Cashless schools

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The client

THE CLIENT: East Lothian Council is one of 32 unitary authorities in Scotland. It provides more than 800 customer facing services.  This is a real life case study of digital transformation through technology, moving over 60 schools to cashless catering.

THE CHALLENGE FOR THE CLIENT: Education is both a provider of services to children and parents and carers and a customer for catering services.  Cash handling costs both money (in the form of bank charges, secure collection costs and staff rostering).  It costs time in the form of staff time which could be better used elsewhere for a more direct pupil benefit.  The challenge was to go cashless for all school-related costs.

School catering team

The Challenge for Me

I had to evaluate two technical options – one from a current supplier, one in development by a consortia which works across a range of Scottish councils.  I then had to research and work out the potential benefits from the introduction of cashless schools before winning approval for the project to proceed.  This was against a backdrop of general pressure on Education resources and anxiety at the potential impact of any change on staff morale and capacity.  In previous years education had been protected from Scottish Government cuts which affected other services disproportionately. This was no longer the case and my project was the first example where Education were not able to rely on ring-fenced resources provided by Holyrood.






WHAT DID I DO?: I created a coalition of interest by pulling together schools and their catering and janitorial services provider together.  I created a team which produced both an initial business case, a further case and a benefits realisation statement to get the funding.  To work, we needed a identity verification system for people who needed to create accounts to pay for their child’s school costs, so I persuaded the Council to join the My Account service.

I worked with Finance to establish the estimated savings.   I then worked with school and catering and janitorial staff on As Is tracking, including the maintenance of work diaries.

From this, I forecast savings from going cashless. I worked with leaders from the chief executive down the hierarchy to build their commitment.   I worked with the software provider on both the technical and cultural implementation.  We started with a successful pilot of secondary and primary schools in the Haddington area before the project was rolled out across the remainder of the school estate.

THE COSTS: This eight month project was in the under £500,000 annual cost category.

THE OUTCOMES:  The pilot cluster went live with minimal issues in the summer term of 2018 and the full rollout was October 2018.

School Meals Payments

Lessons Learned

What were the lessons learned? 

1>If you are dependent on third parties,  ensure your client knows who is responsible for what!  A linear responsibility chart or RACI chart is a must in complex projects.  (RACI stands for Responsibile, Accountable, Consulted or Informed).  Ensure every line in the project plan is clear as to who’s going it (responsible), who checks it’s been done (Accountable), it’s been done using the proper method (Consulted) and everyone on the project knows what it means, and when it will be completed.  (Informed).

2>Don’t assume any knowledge on the part of your client.   Expect repeated conversations and briefings to help them get up to speed, and for you to manage their expectations. Digital stuff looks relatively easy, and sometimes people on your project teams will have no knowledge of the commercial side, nor of the agreed scope.  Be explicit with what it means for them.

3>Be prepared to start all over again as key people leave the project team.

4>Read between the lines when people tell you they support something.  Judge them on their reactions to setbacks or challenges, which are inevitable in a change initiative, as inertia is a really powerful force.

5>Don’t be surprised if the client’s business and IT teams don’t know each other and have never talked before, even though they’re in the same office.  People are tribal.  Cross-departmental collaboration is difficult.

6> Which leads me to the biggie.  Add delay/complexity/third party outsourcing risks to thinking when pricing work for the UK public sector.

7>The final parting thought is around leadership and commitment from senior stakeholders.   If leaders have a less than strong interest in a project, they will think a difficulty, or challenge, is someone else’s problem. Be clear with stakeholders that projects, and business change, is not easy and will impact their staff.  Get an early No if you have to, and focus your efforts elsewhere.

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