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.

Violent Television/Internet Commercials: Behavioral Effects on the Minds/Emotions of American Youth

I was recently pondering the effect that television and Internet commercials have on the day-to-day behavior of human beings, especially of those millions of impressionable adolescent and preadolescent American boys and girls, primarily between 5 and 19 years of age. Much like computer video games, which are designed to get the person, or persons, playing the games (80 percent of Americans who regularly play video games are between the ages of five and nineteen) cognitively and emotionally detached from their real environmental surroundings and immersed into the games’ virtual (fantasy) environments, commercials are usually three-to-five minutes in length and carefully designed by television, computer, advertising, and social psychology experts to get the television viewers immersed, for those few important minutes, in persuasive product scenarios. These scenarios are meticulously designed to persuasively lead the human beings watching them to remember why it is, both, needful and important to purchase the advertised products. The combination of computer graphics and animation with television electronics has made the creation of commercials for industrial domestic products and government propaganda almost like the production of very short movies. Unlike video games, however, television and Internet commercials are not a matter of personal choice. You have to be very deliberately plugged-in to play computer video games according to personal decision, but commercials are interspaced between segments of television programs, documentaries, or television movies with intentional purpose. Unless people want to avoid commercials by turning-off their televisions or PC, or switching momentarily to other channels or websites not, at that particular time, in commercial mode, they are forced to watch, and listen to, the commercials. Believe it or not, approximately 99 percent of all Americans who subscribe to, and watch, cable television and Internet programs watch the commercials along with the scheduled shows that they are viewing. This is especially true for children, especially those youngsters 5-to-13 years of age.In connection with my foregoing surmise of broadcasted network television commercials, I happened to watch, a while back, a particular snack food commercial on cable television that, to me, carried with it some grave social implications; and it was, as I saw it, but an example of many such commercials currently conveying the same negative implications. It was an approximately one-minute “Cheetos” commercial that involved computer animation, computer graphics, and precise acting choreography. It had suspenseful action music and an action scenario that showed a young boy, six-or-seven years of age dressed-up like a sniper, his older sister, and a male adult, sneaking up behind the boy’s mother, who was busily exercising, with a blow-gun through with which he hit her on her backside with a “Cheeto,” causing her alarm. In all of my formative years, from 1952 until 1969, growing-up in East Texas, I don’t ever recall seeing any type of television food commercial showing a child sneaking upon a mother, or any adult, and shooting her with a blow-gun. That’s simply because such television commercials were socially unacceptable at that time in history. That was when the main television station in my part of the country was KLTV, broadcasting from Tyler, Texas, which was plugged into the NBC Network. It was the time of the Chet Huntley and David Brinkley news reporting, “Bonanza,” and the original “Fugitive,” with David Janssen, and a totally different collective national mindset about morals and electronic advertising. My dad had proudly erected a 60 foot television antenna that drew in channels from Dallas, Shreveport, Fort Worth, and other television stations within a 100 mile radius. Television programming, and commercial production, at that time during the 20th Century, were geared to idealism and morality, which declared that there were definite and clearly delineated rights and wrongs to all social issues, not the pragmatism that flippantly proclaimed that the end results of endeavors, or investments, justified the means used to achieve them.When I first saw this socially suggestive commercial, I recalled the spit-wads, and other types of projectiles, strategically discharged from straws by prankish public school students, against other students, in classrooms behind the backs of teachers. I personally saw this happen several times while busily engaged in my school work during elementary and junior high school, but never did I do it. I was taught better by may parents, and, if caught by teachers in such an act, harsh penalties were regularly imposed by, both, the classroom teacher and the school principal, and I was sure to receive stern additional punishment from my parents if punishment was imposed on me at school. As an aside, at that time in history, unlike today, parents totally supported the discipline administered by classroom teachers, who were empowered to do so. On one occasion, a student, a boy with a severe attitude problem, went from spit-wads to straight-pins as projectiles, and a customized blowing straw, that allowed the pin to be propelled for quite a distance across a room. The youngster had thought that, since a spit-wad hadn’t hurt the class geek, the quiet guy who never spoke in class and had the best grades, and upgrade in weaponry wouldn’t matter. So during a test, the perpetrator thought he would send a pin into the ear of the smart kid, but his aim was off and the metal missile went into the child’s eye, permanently blinding him. The child’s parents were devastated, but no city, county, state, or federal representatives became involved with the issue, and no laws were passed to ban straws and spit-wads from schools. Instead, it remained a school matter, and the boy offender was punished severely for his action and made to feel like a worm for what he had done. The parents of the blinded boy didn’t sue the parents of the offending child, but, instead, were allowed to privately talk to the boy. When they did, he, like the normal human being he was, realized the seriousness of what he had done and sincerely apologized to the parents and their son. whom he had hurt. The boy’s father, not a court of law, imposed a sentence of restitution on his son to work for the blinded boy’s father for two hours every day after school, and for six hours on Saturdays. This sentence of work lasted for two years. Now, by today’s standards, you might think that the offending boy was, himself, offended by the work he was forced to do in penance. Nonetheless, the blinded boy’s father owned his own automotive repair service and was a good person, not a vindictive taskmaster; and during the two years he became like a second father to the offending boy and taught him how to work on cars and trucks. Eventually the boy began working for the man after he graduated from high school, and, while the father’s injured son eventually became a college professor, the repentant offender eventually owned and operated his own repair garage. What’s that you say? Not all such scenarios turn out like poetic fiction? When you radically change the environment and the standards of morality such scenarios aren’t allowed to turn out positively.When you consider the awful changes, and the sad results of those changes, which have occurred in the American family, and in American society as a whole, since around 1970, the disappearance of moral idealism and the propounding of pragmatic immorality, with its sore lack of definition as to what is right and wrong, is no doubt the reason for such a blatant distinction between those segments of the 20th Century. What’s really amazing about the American boys and girls who grew to adulthood prior to 1970 was the effect of the twelve-year Vietnam War on those boys and girls who later served as GIs in Vietnam. These were the American children exposed to the television and media morality of the 1950s and 60s. The lack of violence shown by returning Vietnam veterans, between 1964 and 1987, was vastly different from the displays of mass violence demonstrated by military veterans, and American citizens in general, who were born after 1980. The general social behavior of children produced by American parents, between 20 and 30 years of age, after 1985 was greatly marred with dysfunction in the public schools. This is a matter of public record, and the educational success curve began to plunge from its extraordinarily high marks from 1950 through 1969, and with it came behavioral degradation in the public school classroom. As revealed by reliable and replicable university studies, preadolescents in the typical American homes were given very few moral ideals by parents to which they could developmentally aspire. These young men and women suddenly became adolescents (teenagers) with a sore lack of gender and psycho-sexual balance, and moral direction, as to what was right and wrong. The type of public school children that have, since 1994, been produced by this same type of diffident and un-nurturing parents have produced an even lower, and more dismal, educational curve with 70 percent more incidents of social deviance. With all of this behavioral deviance being perpetrated by preadolescents and adolescents, and systematically recorded, in the public school classrooms (and on the streets of the typical cities with populations exceeding 100,000) why would American television networks allow the type of aggressively violent commercials, as I have previously explicated, and the equally violent entertainment programming, to be aired before the eyes of these morally ungrounded boys and girls, just to increase the number of Americans watching those programs? Perhaps there is a school of pragmatic social psychology that persists in proclaiming that this aberrance is merely a natural swing of the social pendulum. I, nonetheless, heartily disagree that a deliberate effort to effect social disorder and deviance, or the application of gross social negligence, is hardly a natural swing of the pendulum.What disturbs me most about the “Cheetos” television commercial is the voice of the animated tiger, seen by the television views emanating from the tiger, but apparently invisible to the eyes of the actors in the commercial (the tiger is sitting with the adult, the sister, and the boy sniper hidden from the mother behind a couch). The voice of the tiger is directing the actions of the young boy, just as many young people, under the influence of SSRIs (prescribed psychotropic drugs for psycho-physiological behavior modification) claim to hear voices telling them to do socially inappropriate things. Relationships between mothers and children have become quite different since 1970 due to the great amount of time mothers spend away from the home in professional work endeavors. In most cases, where mothers and fathers work 40-or-more hours per week and the preadolescent children in the home spend more time during the week in day-care, or at public school, than with their parents, the children develop quite a resentment against their natural, but delinquent, caregivers. As such, the idea placed in a child’s mind, while repeatedly watching the Cheetos commercial during a television show, might trigger an emotional desire in the prepubescent child to use a blowgun with, perhaps, something much sharper and injurious than a “Cheeto” to make mom pay for her delinquency. The voice of the tiger is heard to say, “You’ve been preparing and waiting for this moment,” just before the preadolescent boy hits his mother on her backside with the “Cheeto.”For what it’s worth, I believe that all such commercials should be eliminated from network television, not by imposed state and federal laws and legislations, but by the willingness of the CEOs and boards of directors, of the corporations and businesses seeking to sell their products via electronic advertising, to change their ways and return to the age of idealism and the conscious reality that there is a clearly delineated right and wrong associated with every social issue. Morality cannot be legislated and forced upon a people. It must be accepted as natural law in the hearts and minds of that people, just like an acceptance of Christianity and the holy laws and commandments set down through the advent of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for the sins of the world. A return to natural law and its wonderful moral consequences in America would, indeed, be a grand thing to behold.

Fabulous News For First Time Home Buyers

What fabulous news for first home buyers, a whopping $21,000 towards deposit, expenses or even new furniture if you buy a brand new home before June 2009. So if you’re ready to take the plunge and sign up for what is likely to be the biggest commitment you’ve ever made, now, more than ever, seems to be the perfect time to get into the property market as a first home buyer. Even though your friends and family will be full of advice, as with any major decision in our lives, it’s always good to take their experiences and opinions on board, however your own research will give you peace of mind and assurance, before you sign up for the big purchase and possibly sign your life away to the mortgage company.Generally, most first home buyers already have an idea on the location and the type of home they want, so now it’s just a matter of finding out whether you can afford what you want to buy. Almost all the major banks and other lenders offer special packages with reduced application fees and lower interest specifically for First Home Buyers. With the help of some comprehensive search engines, shopping around not only for a home loan, but a property is almost as easy as 1 – 2 – 3, so jump on the internet and let your fingers do all the work for you. It’s important to remember that the bank can’t lend you all the money to buy your first home. As a first home buyer, at least a small part of your deposit will have to come from your own savings or alternatively a gift from your relatives. Once you find the right home loan, apply for a pre-approval. This can be done either online or in person. A pre-approval is the bank’s preliminary approval subject to an acceptable property. You will need to provide a completed application form along with requirements such as your identification, income evidence and savings (gift) verification. Once the bank is satisfied that you’re an acceptable first home buyer, they will issue a pre-approval and you can start shopping around for your first home.So when and how do I apply for a First Home Owner Grant? The First Home Owner Grant is only available to Australian residents and citizens, so before you apply you should contact your state revenue office, alternatively visit their respective website for more information. If you satisfy all the first home buyer criteria and conditions, there are two ways you can apply for your first home owner grant. If you apply for your first home owner grant via your bank, you’re likely to receive the grant at settlement, so on the day you officially become a home owner. If you apply for the grant directly with the state revenue office, the grant is not likely to come through until after the settlement. The best way is to keep in regular contact with the lending manager of your chosen bank. Remember, they help first home buyers every day and are the best source of information and guidance, so don’t be afraid to call them if you have a question, after all, they’re here to help you.