Opinion: Why this is the year local authorities look to business intelligence

Mark Cobb is CEO at Cantium Business Solutions, a company offering bespoke IT services and solutions to the UK public sector and its supply chain.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen local authorities get a taste for the kind of benefits the Cloud has to offer. Whether it’s delivering services efficiently, scaling with requirements or achieving cost savings, they have seen first-hand how cloud solutions can support more flexible and resilient ways of working.

person using MacBook Pro

Cloud adoption is now one of the main routes to digital transformation for many local authorities and alongside improving agility, it also opens the opportunity to utilise technologies such as AI and automation. There has been a lot of noise around automated technologies and they are a regular fixture on Gartner’s Hype Cycle. But with the pace of automation accelerating and the technology reaching maturity, now is the right time for local authorities to start exploring how they can unlock the potential of Business Intelligence (BI).

Greater access to information

Against a backdrop of ever changing financial and political influences, local authorities need access to quality business information to drive the effective delivery of services. Having access to the right near-time data, from multiple platforms, is key to helping local authorities make informed decisions and remain agile. From promoting social and economic growth to driving public service transformation, the increasing availability of data driven technology provides opportunities for the public sector to reconsider the way that some services are provided.

The volume of structured data from IT systems, databases and spreadsheets is growing exponentially, as is the amount of unstructured data we are seeing from text files, geo-spatial data and IoT applications. Typically, local authorities have managed multiple data sources with third-party reporting tools or build data warehouses to connect disparate information. However, the development of BI products such as Microsoft’s Power BI are providing a quicker and less maintenance-heavy alternative to these approaches. Enabling local authorities to aggregate, analyse and visualise information in a way that requires little upfront training.

Improving data quality through automation

So, what can local authorities do to enhance the value of their data and how does automation play a part in unlocking business intelligence? The first step is to enhance data quality.

Automation can play an important role in improving the consistency and quality of data. Not only can it support any number of repetitive tasks, but it also avoids many of the errors that occur during manual data entry. By automating data collection, cleansing and data repair, local authorities can significantly reduce the time their people spend preparing data. Ultimately, quality data is key to achieving any business intelligence goals. After all, without accurate and reliable data, executives and managers cannot trust the information in front of them to make informed decisions.  

Extracting data from multiple sources

While moving away from on-premise infrastructure is a priority of many local authorities, it doesn’t mean that legacy systems aren’t still used for core business processes. In fact, recent research found that as much as 70% of public sector organisations’ infrastructure and 73% of data remains on-premise. Collating this information is often a very time consuming and manual process. Again, this is where automation can be used to extract data from legacy systems in a format that BI tools can understand. The same goes for unstructured data, by consolidating it into a single data source it can be much more easily used by local authorities for analysis.

Developing skills and accessible intelligence

While BI tools can analyse data from a wide range of sources, they also make it simpler for users to interpret the results. By presenting users with the capabilities to self-serve, build their own reports and create their own analysis, raw data can be translated into meaningful business intelligence, insights, and trends analysis. This puts users in a position to access the right information, in the right way, at the right time and removes some of the reliance on IT professionals to extract this type of information. It also allows local authorities to move away from static reports and spreadsheets. Instead, it provides the opportunity to develop digital skills internally, so that users can visualise data in a way that can support day-to-day decisions and the continuous improvement and management of services.

On top of this, automation technologies can be used to open up the availability of business intelligence. It can be used to regularly deliver and share insights about local populations, economic activity and wellbeing to improve services and processes.  

Agile service transformation

Using new technologies brings new opportunities for local authorities to transform service delivery. By using mature automation technology, local authorities can unlock the potential of BI to identify and gather new data and insights. Not only to improve services and outcomes for citizens but also to bring forward new transformation opportunities. This level of insight can support local councils as they embark on transformation projects. Providing a greater understanding of how services are currently working and allowing them to gather the right intelligence to map out, cost and test any potential changes before they are implemented. Ultimately, it helps local authorities to understand the needs of their communities better and the key outcomes that need to be achieved to improve the lives and experiences of residents.

In related news, the government recently announced £54m for UK universities to develop cutting-edge, secure and trustworthy AI research

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters


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