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Has the wind of reform sweeping through AFP also reached the administrative and financial department?
We are also taking part in this company-wide push. In 2017, we consolidated a series of administrative reforms designed to help us continue the modernising efforts we have pursued in recent years. We have created a new procurement management department, based on the former purchasing department. This aims to improve our efficiency in this area. The new department will formalise our procedures to make our suppliers compete against each other. This means we can select the most costeffective products while still maintaining the quality of our purchases. Our approach is therefore not just about money. We have improved our financial communications, providing a scoreboard to the Agency's governing board that sets out our financial position in a clear and complete way during the five annual management reporting sessions. We have also put in place an improved system in the regions for collecting debts from clients.
Are these reforms producing results?
We have already started a virtuous cycle in terms of purchasing and several projects that have recently come to fruition have helped with this. This year, we set up a bidding committee. We organised 16 formal consultations, on subjects as diverse as mobile phones, making our servers virtual and broadcasting live video over the internet. For each of these, we contacted several suppliers with precise specifications. In financial terms, the results have been clear to see. These consultations enabled us to make savings of around 15 percent on total costs of nearly five million euros. So we need to broaden and deepen this process.
Does this procedure also apply to investments?
Absolutely. We have had a committee for investments at the Agency since 2016 and 2017 was its first full working year. It has enabled us to take control of a process that was previously much more decentralised. We have instigated a procedure to improve and streamline our decision-making processes. The committee meets to discuss any potential investments over 50,000 euros. It is co-chaired by the Global News Director and the Managing Director and all relevant parties are involved. An impact assessment is required for any investment to be cleared. In this way, we examined around 40 projects worth nearly seven million euros this year.
Given this procedure, have projects been implemented as expected?
This is the third thing we have improved in 2017. We have built on a path started in 2015, when we established procedures for overseeing projects and set up domain committees. To improve efficiency and reduce the overly large number of projects, each committee has been asked to focus in on its priorities. Given our ability to invest is limited, this has helped us a lot. At the end of the year, we had 75 active projects, 28 of which are considered a priority.
What priority projects came to fruition in 2017?
As we have seen, we have several projects spanning a wide variety of topics. One of our flagship projects has been delivering live video via the internet, which opens up new markets for the video department. Installing a Master Control Room in Hong Kong was also a significant investment for video, a strategic priority. We have also made great progress in the video section of our editorial system IRIS, which should be rolled out in 2018, marking the end of a project that has run for nearly10 years. We have also made great strides in installing a client relationship marketing tool, which should enable us to improve sales. In terms of administration, a new timesheet management software should be installed at the beginning of 2018.
Is the financial situation of the Agency ripe for investment?
Our turnover has stood up well and, thanks to cost-control measures due to reforms and efforts from the whole Agency, our operating costs came in on target, which is in itself an excellent result. But our financial position remains fragile. We are not freeing up enough cash to be able both to finance the investments the Agency needs to modernise and develop and to deal with looming debt repayments. We have therefore had to restructure the Agency's debt to give ourselves a bit of breathing space in 2018. This is why the Agency has said it needs 60 million euros of financing over several years. This support is needed to get the Agency back on an even economic keel in a sustainable fashion and deal with the challenges it will face in the coming years.
How is 2018 shaping up, financially speaking?
The crucial area will be the completion of the work ongoing with the government concerning our request for this financing. In addition, we will continue efforts to boost sales and control costs. We will also begin talks with the government over the next Aims and Means Contract (COM). The content of this will depend in large part on the strategic discussion underway with the government over the future of the Agency.