as possible. That means introducing a more modern approach to planning and using those plans to be flexible rather than constrained. This modern approach moves public sector organisations away from the standalone spreadsheets and outdated systems that they have traditionally used for planning and introduces a more connected planning process.
What is connected planning?
Connected planning will transform the way public sector organisations plan and budget, allowing them to use data accrued from every corner of their operation. This does not just allow real-time collaboration, but aggregates an ever-growing volume of data to create detailed simulations that qualify manager’s assumptions and explore possible futures at every level of the planning chain. The ability to model scenarios and prepare an action for every eventuality means an organisation or department will be prepared to perform in high-pressure situations.
What makes a planning function truly connected, however, is its ability to react to political, economic and societal changes and adapt accordingly. The most agile public bodies can ‘course correct,’ effortlessly communicating strategic changes to keep themselves on track. These attributes can be particularly useful for those with rigidly defined departments, as well as those with geographically spread teams.
Breaking down barriers
The public sector is synonymous with complex transformation projects, many of which haven’t provided the significant benefits that they promised. A big part of this is because often these projects require complex and lengthy approvals and implementation, meaning that by the time projects go live, they are already out of date.
However, thanks to new technologies born in the cloud, implementations can take place in a matter of weeks, drastically cutting delays and providing ROI much quicker. Ensuring that all teams are bought into projects from the start and having a more connected approach to planning will mean more change projects are successful. By connecting departments and teams, an open conversation is started, allowing information to flow freely across an organisation. Having this real-time data available to support an implementation project, will mean that it’s more accurate and better informed.
Leading from the top
This all sounds great, but how can it be achieved? Essentially, creating a truly connected workforce comes down to empowering employees with the appropriate culture and tools to work in a collaborative way.
Such a cultural shift requires comprehensive buy-in from an organisation’s leadership to be successful. After all, the beauty of connected planning is that those at the top have access to transparent information and can see how all the cogs of their organisation work together.
As the incoming generation of professionals increasingly expect this flexible, ‘cross-pollination’ style of working, adopting this type of culture will also be integral in recruiting the best talent.
Digital that fits
As digital transformation gathers pace across various sectors and the volume of data increases, connecting data sets to co-ordinate planning processes becomes possible. The maturity of cloud technology has been key to the rise of connected planning strategies, allowing employees to access company data regardless of location. This also means that introducing connected planning doesn’t mean a complete system overhaul.
Bringing in new tools doesn’t mean blindly equipping employees with new technology purely because it’s a digital way of doing things, but doing in a tailored way that integrates well with existing systems and enables them to work more efficiently.
Installing a true connected planning culture takes the tools and leadership to give all stakeholders the ability to co-ordinate across disciplines and departments as if they are sitting side by side. This means using an organisation’s greatest assets, its data & people, to support broader strategy rather than dictate it. In the current context of political and economic upheaval, rigid planning processes are insufficient. Eradicating siloed planning will be the key for public sector organisations that are looking to evolve and improve on the services that they provide to UK citizens.