The GLA Open Project System to manage £306m Adult Education Budget

The Greater London Authority Open Project System, an IT solution developed by Keytree and used to oversee grant programmes totalling more than £4bn, has been extended to manage the £306m Adult Education Budget in London – a new responsibility for the Mayor of London. The Adult Education Budget (AEB) programme went ‘live’ on the Open Project System (OPS) during the summer of 2019 and skills providers are now using the system to create projects for AEB grants or contracts. The OPS was developed in conjunction with IT specialists Keytree and successfully implemented to initially support 14 programmes – providing the Housing & Land Directorate (H&L) and the Regeneration Unit at the GLA, and their external partners, with a much needed digital tool to ensure effective project and programme management plus the ability to make and track grant payments.

The Open Project System to become the primary tool for managing grants at the GLA

The OPS is currently supporting 30 programmes across the GLA group but extending the system to administer the AEB programme in London reconfirms the GLA’s original vision to deploy the OPS across its ecosystem, rolling out the system corporately to make it the GLA’s primary tool for managing grants. It includes, for the first time, the AEB programme for 2019/20 – managing the money used to fund over 100 FE Colleges, Institutes of Adult Learning, Local Authority Adult Learning Services and Independent Training Providers to deliver a range of training courses and qualifications to meet the skills needs of Londoners and London’s economy. The transfer of powers and funding from the Department of Education to the Mayor will enable the development of a more responsive skills system for London focused on meeting local needs, delivering local economic objectives and developing a sustainable local provider base.

“This is a really exciting opportunity for the GLA. Devolution will enable us to tackle some of the key challenges faced by Londoners and London’s businesses by providing high quality, relevant and accessible skills provision. We are already building strong relationships with our delivery partners across London to ensure that the first year of delivery is a success and that, longer term, we can deliver the skills system that London deserves.”

Michelle Cuomo-Boorer – Assistant Director for Skills and Employment at the GLA

Keytree develops the Open Project System

In 2016, the Mayor of London approved the building of a new grant and project management IT system for H&L and Regeneration at the GLA. From the start, the GLA had a vision of a new, flexible system, which was resilient enough not only to support current programmes but a system that could also be easily configured by the GLA for future programmes – with little or no additional development taking place. An essential component of the project was the necessity to introduce agile working into the GLA infrastructure. Based on requirements, and following a competitive process, the GLA awarded agile specialist Keytree the contract to develop and build the OPS.

Keytree delivered the OPS using agile, user-centred design methodologies, which helped to drive an understanding of user needs and match these against business objectives. The project followed the GDS Digital Service Standard, with scrum methodology used for project delivery including sprint planning meetings, sprint reviews and retrospectives. In line with GDS guidance, the project code has been developed to be Open Source so Keytree deployed the OPS to an Amazon Web Services Cloud platform, which is fully supported by Keytree Managed Service.

The GLA can now configure and launch a new programme or project in a matter of hours whereas previously this was taking up to six months to put into action. The system delivered by Keytree will save the GLA up to £150,000 per calendar year in maintenance costs while also giving Homes England, the in-house development team responsible for creating new programmes and projects, full control of how programmes and projects are set up.

The OPS system has eliminated the use of spreadsheets and offline processes and is being used by the Culture Unit, Skills & Employment Unit, Mayor’s Office for Policing & Crime and Old Oak & Park Royal Development Corporation.

The system provides a wealth of support to programmes offering the following:

  • Create and submit new bids for grant funding
  • Access and approve bids
  • Monitor projects – internal GLA projects and those submitted by partners
  • Report on key milestones, outputs and risks
  • Make payment and issue reclaims
  • Monitor budgets, expenditure and forecasts
  • Audit changes and record delegated decisions
  • Submit and approve recycled grant annual returns

Rolling out the Open Project System to streamline processes and embed best practice

Delivering a new system that manages a broad range of programmes is just the beginning – the GLA will use the OPS to drive forward principles of best practice, ensure consistency across teams and put in place audit and fraud controls. This new approach aims to guarantee that four key services are provided corporately to teams on an ongoing basis. The four service areas are Configuration & Best Practice, New Development, Reporting and Customer Service. The creation of these services will make it easier to streamline processes across the organisation, find corporate solutions to questions and issues that arise, make it easier to report against GLA-wide spend and outturn, and put better audit and fraud controls in place. Without these services, teams would need to take on these tasks individually which would come at higher costs.

Before the work with Keytree and the introduction of the OPS, the GLA relied on off-line systems or third-party contractors to manage its grant programmes with most payments processed manually using SAP. Grant programmes grew significantly so offline working ended up becoming extremely unpractical without recruiting additional staff continuously. Continued offline working also creates unnecessary risk in terms of audit and fraud, leads to inefficient or onerous grant management processes being adopted and makes reporting against Mayoral targets more likely to contain inaccuracies. Due to the extensive work by Keytree – developing, building and introducing the OPS into the GLA, these issues are firmly in the past. The clear benefits of rolling out OPS corporately include the streamlining of processes, embedding best practice, driving efficiencies and capturing all grant information in a single database. Using the OPS as the primary tool for grant management is providing the GLA with the following benefits:

  • Cost saving – features such as permissions and payment are already in use can be re-used immediately at no extra cost to the GLA or if needs be, tweaked at a cheaper rate. Conversely, any new features built for a new team would be made available to H&L, Regeneration and the Culture Team. The OPS reduces the need for multiple licenses or separate data storage accounts, reduces the reliance on system provided by third party contractors who are managing programmes on behalf of the GLA – and therefore reducing the cost of using these suppliers.
  • Staff time – the OPS eliminates the need to conduct separate procurement exercises, reduces the number of offline processes and spreadsheets and creates a single source of the truth for monitoring grant allocations and payment.
  • Audit – the OPS introduces a clear audit record of grant allocations, changes to those allocations, outputs and payments. The system helps ensure teams are compliant with best practise adhering to the GLA’s risk management framework.
  • Reporting – all project and grant management data stored in a single database enabling GLA Governance to more easily report against all payments, regardless of which department they originate.

“Submitting a funding application meant users had to navigate a range of legacy systems, which was time-consuming and inefficient. The Open Project System, created by Keytree, collates and combines all information in one centralised system, making the application process faster and easier for applicants to navigate. Exactly what we wanted.”

Greater London Authority