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  • IBM C-Suite Programme CEO Feature Profile

    Maximising efficiency through shared servicesFiona Capstick, CEO of Southwest One

    Overview

    Fiona Capstick is CEO of Southwest One, a unique public/private joint venture partnership formed in 2007 between Somerset County Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council, Avon and Somerset Police and IBM. The organisations goal is to improve services and save money for the authorities, by managing back-office and transactional services through a single shared service arrangement, and by delivering major strategic projects to transform and modernise the way the authorities work.

    Q. How have you managed to deal with the potential organisational and strategic complexity of Southwest One?

    A. The organisation certainly has the potential to be complex, and you have to try to stand back a little and not be pulled into the complexity. Southwest One brings together secondees from four entities IBM, two different levels of local government, and the Police with 100 of our own direct employees. Naturally, each of these partners has a different set of goals and priorities. One of my key responsibilities is to keep everyone clearly focused on the common purpose that unites us: better serving the citizens of Avon and Somerset.

    During the early days of the joint venture, we spent a lot of time exploring each others visions and values. Now that weve successfully accomplished the creation of the Southwest One organisation and the IT platform that supports it, our attention is very much on the external aims and goals. We always strive to think about whats on the outside our common purpose of serving the local population and look at how we can work together to maximise the benefits, rather than focusing on points of difference between our organisations.

    Q. You have taken up the position of CEO of Southwest One relatively recently. What was your approach in starting your new job, and what challenges have you faced as someone whos come from a commercial, private-sector background?

    A. To support the new shared services, Southwest One replaced several legacy systems with an integrated SAP solution. My first priority was to successfully complete our year-end accounts on SAP for the first time. And in the background, to ensure no disruption as we moved various functions onto SAP; for example, the payroll for some 42,000 people. Now that the shared-services platform is in place, were looking to build on what weve already done, finalising the environment and analysing working practices to see where we can deliver greater efficiencies.

  • IBM C-Suite Programme CEO Feature Profile

    One of my key responsibilities is to keep everyone clearly focused on the common purpose that unites us: how to make shared services more efficient. In Southwest One, weve recognised that theres an opportunity to work together to deliver something better than any of the organisations could achieve individually.

    Fiona Capstick, CEO of Southwest One

    The main challenge hinges on the differences between public and private organisations, particularly in terms of their overall philosophy. Public bodies are intrinsically focused on public service, and tend to place less emphasis than private companies on setting internal expectations and monitoring achievements.

    As someone with a background in the private sector, I have needed to spend more time listening than talking. There are many more stakeholders in the public authorities than in a private organisation, and a greater number of interested parties who may want to express a view. My role is to make sure we have the right controls in place so that, as far as possible, we serve everybodys interests. In Southwest One, weve recognised that theres an opportunity to work together to deliver something better than any of the organisations could achieve individually.

    Q. What are the benefits youre delivering to stakeholders through shared services?

    A. The immediate benefit is the contractual cost savings that each authority receives, which were able to offer because of the significant economies of scale that were unlocking. Thanks to these direct cost savings, council tax has been capped. The Avon and Somerset Police force has gone on record to say that the savings from Southwest One have enabled it so far to maintain the number of uniformed officers it employs, while other forces have had to make cuts.

  • IBM C-Suite Programme CEO Feature Profile

    The immediate benefit is the contractual cost savings that each authority receives, which were able to offer because of the significant economies of scale that were unlocking. Thanks to these direct cost savings, council tax has been capped. Weve built a sustainable platform for the future, and the benefits will continue to grow.

    Fiona Capstick, CEO of Southwest One

    But Southwest One is about much more than just cost savings. Weve built a sustainable platform for the future, and the benefits will continue to grow. With the SAP solution, were delivering better financial control and better information on expenditure, both of which feed into more consistent operations.

    In organisational terms, we now have a single customer contact function across Somerset County Council and Taunton Deane Borough Council, and a single strategic procurement function for all three authorities. In both areas, weve taken out back-office costs, enabling the authorities to keep front-line services in place even as budgets become tighter. Its all about cutting costs without losing the most important and visible capabilities.

    Finally, in practical terms were bringing employment and development to Taunton and some of the surrounding areas, fulfilling one of the goals of the whole project which was socio-economic development for the area.

    Q. What challenges have you faced around trying to balance the need for standardisation and consolidation with the desire for each authority to maintain its distinct identity?

    A. In terms of council interaction with citizens, very little has changed. For example, the shared customer contact organisation is accessible from both the County Council and the District Council websites, so in that sense they maintain their identity.

    Internally, weve tried to avoid any nasty surprises by ensuring that all plans are properly defined in advance, and that people know exactly what theyre going to get before we deliver it. In an area like procurement, whatever you lose in flexibility at the micro level you more than make up for in buying power and consistency at the macro level. Again, its a question of getting the stakeholders to look at the bigger, external picture. By placing some restrictions on the flexibility of procurement, we can achieve greater standardisation and significantly reduce costs, to the benefit of all citizens.

    Q. How rewarding has it been to work in a role that combines the challenges of the commercial and public-sector worlds?

    A. Personally, I love it. After years spent working for a commercial organisation, Im now serving the people of Avon and Somerset. Of course, there are still commercial realities to face up to: we need to bring down the cost of government by sharing back-office services as far as possible. Simultaneously, were taking the opportunity to do things better: the shared customer contact centre means that citizens can get the information they need faster and more easily.

  • Its great to be in a role that combines the cost-control of the commercial world with the focus on the citizen that you see in the public sector. By bringing in better metrics and re-focusing on the customer, weve achieved an excellent balance between the economics and the service elements.

    Q. Have you found that youve needed to adapt your management style, and if so, how?

    A. In terms of management style, Ive had to adapt from a fairly rigid, goal-oriented and objective-driven approach. As a manager in a private enterprise, its often the case that you know what youve got to do and when. For the councils, and in particular for the police, its more a question of setting the context and then dealing with external challenges as they emerge. Ive had to become more flexible, to listen and observe more, and to understand that there can be different, equally valid definitions of success depending on the particular organisation Im dealing with.

    Above all, Ive made the effort to spend a lot of time with the stakeholders in Southwest One, understanding their particular businesses and what they are trying to achieve. Ive learnt the importance of having a team that is genuinely diverse in terms of opinions and organisational background. Even though you may not get an absolute consensus about everything, you dont risk alienating groups of stakeholders, and you maintain contact and dialogue with all interested parties.

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