Local authorities are revolutionising the way they use data

Andy Roberts

Andy has worked in many different environments from the military through to challenging corporate roles as CIO and Change Director in industries including engineering, finance, communications, utilities and insurance. Through his management years he has tried pretty much every leadership style and now takes a coaching approach to all teams and individuals, placing less value on hierarchy and authority and instead emphasising competencies and influence.

Local authorities are set to make a step change in their use of Business Intelligence (BI).

As part of widespread digital transformation programmes now underway across the UK, BI is one key area where important early wins are emerging. The use of data solutions and business intelligence is increasingly regarded as the key to smart decision making, enabling budgets to stretch further and deliver an improved customer experience.

Smarter use of data enables sharper insights and better decision making. This means that our local authority can deliver improved value to the citizens in our community

Bob Bunce

Lead Product Owner for BI, Data and Information at Cornwall Council

More effective

Digital transformation is being driven by two factors. Firstly, budget cuts from central government and secondly, a growing appetite for digital services from citizens, who are increasingly familiar with using the internet in other parts of their everyday lives. As a result, they expect the same effective 24/7 interface with their local authority.

Bob continues: 

The ultimate goal is that by streamlining data and making more effective use of BI, local authorities can deliver better services to citizens, improving quality of life for everyone in the local community.

By creating a centralised data warehouse, storing all the data from multiple sources right across the local authority, this can generate reports that can be easily analysed across each of our key areas of Finance, Performance and People. By joining up the various strands of data that used to be siloed in manual systems that were difficult to manage and interrogate, we get a better overall picture of community needs, as well as vital insights into our performance and clarity about where service improvements can be made.

Foundations for a sustainable future

This overarching digital approach also creates the opportunity to deliver an improved service to customers. It removes the need to repeat or duplicate information, streamlines the whole process, and provides citizens with a smoother experience when they interact with local authorities.

Not only does this allow us to establish clear corporate KPIs, it enables us to use our budgets in the best possible way, increasing our efficiency and reducing overheads. By implementing BI in this way, we are laying the foundations for a sustainable future.

As one of the largest unitary authorities in the UK, and one where multiple historic district councils have been brought together, Cornwall Council stands to reap significant benefits from the new approach to BI.

Local authorities provide a wide range of services, ranging from waste collection and car parking to housing, education and social care. To run these effectively, having access to management information and the ability to analyse it effectively is vital.

Predictive analytics

The ability to make better decisions faster will transform our efficiency[...] Importantly, smart use of data will also enable us to make accurate forecasts and projections

When it comes to local authority work such as social care and public safety, a crucial part of the decision making is when and where to apply the service or intervention. Many local authorities are now starting to move from reporting on what happened in the past to using predictive analytics.

By utilising past data, BI systems can generate a prediction for outcomes on new cases. These predictions can be used as crucial decision- making support. Again, this enables an improved service to citizens, as the ability to analyse data on key factors and identify patterns provides an opportunity for early intervention. It also creates a way to review performance across services and pick up potential future problems before they occur.

Bob says:

We are moving to a system where intelligent data is at the heart of the organisation and therefore can inform all our decision-making. Going forward, our data will be dynamic and interactive and easily interrogated by officers. As part of this, we will make full use of Open Sourced data within our systems, so we are sharing instant access to wider data as well as our own. We have started a programme of building in open data to our common datasets - for example, data on population, deprivation, crime and so on. This enables people across the organisation to deliver their own comprehensive reporting in a ‘self-service’ manner

A data-driven culture

One element that is key to making this work effectively is rolling out what we refer to as common datasets.  For example, this could be population estimates - we put those into the data warehouse and encourage everyone to use those in their reporting. This means that two different people in separate parts of the organisation can produce numbers that are identical and then have a conversation from a solid foundation. This will create a step change in efficiency.

To make the most of BI, we also need to imbue a data driven culture into working practice right across the organisation. The new systems will only create maximum value if our people fully understand the benefits of data-driven decision making and put this at the heart of their everyday working. So, at Cornwall Council, we are also focused on creating culture change within the organisation, up-skilling our people and enabling new attitudes and working practices. We believe that organisational culture change is an essential part of any BI programme and should underpin it. This is the crucial element that could mean the difference between success and failure.

Better performance

Headforwards is the software development company working with Cornwall Council to create their new digital architecture and forward-looking organisational culture.

“In a nutshell, BI allows local authority managers to better balance risk and opportunity. BI can help illuminate opportunities where services can be better aligned with demographic need. It can also highlight where a problem may be looming and allow early intervention. This all leads to better performance and ultimately a new and more agile approach to local government.”

Lee Warren

Product Owner

Further reading

How local authorities can deliver an outstanding online customer experience

People increasingly expect their council to provide services quickly and efficiently, using the online technology which makes their lives as easy as possible.

Read more

Building the business case for long term IT investment

As an outsource software development company Headforwards has worked with a lot of people in building the right business case for their products and projects. The impact of structuring a business case can be significant and can determine the success or failure of projects.

Read more