How technology is helping government departments better plan their finances

With central government departments seeking a clear picture of the finances and resources available to them amid the ongoing pandemic, Dips Dhillon, SAP Concur Central Government Business Leader, says technology is playing a crucial role in helping them plan.

Central government departments, like all public sector organisations, will have been eagerly awaiting Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s 2021 Spring Budget in the hope it would deliver some clarity – and financial assistance – as they continue to navigate the impact of Covid-19 on their budgets and finances.

When it came, however, the Budget contained no announcements at all on public spending, with the Chancellor tight-lipped on everything from schools, to public health, policing and defence.

There was, understandably, plenty of focus on measures to support businesses and workers – notably the extension of grants and loans, and new support for the unemployed.

But, as central government departments continue to juggle the double whammy of budgets being swallowed up by the pandemic response and revenue streams being disrupted or, in some cases, completely removed – the Budget offered little in terms of a roadmap for the period ahead.

This, set against an uncertain economic outlook and a second year without a long-term spending review, means government departments will continue having to plan for transformation without knowing exactly what they will have to work with.

“Government departments will continue having to plan for transformation without knowing exactly what they will have to work with.” Dips Dhillon, SAP Concur Central Government Business Leader

To do that successfully, it’s clear they will need a continued focus on maximising efficiencies across departments – removing unnecessary costs, maximising the value of every pound spent, and identifying and removing waste.

To achieve that, a clear picture of exactly what they’re spending and where they are spending it is essential.

Technology is of course be a key enabler for this. It can provide organisations with a clear and real-time picture of their finances and resource allocations – presenting that information in easy-to-understand ways.

However, technology can provide more than just that real-time snapshot of the current situation. It can help departments better forecast, and budget more accurately. Moreover, it can help them streamline their operations and automate processes to reduce unnecessary man hours – in turn allowing them to reallocate resources to more important tasks and frontline services.

“Technology can provide more than just that real-time snapshot of the current situation. It can help departments better forecast, and budget more accurately… streamline their operations and automate processes.” Dips Dhillon, SAP Concur Central Government Business Leader

Such moves can have considerable impact. One public-facing mental health body we work with has deployed a very straightforward technology-driven spend-management project that is directly improving the services it offers to the public.

“Every £2,000 we save under the project provides a six-month supported employment programme to help an individual into work,” a member of the team told me recently. “This not only benefits that person’s quality of life, it also helps their family, their caregivers and wider society, too.”

It’s this type of impact on frontline services that is driving an increased desire within government departments to change their approach to analysis and measurement – and increasingly leading them to lean on tech.

In the past, time savings were rarely considered – the focus instead was solely on hard financial savings. But, at a time when resources are hugely stretched as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, time savings are increasing viewed as crucial.

And, as Angus Gray, the director of employers health and inclusive employment at the Department for Work & Pensions, said recently in an article for Civil Service World, analysis of staff time and task allocations is now also essential to helping protect employees’ welfare: “There’s burnout we need to watch for,” he said.

It’s clear that government departments are increasingly alert to the fact that technology can help them navigate the difficult – and unclear – transformation ahead. And it’s clear, too, that there is a growing acknowledgement that ‘savings’ are no longer just about money – but also about the ability to redirect resources to more important tasks, improving frontline services and protecting staff.

“Government departments are increasingly alert to the fact that technology can help them navigate the difficult – and unclear – transformation ahead… to redirect resources to more important tasks, improving frontline services and protecting staff.” Dips Dhillon, SAP Concur Central Government Business Leader

What’s more, there is a growing realisation that such projects do not need to be disruptive, time-consuming or long-winded. Even simple tech implementation, such as travel and expenses software, can have a wide-reaching impact, provide immediate results and deliver a substantial return on investment.

With government departments continuing to grapple with multiple challenges amid the ongoing pandemic – and the Chancellor’s 2021 Budget failing to deliver the clarity many had hoped or – that’s a trend I expect to continue.

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