How local authorities can boost services with better data management

03 July 2024 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read
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With the performance of many public sector services down in comparison to the start of the 2019 parliament, there is a huge opportunity for the sector’s organisations to step up data handling, according to Entec Si CEO Eman Al-Hillawi. She explains that consulting firms can play an important role in getting the most from public sector data.

The more insight an organisation has on its operational performance and customer engagement, the better its decision making and ability to deliver strategic change for good. Data governance and usage is paramount in the public sector, where services have an everyday impact on millions of lives. 

Due to underinvestment and a long list of duties that require significant resources, many public sector organisations have found it difficult to invest in the operational and people change necessary for improving data handling. However, with the general election around the corner and the government’s goal to deliver more efficient, user-centric public services by 2025, it’s time for the sector to fully embrace data-driven decision making.

How local authorities can boost services with better data management

This must start with a strong foundation for data governance which will require legacy thinking and systems, such as outdated IT equipment, to be overhauled. Often, many public sector organisations, such as local councils, struggle to allocate funding to invest in the people, process and digital change needed to improve data governance. Whilst some organisations have taken steps to embed cloud-based technologies and/or other storage software, some data is still captured manually - for example, by care workers when communicating information on their case work. This risks errors such as incorrectly recorded data or missed information and can have a knock-on effect on service efficiency and quality. 

Instead, establishing a centralised, collaborative system to house organisational data will help to ensure efforts to record and handle data are streamlined. Digital data stores should also be accessible to every member of the organisation as this will encourage a data-driven culture that drives positive, strategic change to services. For example, council project managers who have access to collaborative data storage software will be able to share information on new schemes with other departments in the organisation to more effectively manage budgeting and planning. 

Strong data governance makes it easier to improve the quality of data recorded, but there is scope for public sector organisations to improve how this data is used. Many have a wealth of information at their fingertips – from website engagement metrics to online reviews – but fall short of leveraging this effectively. The same amount of focus needs to be given to managing approaches to data as well as people’s technological capabilities. By establishing a robust data governance framework, that addresses policies, standards, quality and security, data can be managed more securely and responsibly.

To change this narrative, it’s important that every member of an organisation is digitally confident, regardless of occupation or responsibilities. Investment in a new system to store data is a great start but rendered useless if the organisation’s people cannot operate it or avoid it altogether. Once a digital system for storing data is determined, it’s often best to approach the digital adoption of it step by step. This should feature short, regular training sessions on its use, first and foremost, but could also include allocating mentors to champion a new tool, or measure its performance – for instance, how often are people using the tool and is its use achieving the desired goals? 

Empowering each employee to become a digital leader will pave the way for reduced siloed working, a happier workforce and greater task efficiency. This can be supported with the gentle introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to analyse and sort large amounts of data. With AI on board, public sector organisations would be able to quickly identify patterns in their data to make services more functional or personal to end users. Whilst further government funding in AI infrastructure will likely be required to support the adoption of AI tools, it would help to develop trust between the sector and its customers. 

People are central to any transformation, and this is no different when it comes to delivering greater value from data. Whilst senior teams may feel it’s their responsibility to take ownership of data-driven decision making, it’s crucial that all individuals contribute to this change journey. Public sector organisations that make this a priority will be better placed to level up services in the long term. 

Eman Al-Hillawi is the CEO at business change consultancy, Entec Si. The firm was recently named in Consultancy.uk’s 2024 Top Consulting Firms in the UK list. It scored gold ratings in the public sector and local government categories, among others.