Sitting on a data goldmine

Steve Clarke, Public Sector Solutions Manager at Alaris, a Kodak Alaris business, discusses why the public sector is sitting on a data goldmine and shares some top tips on turning data into gold

There’s no avoiding the fact that public sector organisations are dealing with more data than ever before. Exponential amounts of data are entering government agencies at all levels – and the rate of collection will continue accelerating as the adoption of smart cities and the Internet of Things (IoT) continues in order to help deliver better services to citizens.

While volume of data is a problem, perhaps the biggest danger to the public sector is the amount of unstructured data being obtained in a variety of different formats, from a wide range of sources. AIIM analysts estimate that currently 80-90% of business data is unstructured – with a significant portion set to be generated by IoT in the near term – while structured data stays largely flat. This is creating plenty of headaches and exposing agencies to the pitfalls of data chaos.

 

Sitting on a goldmine

Despite this proliferation of unstructured data, the public sector – and particularly local authorities – need to see beyond the chaos and realise that they are sitting on a goldmine. Data is, in many people’s eyes, the new oil.

“Councils are sitting on a treasure trove of potential insights on the communities in which they operate,” Tom Symons, Principal Researcher in Government Innovation at Nesta, commented at the launch of its Wise Council: Insights from the cutting edge of data-driven local government document.

While the report, compiled along with the Local Government Association, reveals that councils are increasingly sophisticated in how they gather, manage and use data, many are only just starting to get to grips with its potential.

“While many councils are already using it to make services more effective and targeted many more are only just waking up to its potential,” added Symons. “Embedding experts within these councils could be the catalyst for the culture change we need to see if they are to stay one step ahead of budget cuts and meet people’s evolving needs.”

 

Meaningful insight

Few dispute that organisations have more data than ever at their disposal. But actually deriving meaningful insights from that data – and converting knowledge into action – is easier said than done.

Some councils are, however, already making great inroads. For example, an existing scheme within Newcastle City Council’s social care unit has already resulted in better support for families by matching them through data analysis with social workers who are specialised in dealing with their needs.

This is a great example of the power of gaining meaningful insight from data and there’s an argument that co-locating data analysts and scientists in frontline council teams could improve day-to-day services such as recycling and council tax collection by speeding up processes, minimising replication and making existing information more easily accessible. Data has the power to transform customer service delivery like never before.

 

Roadblocks

That said, there are a number of roadblocks to overcome if councils are to truly harness the power of data. One of the biggest barriers to scoping and implementing data-based digital transformation projects often comes from a disconnect between the wider organisation and IT, with decisions about technology investments increasingly made outside of the IT department.

With IT side-lined, there’s a risk that business decision-makers are left to oversee the implementation of often-complex solutions without experienced tech support or consultation, thus creating another silo application and potentially alienating the IT department.

Elsewhere, another one of the biggest challenges cited is gaining employee buy-in, which makes change management an integral part of the process.

 

Big yields

Nevertheless, digital transformation opportunities can provide a host of benefits to organisations – particularly the gains that come from automating previously labour-intensive, manual processes.

‘Big’ data challenges yield big opportunities:

  • Digital transformation projects have proven advantages in automating and optimising business workflows, resulting in greater efficiency and productivity of business transactions.
  • A reduction in manual intervention, provides cost benefits as well as lessening processing time
  • Cost reductions, and the resulting company profitability gains are a direct result.
  • Faster and more comprehensive customer responses, resulting in higher satisfaction and loyalty.

The associated business impact is increased competitiveness and ultimately, business growth.

 

The critical first step

A key starting point for any digital transformation project is information capture through the digitisation of paper-based processes.

But the optimisation and automation of business processes have one common bottleneck: the first steps where business inputs arrive from different sources and in different forms. If in paper format they then need to be digitised, attributed to the relevant workflow, and then the relevant data identified, extracted and validated. Many of these steps involve manual processes and may or may not be integrated with other business applications and systems of record.

This is where efficiency is significantly impacted and unnecessary costs can be incurred. Decision-makers demand process simplicity. They want the ability to capture different types and formats of business inputs in one, integrated and consistent process, reducing inefficiencies, unnecessary cost and manual alignment.

 

Top tips

There are a number of top tips decision-makers have shared with us regarding how to avoid or overcome hurdles in the implementation of digital transformation projects. Some of these include:

  • Document the risk of keeping current manual processes in place;
  • Clearly define the project scope;
  • Highlight the connection to key business goals;
  • Get upfront buy-in from senior management;
  • Identify the ROI expectation (should not exceed one year);
  • Ensure that the return is clearly measurable;
  • Reduce project steps and manual intervention;
  • Ensure tight implementation with business process;
  • Remove siloed approaches;
  • Pay special attention to ease of use; and
  • Ensure close cooperation between business and IT.

As information capture specialists, Alaris is often asked for advice on where to get started; we suggest considering the following steps:

  • Identify your most business-critical workflows;
  • Map out the associated data streams. Find the different input channels and repositories used, along with inter-dependencies like augmenting or validation;
  • Identify the biggest bottlenecks in your processes. Quantify the impacts to the business that affect profitability, productivity and long-term success;
  • Consider every step of the data and/or document lifecycle as it impacts the end to end workflow; Start with the first steps in the business workflow, if you don’t optimise the first steps, it will make the entire process inefficient;
  • Identify simple, easy to implement projects with measurable business impact. Get buy-in from the leadership team based on a clearly defined project scope and expected ROI; and
  • Document and communicate progress and key performance indicators against expected goals and ROI.

 

Turn data into gold

As we’ve seen, the volume and complexity of data entering modern organisations is only set to increase exponentially. Successful organisations are channelling this data in ways that are shaping board-level decision-making. Digital transformation won’t just deliver better outcomes – it will be crucial to future success and overcoming the challenges the public sector is currently facing.

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