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.

Common Mistakes in E-Commerce – Part 3 of 3 – Promotion & Marketing

The classic saying, “If you build it, they will come,” unfortunately does not apply to e-commerce sites. Millions of e-commerce sites are accessible on the internet, but unless you’ve directly contacted prospective customers and informed them of your site, they probably won’t ever know it exists. Therefore, e-commerce sites need well-developed marketing plans and carefully targeted investments that are aimed at increasing site traffic. A strong search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy to attract customers to your site is also a necessity. In this final part of our three-part series, we explore the common mistakes that new e-commerce sites make in creating and implementing their promotion and marketing plans.Mistake #1: Inadequate Planning
How will customers know that your site exists? How will they know when it is functional? And unless you offer something truly unique, why will customers opt to visit your site versus that of your competitors? If your business does not have a plan in place to answer these questions, then your site may never have a chance at success.All e-commerce sites should have a plan for attracting website visitors, whether that includes advertising, direct mail, promotions or marketing through industry associations. Identify complementary sites on which your companies advertisements would generate interest in your products. Evaluate whether a banner-ad, product placement, or pop-up ad would be most effective. Also, locate industry association sites where you can post press releases, make announcements, or place links to drive customers to your site. Also, consider conducting a promotion within your first few months of business that rewards buyers with a future discount if they refer friends and family members to your site.Mistake #2: Little Focus on Market Targeting
Unless you have the capital to become the next Amazon.com, focus your time and energy on a particular market niche or segment. Your entire marketing plan, site design and investment should be directed toward this target audience. The product mix that your site offers should reflect the tastes and desires of this audience, and your promotional messaging and site design should be based created for this audience.Without a specific target, your e-commerce site will be vague, unfocused, and ultimately unsuccessful.Mistake #3: Low Marketing Investment
Without a doubt, the upfront investment needed to create and operate an e-commerce site is less than that needed to open a brick-and-mortar store. But don’t underestimate the initial investment required to develop a successful online business.Most e-commerce sites allocate the majority of their funds to the technical side of the business and ignore other aspects of their company, like marketing and staffing. As we discussed in part two, it is critical to have an adequately sized customer service staff to respond to customer inquiries and orders. It is just as important to allocate funds to marketing, enhance link building, implement a thorough advertising plan and budget, and ensure that customers are driven to your site.Mistake #4: Poor Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) Strategy
Many new e-commerce sites decide that an SEO strategy isn’t important, or think that they can put it off for a while. However, a well-developed SEO strategy should be a large focus of your business plan. Failure to implement an SEO strategy means that customers will not find your site, will not browse your products, and will not purchase what you are selling.Identify keywords that potential customers will search for when trying to find your product. Research and study the keywords and phrases that your target market is using to search for your items, and integrate them throughout your site. Do not assume that the words you use to describe your products are the same words that your potential customers are using. Your SEO strategy should be developed early on in the site-planning process, so that keywords can be incorporated accordingly into your website content.In this three-part series, we have explored the common mistakes that e-commerce sites make, from poor planning to confusing navigation and inadequate order fulfilment. The internet gives customers millions of options for online shopping, but common mistakes such as these ultimately determine where customers spend their dollars and which online business will succeed. Develop a strong business plan, follow this guide, and you’ll be on your way to running a successful e-commerce site.
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How to Make Money Investing in Stocks in Any Market

I write this with one eye on 2015 and 2016; and the other focused on how to make money investing in stocks. And I remind myself that there are two market concepts that must be understood and considered in order to make money investing in stocks in any market.Nobody can always make money investing in stocks (also called equities), but those who outperform year after year do so by applying two basic concepts. Here we will use 2015 and 2016 as an example because they promise to be challenging years. We’re not talking about finding tomorrow’s glamour stocks or short-term trading here. We’re talking about two important and basic market concepts that many investors either are not aware of, or that they overlook at their own expense.Concept #1 refers to the cyclical nature of markets. Prices will always fluctuate, but there are reoccurring and identifiable price trends that can either make you or break you. A trend of rising prices is called a “bull market”, and just about anybody can make money investing in stocks in these “good” markets. The good news is that they often last for several years. The bad news is that they are always followed (sooner or later) by a trend of falling prices which is called a “bear market’, or simply a “bad” market for most investors.The good news is that bear markets (like the last two) sometimes last for less than two years. The bad news is that they can be swift and brutal – creating losses of 50% or more for investors (like in the last two bear markets). The other bad news is that very few investors ever make money investing in stocks in a bear market. More bad news: if you lose half your money in a bad market, you then need to double your money in the next good market in order to simply break even.As I look forward to 2015 and 2016, I also look back to the years 2000 and 2007. Both years were the beginning of bear markets that followed good markets. Both created 50% losses in less than two years and wiped out most of the profits investors earned in the preceding good markets. As of 2015, the current bull market that started in early 2009 is almost six years old. The stock market has again hit all-time highs. The challenge now is how to make money investing in stocks in 2015 and beyond if a new bear market hits in 2015 or 2016.As we move on to concept #2, note that we are not talking about how to avoid losses in a bear market, but how to actually make money investing in stocks. You can always avoid losses by getting out while you are ahead, or you can reduce losses by cutting your asset allocation to stocks.While just about everyone knows that you can make money investing in stocks when you buy them and equities prices rise… most folks do not know that you can also bet that prices will fall and make money if they do. This is called taking a “short” position. It’s legal, and has been going on for many years. During the Great Depression some people in the know got filthy rich “going short”; and during the financial crisis of 2007- 2008 you could have made big bucks betting against the market as well.This is concept #2 and is the flip side of how markets work. The good news is that it will be easier than ever to make this bet in 2015 and 2016. The bad news is that it’s not for everyone, because you can take significant losses if you go here and prices move UP, against you. Actually, I’ve known people who are repulsed by the concept and some who even think that it’s un-American and should be illegal. That having been said, it’s a fact of life and part of the free-market system we live in.It’s never easy to make money investing in stocks by going “short” because the market trend over the long term has been up. On the other hand, when the market goes south you won’t make money investing in stocks any other way. You’ll lose it along with about 98% of investors. The easiest way to short the market these days is to simply buy stocks called INVERSE EXCHANGE TRADED FUNDS (ETFs). Popular examples (stock symbols) include DXD, SDS, and QID. In order, these allow you to short the three major indexes: the Dow, the S&P 500, and the NASDAQ.These (and other) inverse ETFs are designed to go UP in price when the market indexes go DOWN. In fact, if the index goes down 1% they are designed to go up 2%. If you want to try to make money investing in stocks in a bad market, inverse ETFs are the simplest way to do it. They can be easily bought and sold through a discount broker for about $10 per trade.Above all else, keep the concept of bull and bear markets in mind in your endeavor to make money investing in stocks in 2015, 2016 and well beyond. While a rising tide lifts all boats, a falling tide can leave them dead in the water. If you are adventuresome and can handle the risk, you now know how to make money investing in stocks when the tide goes out.