First published as “It’s about knowing which strings to pull” in IRRV Insight Magazine’s October 2016 edition.
Data is increasingly perceived as a strategic asset within government for driving economic growth and evidence-based decision making. The ‘Demystifying Data’ whitepaper released last year by the New Local Government Network think tank, sums it up nicely “In order for councils and local businesses to realise the rewards of the data revolution, improving public and private sector data manipulation and analytic skills is particularly important.”
Over the last ten years, we have helped numerous Councils make more informed decisions by enabling them to sort, analyse and report on the mass of data held in their various Revenues and Benefits systems. As we move into the next decade we believe there are a number of ways Councils can revolutionise how they think about, use and work with data to help counteract the impact of reduced budgets and resources.
Data Analytics in Revenues and Benefits and the rise of the Data Analytics Manager
Getting the most out of your Revenues and Benefits data is no longer just a technology issue, storage is cheaper, processing technology faster than ever and solutions are increasingly accessible across a variety of platforms. What does need attention is the human aspect. With the volume, variety and speed at which data is created and processed the real challenge is ensuring you have the right people who can break it down into actionable bite-sized chunks that you can do something with.
In the Private Sector, organisations are increasingly recruiting for job roles like Data Analytics and Insight Managers. These people are typically tasked with taking a look under the bonnet at what is happening in an organisation. They will identify trends in the data coming through, pinpoint specific information that can provide a business case to support change and ultimately use data to better manage performance and drive revenue. Revenues and Benefits departments should consider skilling up in this area to better harness the power of their data.
Linking datasets and understanding the wider context in which you operate
If you are told you need to reduce the headcount in your Collections Team by 25%, can you put an accurate figure on how it will impact collection or efficiency levels? Probably not because you need to have access to a wider set of data that takes into account your staff, your citizens, the structure and processes you have in place and the wider environment you operate in.
Do you have systems in place which can easily tell you a citizens’ total indebtedness to the council? This information may be held across a number of disparate systems, but to maximise income collection it is important to be able to quickly identify debts from all sources and to ensure that the appropriate collection activity happens promptly.
To make more informed decisions you need to understand how one set of data correlates with another, and as you bring more data in, the challenge is to understand how it interacts with all the other data you hold in various systems. There are technology solutions that will do this, and if you map out the questions you want answered, reports can be generated drawing from all the different data sources available.
Be outward looking – mine data sources from outside the Council
Building on this, Councils need to think about leveraging other sources of information in a way that enhances their existing datasets and delivers more value for them. For instance, partnering with external organisations who can provide you with information you wouldn’t otherwise have access to, to make quicker, better decisions.
A typical example of this and one that many Councils are already using is credit checking and referencing agencies. It’s no use spending many man hours tracking and chasing down one large debt using information from just your own system if a simple cross referencing of data with an external provider can tell you that that person has no way of repaying the debt. It’s much better to focus your efforts on those larger debts where with some quick analysis and cross-checking of data you can calculate that the propensity to pay is likely to be much higher.
Also, in addition to information held in your own systems, direct links to information held by credit reference agencies can really improve the efficiency of tracing debtors and carrying out single person discount reviews.
Data querying – to help forecast the impact of change
In conclusion, good data management is about being able to analyse all the options available to you quickly and figuring out what will produce the best results, it’s about knowing which strings to pull. If someone tells you that you need to improve collection rates, the easy option may be to throw money at it by increasing staff, but it’s not necessarily the right option. With the right analytical and reporting tools in place and access to a wide range of datasets both internal and external to draw from, you are in a much better position to make informed decisions.
In today’s world where you are constantly facing service cuts, wouldn’t it be great to run the numbers, look at the data from all sources, query it and understand what the real cost of cutting those services would be so that you are in a better position to defend and protect them. If you can forecast the likely impact of the decisions made, you are in a better position to influence those initial recommendations and suggestions for change.
For more information about how you can benefit from better and more productive use of data please contact Destin Solutions on 01772 842092.