Glen Ocskó, Head of Local Government at Made Tech, explores how councils need to unleash the power of their data to realise the potential it has to revolutionise the way our towns and cities are run
Data is fast becoming one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal in the digital age. It impacts every corner of our lives, and everything we do generates a digital footprint. This information has the power to show us how things work, means we can make better decisions and, crucially, enables us to change course to make things better when we need to.
Local government is no different in this respect. From waste collection to housing, council tax to health care data; local authorities have a huge repository of intelligence that could enable them to make a significant difference to the lives of those in their communities. When harnessed correctly, the possibilities of this data are limitless, enabling local authorities to personalise services, create more effective, cost-efficient processes, and plan for the future needs of their people with predictive modelling.
However, the problem is that many local government organisations are unable or unaware how to harness the information they hold. Whether they lack the skills or the technology, this fundamental information shortfall is holding them back from delivering better services to their users.
The data and power to transform local services is within the grasp of councils — but the challenge now is how they can be supported to unleash its potential. To do this, there are a few things that they need to consider.
Replacing legacy technology
While councils may want to better understand the data they hold, in many cases they will simply not have the solutions in place to do so. The legacy technology debt across local government is still at a level whereby many platforms in use today will not be fit for purpose.
But it’s not just that legacy technology is slow, or outdated — it’s also expensive. As budgets are squeezed year-on-year, it’s easy to see how local governments find it difficult to allocate the funds needed to drive digital evolution.
If authorities want to overcome this issue they need to know which legacy technologies are holding back their capability to realise the potential of their data, and which solutions they need to enable them to do so. Through conducting a digital discovery, local authorities can get a detailed understanding of the platforms they have in place, both good and bad, and what can be done to improve their data capabilities.
Bringing data together
While local governments may hold large amounts of data, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have access to it. On an internal level, different local government departments often use different platforms and systems that store data in a proprietary format. This means that this information can’t be properly compared alongside each other to identify predictive patterns, problems and potential solutions.
To make the most of their data, councils need to bring this information together so it can be properly analysed in context. Solutions such as data lakes can allow local authorities to pool their data into one place, extracting the specific parts they need to build a better picture of patterns and problems. Only then can they go on to become truly data-driven and provide better services for their users.
Make data open source to drive better outcomes
While some platforms local authorities use may be well placed to extract and collect data, in many cases suppliers design these solutions so that they lock information in proprietary formats and systems. This challenge is endemic at both local and central government level.
However, at local government level, this means that councils are not only unable to use their data from within their organisation, but they’re also unable to use external sources too. This hampers their ability to use all the data at their disposal to drive better decision-making for their service users.
When implementing any new technologies to better harvest and use data, councils should look to ensure that these platforms are open source and allow data to be formatted in a way where it can be collected and pooled with other datasets.
To put these considerations into practice, the key is choosing the right digital partner. Councils should look to work with providers who understand their needs, can conduct efficient and detailed discoveries to identify issues and provide solutions, know how to bring data together and who will not put platforms in place that will hamper their ability to pool information from different sources. Setting these parameters will enable local authorities to know what they need from a digital partner and ensure they choose the right provider to help them on their data journey.
The information local government organisations hold has the potential to revolutionise the way our towns and cities are run, creating better, more efficient services for citizens and staff in the process. Councils need to unleash the value of their data to realise this potential, and through putting in the correct platforms, pooling data, making data open and working with the right digital partner, they will be able to enhance their offering and communities for the better.