Southern councils unite to save cash

Saving money and being able to share staff and other resources is the goal of a joint software purchasing agreement involving three South Island local bodies.

Saving money and being able to share staff and other resources is the goal of a joint software purchasing agreement involving three South Island local bodies.

The trio: Invercargill City Council, Southland District Council and Clutha District Council, have collectively bought systems from GEAC and JD Edwards.

While each local body has a separate licence for each product, they will share one server, based at Invercargill’s civic administration building. Data will be transferred to and from the Clutha and Southland offices by fibre-optic cable or leased lines.

The councils claim the $1.2 million deal to share services will enable them to save $400,000 between them.

Project leader Graham Low, IT manager for Invercargill City Council, says operating the system from one “box” has meant licensing savings and when an upgrade or patch needs to be installed, the job is done once, not three times.

Installation work began before Christmas on the plan, which the councils believe is the first arrangement of its kind in Australasia. New software and hardware is already installed and the system is set to go live by July. Low says bringing the three councils’ systems together has been easy.

The councils had been looking to upgrade their existing financial and property management systems, he says. Geac’s Pathway is replacing TCS at Invercargill and Clutha, and that of a homegrown hybrid system involving Unisys at Southland. Pathway will handle council-specific property-based information such as building, resource and liquor consents. JD Edwards, replacing older financial software at the councils, handles financial systems such as general ledger, human resources and rating.

Staff at the three councils are being trained together to use the systems, and while they have different cultures they are sharing ideas, says Low. “The councils do the same functions. The big thing is to get people talking together and identify common priorities.”

Southland District CEO Michael Ross hopes the move will underpin the future of such ventures between the three councils. The councils already share services such as planning policy, rural policy, civil defence, fire and economic development to reduce costs and duplication. For Ross’s council alone, $40,000 a year in savings are claimed through it not having a standalone server on top of the $200,000 capital cost savings it claims in having the purchase, project management and training done jointly.

“The big saving is not quite so much in the software, it’s in the training and implementation,” Ross says. “With three councils training together, people will get to know each other. Exchange of information will be facilitated. People will know what’s going on.”

But the shared software arrangement, its project leaders say, will also preserve service levels and help overcome the difficulties of attracting staff to IT positions at the relatively small and isolated councils. They tend to have small IT departments, or in the case of Clutha, the IT work is outsourced. Using common systems will mean one council’s IT staff can cover for the other councils, as already happens for some other non-IT posts.

Ross hopes the trio will eventually collaborate on geographical information systems and develop e-commerce transactional capabilities on their various websites.

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