3 ways data can drive efficiency in local government

Fragmented data is the enemy of efficiency in local government. We look at three areas where pooling data is delivering savings for UK public services.

Across the UK, local government is under severe pressure to eliminate cost, waste and delay from operational activities.

Technology has long been seen as a key enabler of improved efficiency, with smarter use of data being a primary focus area. The Government Transformation Strategy 2017 notes that “data is a critical resource for enabling more efficient, effective government and public services that respond to users’ needs.”

In our new white paper, Data: The Key to Efficient and Effective Local Government , we highlight some of the ways in which government (both local and central) is using data to reduce costs and improve service delivery – and how councils could overcome key technological barriers to achieve even more.

We’ve extracted some examples from the white paper into this blog, to look at how data is driving improved efficiency in three areas: contract and supplier management, complex case management, and handling Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

Contract and supplier management

A study by the Institute of Government reveals that one-third of all UK government spend goes on procurement, with local government contract spend amounting to £208bn in 2016-2017.

That figure could be significantly reduced by making greater use of collaborative buying and smart sourcing strategies. If services and agencies band together, they have more leverage to negotiate bulk discounts and better prices.

At the same time, shared information about supplier performance could drive down the risk of choosing a ‘bad’ supplier, and support more informed decisions about where to award contracts.

The problem is that contract and supplier data is fragmented across different authorities, agencies, services and departments. That lack of visibility means missed opportunities to collaborate to negotiate better deals, and poor insight into supplier risk.

It’s an issue that the Cabinet Office has recently tackled with the launch of the Contracts and Spend Insight Engine (CaSIE). Built with help from Adatis, CaSIE pools data on contracts and suppliers from across numerous central government departments into a single online resource, accessible to commercial teams across government.

This continuously-updated resource enables departments to identify opportunities to collaborate and save, and view supplier performance data before awarding contracts. Powerful analytics and reporting allow commercial teams to evaluate everything from social media sentiment towards key suppliers, to contracts coming up for renewal.

The Institute for Government reports that even in its infancy, “CaSIE, using unsupervised machine-learning techniques, was able to identify a significant number of insurance contracts that were expiring across government at a similar time.”

Complex case management

Case management is another area in which local authorities struggle to achieve efficiency. Many citizens present complex needs that span more than one council service, and often involve external agencies including health and social care providers, schools, housing associations, police and judiciary.

With data about each individual fragmented across multiple systems at each department and agency, having the right information to provide the right service at the right time can be a challenge. Pooling data to create a single customer view can greatly help with managing and resolving complex, inter-agency cases.

In their 2016 study Wise Council: Insights from the Cutting Edge of Data-Driven Local Government, NESTA and the Local Government Association cite an ‘intelligent case management’ initiative led by Manchester City Council, which gives social workers rapid insight into family needs and circumstance during triage and assessment.

At the heart of the project is a data warehouse that integrates 16 datasets from multiple agencies. In doing so, it provides instant access to information about family relationships, involvement with agencies like police or schools, and relationships to other families also known to local services. As well as driving improvements in social care, it’s estimated to save two weeks of work per year for each key worker.

Responding to FOI requests

Freedom of Information (FOI) disclosures are necessary for a functioning democracy, but the admin burden they place on councils and other agencies can be immense. Local authorities collectively receive about 467,000 Freedom of Information requests per year, according to MySociety – nearly 10 times the number received by central government.

With few staff devoted full-time to handling FOI requests, responding to them is usually just one of many tasks undertaken by council admin teams. Fragmented data and the difficulty of extracting data from legacy systems make responding to requests expensive and time-consuming – leading some councils to put limits on the time and budget they’re prepared to spend on them (as permitted in the exemptions defined in the Freedom of Information Act).

It’s an area where improved data management can deliver a quick win for local authorities and democracy alike. Bringing data into a single managed repository can greatly reduce the time and cost of responding to FOI requests, creating efficiencies for the council and enabling more requests to be responded to.

Hackney Council is showing one way it can be done, by enabling public online access to responses to previous requests. The FOI for Councils portal, built in conjunction with MySociety, enables the council to provide ‘ready-made’ answers to common requests.

Early on, Hackney identified 50 requests that had been answered by the portal rather than by council staff, reducing the admin burden on the council. Hackney is now working with other local authorities to roll the portal out in more areas.

Read more in our Data in Local Government white paper

Bringing data together from multiple systems is an essential first step in many efficiency initiatives. The good news is that the technologies that enable it have never been more accessible or affordable.

Adatis works with public sector organisations every day  to build cost-effective and standards-compliant analytics platforms in Microsoft’s Azure Cloud – allowing data to be pooled, analysed and made available in real time to whoever needs to access it.

You can find out more about the kinds of problems we’re helping the public sector to tackle in our new white paper, Data: The Key to Efficient and Effective Local Government . Download your copy and see how the latest technologies and skills support data-driven efficiency initiatives across local government.

Get the white paper