Dan Thompson 23 November 2020

How local authorities can unlock the potential of data

Whether you agree that data is the "new oil” or not, there’s no escaping the fact that it is crucial to the operational efficiency of today’s local authorities. The path local authorities were on towards a full digital transformation has only accelerated during the recent pandemic, meaning they are now collecting data in massive quantities and at previously unimaginable speed.

Data, and the insights that can be derived from it, gives local authorities the ability to transform their services and the way they operate; ultimately improving their outcomes for citizens. By applying state-of the-art analytics to the data being collected day-in-day-out, informed, evidence-based business decisions can be made. These improve both the efficiency and quality of services delivered, while encouraging a helicopter view of the organisation rather than the traditional siloed approach. This has led to predictive, preventative decision making becoming a reality.

Tapping into the data at your fingertips

There are multiple areas where data analytics can be invaluable. But how do local authorities tap into the value of the data at their fingertips? It is important to consider how the data is currently stored. Is the data siloed or is there one single point of truth? Who needs access to the data daily? Will keeping it centrally improve this and improve decision making? What standardisation is needed to create a single point of truth?

Now that a cloud first strategy is being adopted by most local and regional government organisations, solutions are increasingly being devised and created in the cloud. And for good reason. The cloud enables existing data sets across the business to be funnelled and orchestrated into effective data analytics platforms that allows for enhanced data-driven insights. Only once you’ve got your data to the point where it’s migrated, orchestrated, cleansed, transformed and relocated can true business intelligence commence.

The science of data

What’s more, this intelligence can often unlock strategies that can be reused and shared across different local authorities. A modern cloud-based platform converts data into information and makes it readily available for analytical workloads and strong predictive outcomes. This provides opportunities to train the datasets and information stored in the Data Platform by applying sophisticated machine learning and data science techniques

For data analytics to be truly beneficial, there always needs to be a human element. The data is all there. It just needs to be channelled, ingested and orchestrated to a central repository where it can be unlocked and used intelligently.

Local authorities know best

Your teams will always know their data the best. After all, they’re the ones working with it week in, week out. But, only by driving understanding through a clear data strategy of what can be shared, and what can be distributed out from a central location, can they unlock the potential of that data. For the solution to be fully embraced, make sure you involve the teams early, so that they develop an affinity to the project. Remember, you are helping them do their job more effectively.

The term ‘business intelligence’ is far from new. Most local authorities have business intelligence departments already. They’ll have adult and child social care departments; they’ll have housing care departments. The issue is that because they have been created independently, they all work from siloed data through numerous bespoke applications.

Removing the fear

Data comes in multiple formats, most notably structured or unstructured. That’s why data strategies need to create a central repository, underpinned by cloud technology, where data can be ingested at speed. From that central repository, insight can be built up using algorithms to train the data, generating prescriptive outcomes, or predictive analysis using new business intelligence tool sets.

It’s about unlocking the potential of the data. But first you must remove the fear. Don’t be scared to feeding those data sources into an environment that gives the local authorities business intelligence teams the ability to make the most of the data. It also empowers data analysts to show the senior leadership teams or their customers, how it can be used. Only once you get to this point can the sheer power of the data hidden within the local authority be truly transformative.

Dan Thompson is head of data services and engineering at Agilisys

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