Intelligent councils can be the future of local government, incorporating data strategy to fast forward digital transformation in a citizen-centric joined-up service

Consider the plethora of services local councils provide in any region. Whether it’s social housing, care of the vulnerable or those with disabilities, children’s services, bin collections or repairing and gritting roads – no matter what department or function, they’re all faced with the same challenge – working smarter. Intelligent councils are needed to improve data and local governance across the UK.

It’s a near-constant test to demonstrate success for tax-payer money, but also to deliver customer-centric services that make life easier for citizens and provide value for money. It’s not enough to simply strip out costs but to put knowledge to better use to deliver a more intelligent offering for citizens.

There is no shortage of data in local councils, but much of it is held in disparate and departmental systems which are fundamentally restrictive to consistent access and to providing meaningful interpretation. Add to that, data can be out of date, hard to analyse or personal and sensitive, requiring kid-glove handling.

Unlocking the data means a better allocation of resources where it can have the most impact, more targeted services and increased personalisation and can save time spent by data analysts looking through the data – reducing costs. Getting a holistic view can be difficult, the frustration is in not being able to bring together data sets to deliver a more significant, strategic ‘bigger-picture’ from the information.

Councils are being held back by the requirement to drill down into data sets and cross-reference them with ease limiting decision making, and how councils manage and respond to information – making the data significantly limited in use.

Becoming data driven

You can have the best data sets in the world, but without insights, it’s just raw data. Interpretation requires the expertise and knowledge of data analysts and skilled people with departmental knowledge who can translate, reason, draw inferences and conclusions and make recommendations from what they see, but these skills come at a price.

Becoming data driven means implementing a data strategy – a pathway to bringing together information upon which to make decisions ongoing that simplifies it, makes it less cumbersome and onerous and filters through daily business practices. It requires fundamental behavioural change so that it is adopted from company executives right through to operational staff. Embedding it in everyday decision-making means there are many gains to be made across the entire council as insights unlock the ability to act with knowledge.

Events become predictable, allowing preventative measures to be taken. Populations can be more deeply analysed allowing the personalisation of services. Information can be shared through portals with citizens, opening up communities and aiding economic growth and services can be tested before being rolled out fully and iterations subsequently delivered. Intelligent councils become increasingly smarter, more efficient and faster to deliver what is really required. But how and where do they start?

Information strategy

Like any cultural shift or change, it’s fundamental to keep in mind the end business goal and align it to the strategic and operational outcomes required. A corporate data strategy will highlight all aspects of data in terms of its use, protection, and security, how to unlock insights, its interpretation and potential uses and much more. A delivery roadmap would then be defined in order to provide the analytics required to support the organisation and develop the appropriate internal capabilities to accompany them.

A council’s information strategy will typically take the organisation on a journey to determine what has happened historically, and why it happened and then to implement the technology to help predict the next steps so that recommendations and interventions can happen sooner and with more knowledge of a situation and its outcomes.

Citizen payback

In those intelligent councils that are delivering digital transformation, there is a greater understanding of the demands upon them. Where there is flux – such as covid preventing personal contact between service and citizen, for example, it’s more evident how those macro factors may impact services and the measures that might be required to navigate them. A digitally mature organisation with a firm data strategy is able to adapt faster, intervene more easily and deliver a citizen-centric joined-up service.

Working with an organisation like itelligent-i, it’s possible to work through their information strategy methodology quickly using the prior experience of council organisations and how they typically operate. Using frameworks, data strategies can be embedded much faster, allowing data and analytical functions to become a bedrock business support function in much the same way as HR or procurement might be.

Experience of public sector organisations means itelligent-i can demonstrate what success may look like via a predefined set of criteria or ‘accelerators’ for departments or functions. This can be applied from the enterprise level all the way through to daily council business, taking what they know from the analytics and providing a physical understanding of the possibilities aligned to the organisation. The constant iteration of the processes means that analysis is ongoing, and improvements are being made all the time in line with information governance and good policy and practice. Information strategy becomes a fully costed roadmap and demonstrates how investment will deliver ROI, helping the organisation visualise the changes and aligning people with the change.

Durham County Council

Durham County Council is working alongside itelligent-i on a corporate data and analytics platform to accelerate the delivery of meaningful insights across the council’s main service areas using its suite of Accelerator Analytics. The solution securely brings together data from multiple sources and delivers information upon which the council will be able to make faster, more effective decisions.

Working together the council carried out a corporate business intelligence review in the first half of 2021 to assess how it could better use the collective data it has across all services. The review found that data could be better harnessed across systems to allow less time for it to be collected and extracted and more time for analysis and the use of insights. The intelligence to be gained can help assist the council in planning, resource management and developing customer-led services.

Durham Cathedral – supplied by Durham County Council.
Durham Cathedral – supplied by Durham County Council.

Itelligent-i has worked closely with individual departments to understand the complex business processes and implement effective data visualisations and analytics. With its knowledge of councils, it takes the best elements of its skills and design solutions to independently support specific challenges or needs. A core challenge and requirement for the council is to provide the timely and accurate insight it needs to understand the journey and flow of demand throughout the entire organisation such that it can tailor services and manage the costs to meet the customers’ needs.

With this approach, it’s possible to explore and drill through the data from a strategic, performance and operational lens perspective, whilst being safe in the knowledge the data is taken from the same single corporate version of the truth. Through guidance, Durham was able to visualise the changes to the organisation and deliver the vision for permanent data insight change.

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