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The Devil is in the Data
Source: guardian.co.uk
Source Date: Thursday, August 30, 2012
Focus: Information Access, Health
Created: Aug 30, 2012

The continued pressure for public sector organisations to do more with less means executives must find new ways to create efficiencies across existing areas of service provision.

That requirement sounds straightforward enough but there is a snag, says Kent county council ICT director Peter Bole. Public sector CIOs cannot target the right service areas to address without good business intelligence, which in itself requires good information that can be easily located – and that is no easy task.

The amount of data in all organisations continues to expand. Researcher IDC and technology company EMC report the amount of information created and replicated around the globe was more than 1.8tn gigabytes in 2011. The amount of information is expected to grow by 50 times during the next 10 years.

Sifting and sorting that huge amount of information is becoming harder all the time, providing context to Bole's call for tools, such as business intelligence, that can help public sector CIOs understand underlying trends.

"Think about what you're trying to achieve," says Bole, who suggests the aim in the public sector is often to create knowledge that can help drive service improvement. Organisations, for example, might aim to aggregate and reduce silos of information to a smaller number of consolidated locations.

Such consolidation is often a precursor to the implementation of analytical tools. Data aggregation and business intelligence can help executives collate knowledge and identify trends, but only if the requirement for service improvement is well defined.

"To make money go further, identify sections of the community that really benefit from your services and use business intelligence to make sure citizens are receiving the benefits," says Bole. "Services must be more tailored – organisations should aim to move away from a broad-brush approach, and use business intelligence to understand where the demand for services really resides."

Bole gives the example of a small number of families in each local authority who have higher than average requirements for access to public services from a broad range of agencies. Understanding the specific needs of each family through business intelligence, and tailoring services accordingly, would help improve quality and reduce costs.

Work continues in other areas of information management, too. Bole is about to implement Collaborative Planning, Advanced Business Solutions' budgeting and forecasting system. Allied to other business intelligence technology, the system will allow Bole and his colleagues to make smarter spending decisions. "It's about trying to harness more of the information the council has on its systems to improve operational efficiency," he says.

Bole also recognises the importance of security, which he says must be an underlying concept for all information management strategies. CIOs have distinct requirements under the Data Protection Act and other areas of associated legislation. Such requirements are clearly understood by Steve Fraser, a relationship partner at accountant Monahans.

He splits his time between advising clients and managing the firm's internal IT systems and is currently concentrating on the development of a new technology strategy for his firm. Fraser's work leads him to suggest IT professionals in his own business, and at client organisations, must prioritise information security as they seek to develop more intelligent forms of analytics.

"Data is everything – information really is the most valuable commodity of the modern organisation," says Fraser. "People won't steal your money, they'll steal your data instead." Data security, and the requirement to stay in-line with an ever-increasing range of rules and regulation, must be core to the public sector CIO's strategy for information governance.

Bill Limond, CIO at the City of London, says IT leaders need to pay attention to organisational standards. "You have to have common data definitions and that takes an awful lot of effort," he says. "You must be able to deal with issues around compliance and report across the broad spectrum of concerns. "

Creating an information management governance board can help. Limond warns that organisations tend to lose control if they do not put the right type of information governance in place. His own experience leads him to conclude that good business intelligence really does require senior level buy-in.

"The CIO has to be strategic," says Limond "There's a lot of choice and it's giving IT leaders more options with regards to flexibility and capability. We're in a fast-moving world." Not that the City is shying away from change. Limond says the organisation is helping employees to share business intelligence through collaboration and has already implemented Microsoft SharePoint.

Executive support has allowed Limond to make progress in three areas: management, collaboration and efficiency. He says the organisation is on a mission to facilitate the smarter management of information. Such business intelligence, he says, promotes the sharing of knowledge within the City and the potential streamlining of business processes.

"It's a journey; we're not there yet," says Limond, referring to continued progress towards dealing with the challenges associated to big data. "You can't boil the ocean in one go. You need to make steps towards your goal and the progress we've made is encouraging."

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