James Paton 20 August 2020

COVID-19 spotlights information management shortcomings in local government

COVID-19 spotlights information management shortcomings in local government image

Disruption caused by the pandemic has put smart workforce collaboration, records integration, and data processing at the heart of local government – but it has also exposed inefficiencies as teams try to access the information they need to progress workloads.

Across many councils, work is already underway to support smart workforce collaboration, integrating records, systems and data into a single view. But this must accelerate – the research study ‘Information in Transition: Smarter Working in the new Normal’, revealed that 60% of respondents still rely on paper records to some extent. The research ranged across the public sector – 38% of respondents came from local government.

It is clear that workers are widely using unconnected, legacy information systems supplemented with paper-based systems in parts of their operations, making flexible, remote working a stretch goal for many local authorities.

In a data-led public sector, the speed and efficiency with which employees can access information is absolutely critical to performance and quality of service. Yet, almost three quarters of those who responded (73%) cited the use of multiple systems across their organisation as the single biggest reason they found it difficult to access information. In fact, 38% of respondents said they had to log into 16 or more information systems in the course of a working day, taking five minutes each time.

Typically, workers will spend 6.6 hours each week waiting for search results to be returned – or more if those searches are spread across multiple systems. Respondents also reported that quality of the application interfaces they are using is a factor in how easily and thoroughly they can search. A quarter (26%) of respondents say their information search facility is ‘not at all intuitive’. This contributes hugely to service delays and performance issues.

Practical action

The research reveals that councils are facing and broadly negotiating day-to-day business process management challenges successfully, despite outdated or over-complex information management systems, siloed data repositories, poor record keeping and concerns about security and data governance.

Yet, refining and improving information search processes is vital, if councils are to deliver the maximum possible benefit to their service users. Those that are more advanced on their digital journey are already taking advantage of controlled repositories that allow better use of unstructured data via metadata search and retrieval, smarter indexing, and technology that is able to identify and extract key data.

Emerging technologies are already available from a number of cloud providers that accelerate and refine these processes still further by adding tools such as natural language processing and machine automation. As a result, research efficiency is expanding to include files and documents outside structured data repositories.

There is no doubt that transforming to automated document management and streamlined information retrieval brings enormous cost and efficiency benefits. But the corresponding process of cultural change can be every bit as complex as the digital transformation. A major overhaul of business processes translates into a significant change to employees’ day-to-day working lives.

It is important to communicate to employees the benefits to them and the service they are providing. It is key to allay fears that automation will threaten jobs and get employee buy-in to change – otherwise investment in technology may not deliver the hoped-for efficiency gains. This is not a one-off exercise. Councils must enable employees to provide feedback on the solution and to allow them to access ongoing, on-the-job training in new systems and processes.

Supporting remote collaboration

As councils transition to delivering services in a ‘new normal’ that will almost certainly feature workplaces and working relationships that are more fluid, dynamic and adaptive, the need for digital operations supporting remote collaboration is becoming increasingly important. As a result, platforms that aggregate information quickly, efficiently and reliably and make it available wherever required have become prerequisite for effective business process management.

James Paton is CEO of SynApps Solutions

Mobilising the social care workforce image

Mobilising the social care workforce

A continued drive towards more mobile public services is needed to help overcome social care challenges in the bleak winter months, says David McKinney.
SIGN UP
For your free daily news bulletin
Highways jobs

Senior Product Manager

Essex County Council
£50000 - £62858 per annum
Senior Product ManagerFixed Term, 12 months (secondments from other local authorities and civil service departments will be considered)Full Time, flex England, Essex, Chelmsford
Recuriter: Essex County Council

Experienced Occupational Therapists

Essex County Council
£30906 - £47405 per annum
Experienced Occupational TherapistsPermanent, Full Time£30,906 - £47,405 per annumLocation
Recuriter: Essex County Council

Experienced Social Workers

Essex County Council
£30906 - £47405 per annum
Experienced Social WorkersPermanent, Full Time£30,906 - £47,405 per annumLocation
Recuriter: Essex County Council

Residential Workers x2 - The Maples

Essex County Council
£20604 - £26801 per annum + Plus Benefits Package
Residential Workers x2 - The MaplesPermanentFull Time£20,604 to £26,801 per annumLocation
Recuriter: Essex County Council

Social Worker - Assessment and Intervention

Essex County Council
Negotiable
Social Worker - Assessment and InterventionPermanent, Full Time£30,906 to £42,254 per annumLocation
Recuriter: Essex County Council

Public Property

Latest issue - Public Property News

This issue of Public Property examines how how flexible workspaces can lead the way in regeneration for local authorities, Why local authority intervention is key to successful urban regeneration schemes and if the Government’s challenge of embracing beauty is an opportunity for communities.

The March issue also takes a closer look at Blackburn with Darwen Council's first digital health hub to help people gain control over health and care services.

Register for your free digital issue