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Getting more from Revenues & Benefits software systems

John FarrellFirst published as “Can you see the wood for the trees?” in IRRV Insight Magazine in April 2015.

There’s a lot of truth in the saying “you can’t see the wood for the trees”, and that was often my experience as a senior manager in local government.

I spent over 30 years in local government finance, many years as an Assistant Director of Finance responsible primarily for Revenues, Benefits and Customer Services. Latterly I also became responsible for Financial Management and Audit in my capacity as Head of Corporate Finance and ICT. I knew that our systems contained a wealth of data, but was frustrated that it was so difficult to extract that data in a format that we needed for specific purposes.

Local Authority IT systems do contain a lot of data that has been collected from many sources, including from residents and service users. These systems have been designed and developed to deliver a specific service, and more often than not they do that core job well. A prime example of this are the major Revenues & Benefits software systems, whose core “raison d’être” is to facilitate the billing and collection of Council Tax and Non Domestic Rates, and the administration of Benefits in accordance with legislative requirements.

However, data held in these systems is often needed for non-core purposes, such as to complete complex Government returns, predict cash flow, calculate provisions for doubtful debts, respond to Councillor’s queries, answer Freedom of Information requests, and to assist Financial and Operational Managers in planning future service delivery and strategy.

It was apparent to me that the information that you need is there, but because of the way systems had been designed it was often very difficult, time consuming and costly to extract that data in a meaningful way. Also, particularly when planning future strategy, data is often needed from multiple systems, and the interaction of that data needs to be analysed and understood. More often than not this required the running of complex reports, and once run the reports very quickly become out of date.

Because of ongoing cuts to public sector budgets, there are now less IT and operational staff available to deliver increasingly complex services, and this makes it more important than ever to be able to access information and data easily from your systems to maximize the efficiency of operational service delivery.

So the burning question is, how can you release the power of your data from multiple systems, in an easy, resource-efficient way?

My view is that the starting point should be to initially determine your data access requirements, and I would suggest the following as areas for consideration:

  • Accessibility and usability – ideally access should require minimal user training, instant results, web-based accessibility from any location and by multiple users, and the ability to export data to Microsoft Office applications.
  • Deployment – access to data should require minimal input from the Council’s IT resources and should always provide up to date reports.
  • Scope – any system should provide access to all data held, with the ability to tailor reports to requirements, and the ability to drill down to view the data using a wide range of parameters/attributes, at property, account and citizen level.
  • Security – interrogation of data from core systems must in no way jeopardize the integrity and security of those systems, and access should be fully password-protected.
  • Flexibility – any reporting application should be system neutral, allowing access to data from multiple systems.
  • Future-proofing – ideally any reporting system must allow for data to be refreshed frequently, and preferably daily, ensuring that any reports are always up to date.

Careful consideration of the above can really help in identifying the solution to your reporting requirements. Your data is a valuable resource – make sure that it works for you!

To see how Destin Solutions can help you unlock your data contact me on john.farrell@destin.co.uk

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