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Using data to enhance public services

Source: PSE Apr/May 17

Shane Green, programme manager for business intelligence & open data, and Sudip Trivedi, head of data & analytics and connectivity — Business Partner for Place at Camden Council, discuss the importance of using data analytics to improve service delivery.

Over the last few years, Camden Council has been on a significant digital transformation journey as it moves towards a more outcomes-based approach to service delivery. A keystone of this work has been how it has developed its consistent use of data and analytics. 

In 2014, the local authority implemented a Qlikview business intelligence platform and now council staff, of all levels of seniority, are using 70 dashboards to help analyse data and improve services. 

Shane Green, programme manager for business intelligence & open data at Camden Council, told PSE that the move to business intelligence is supporting evidence-based decision-making and, in effect, providing ‘one version of the truth’, while increasing accountability and transparency within the operational teams. 

“As part of the work we have been looking to get organisational coverage of dashboards across all the different major operational areas of the council,” he said, with the dashboards replacing a previously paper heavy system of managing performance. 

“In doing that, it has enabled people to actually know what it is important for them to measure to understand success for their specific area of the business. Unfortunately, as is the nature of the times we live in, when you have to make cuts you can evidence what change that is having on your business and whether you are able to do more with less.

“But as soon as you bring the data out of the operational systems and break the vendor lock-in that can be tied into these things, you actually start to build an environment where you can do quite a lot of cross-cutting. 

“For example, the finance system holds lots of finance data. We have a finance dashboard that allows you to search through millions of transactions, but the beauty of having the business intelligence programme is you can take the data from that finance system and then when you do an operational dashboard for, say, adult social care, you can plug the data back into that dashboard and start doing reconciliation between the two.” 

Camden was one of the first local authorities to embark on a council-wide business intelligence programme, and Sudip Trivedi, head of data & analytics and connectivity — Business Partner for Place, stated that the success “depends on the commitment that you can get from leadership”. 

“Where Camden is now,” he said, “is we are looking to do even more. The appetite is there to create a roadmap for the future and sharing more effectively with partners, for example, in health.” 

In terms of the programme of work, the officers told us that Camden has been focused on providing the business areas with tools to help them measure success. 

“We are getting to a position where the organisation is starting to think about cross-cutting and where we can bring data together from other systems and better improve outcomes,” said Green. 

However, they added that over the last few years a number of challenges have had to be overcome in three particular areas: data quality, culture and the underlying technology.

“Getting people to understand what you were trying to achieve has been one of the key challenges,” explained Green. “You also have the classic issue of data quality. But if you have people undertaking processes thousands of times, there is, inevitably, going to be errors in data. One of the brilliant things about business intelligence is that it exposes problems with the data and makes it easy for them to be rectified in the operational systems themselves.” 

One of the interesting challenges faced in a local government setting like Camden, PSE was told, is that some of the local authority’s systems “have been about since the dawn of time, as far as IT is concerned, because they don’t all run neatly on Oracle and other databases”. 

“There will always be issues with data quality, but how that data is then fixed is important,” said Green. “People are always going to make mistakes, but having tools that focus on the most granular levels of data and calculating statistics on that mean that if you have an anomaly in the dataset it is normally apparent.” 

While there have been issues to overcome during the development work, both Green and Trivedi argued that the move to dashboards has delivered both tangible and intangible benefits, from enabling self-service reporting and reducing time spent on manual processes to shining a light on data quality.



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