Public Sector

Techies at Europe's biggest council have 8 weeks to pull finance reports from Oracle system

Auditors issue new deadline following ill-fated migration

IT teams at Europe's largest local authority are being given less than two months to get their disastrous Oracle system fit to provide finance reports and close down accounts.

The Oracle Fusion system underlies Birmingham City Council's inability to file its accounts for the 2022/2023 financial year.

Speaking to councillors last month, Mark Stocks, of external auditor Grant Thornton, said the council could not give an "out-turn" position – an accounting measure of work or sales – or produce a set of accounts for the most recent financial year. "All of that arises from the Oracle implementation that we all know didn't work," he said.

Grant Thornton has now finished a public interest report and issued a set of statutory recommendations.

Leaked to regional news site Birmingham Live, the report says the council needs to get to grips with the Oracle implementation, with the auditors giving a new deadline of November 30 to use the system to produce finance reports required to close down accounts.

The report said management of the software implementation was "inadequate" while the failure to get a fit-for-purpose finance system up and running "presents a significant weakness and risk to its financial sustainability."

In response, Labour leader of the council John Cotton and deputy Sharon Thompson said: "The Council's political and administrative leadership accept the recommendations from the external auditor, which comprehensively set out the challenges facing the council. They also highlight the need for us to examine how we work more effectively and collaboratively to build a better Birmingham."

In July 2019, the council picked Oracle Fusion Cloud to replace SAP for financial, HR, and procurement processes. In March 2022, the council said the implementation cost would rise from £20 million ($24.31 million) to £38.7 million ($47 million). In May 2023, the council said the total cost may rise to £100 million ($121 million).

The original implementation partner for the Oracle Fusion rollout was Indian systems integrator Evosys, now merged with Mastek. PwC and KPMG were appointed to help rectify problems with the system earlier this year, while the council had previously employed EY on the implementation.

When the project kicked off, the council planned to implement Oracle Fusion out of the box, adapting its processes to fit the software. However, a Cabinet report earlier this year explained that "officers evolved the approach towards adapting the system."

But Stock said many of those adaptations did not work.

The council now plans to revert to its original strategy and implement a vanilla version of Oracle. Those close to the project are skeptical that the software can provide the functionality the council requires, creating additional work for officers. ®

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