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Improving public sector services with analytics: the smart way

(Image credit: Image Credit: Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock)

Whitehall and its attendant organisations up and down the country are facing a rocky few months. Although we’ve been told by government that spending on day-to-day activity in health, education and defence will be rising in 2019 by 1.8 per cent, 3.8 per cent and 1 per cent respectively, other sectors can look forward to spending cuts throughout the year – and that’s without EU negotiations factored in. It’s hard to tighten your belt, though, when you’re also trying to boost or reform your services.

The bottom line is that plenty of departments are going to have to deal with the twin, often contradictory goals of, on the one hand, improving service quality and citizen experience and, on the other, reducing expenditure and increasing efficiency. This is not a new problem – since the 2008 financial crash, all the expenditure cuts that can be achieved through traditional means including procurement and resources have been made. Not once, but multiple times.

The ‘B-word’ problem

However, the challenges facing government are far from budgetary alone. All departments are in the midst of an incredibly complex period of decision-making and planning around Britain’s departure from the EU. Forecasting the implications of exit decisions, modelling scenarios and evaluating risk alongside eventual outcomes is an extraordinarily complex and tough process. One that requires the broadest, deepest and most contextually-aware insights possible.

Similarly, delivering an increasingly joined-up, personalised and fast service to service users, whether they are organisations or individual citizens, via the ubiquitous ‘digital transformation’, is both an ongoing challenge and opportunity for government organisations.

Analytics: a better way to improve

So the question is: what do better decisioning, value-based operational efficiencies, accelerated deployment of digital services, and complex policy evaluation all have in common? They can all be addressed with data. Specifically, they can all benefit from the rich, accurate and rapid answers that advanced analytics can deliver.

All this can only be made possible if government collects a broader range of data and relevant insights are shared across departments that collaborate rather than compete. Many have already made a start using analytics to answer their most challenging questions; more must now follow, if advanced analytics is to sit at the heart of everything.

One should note, however, that not all analytics capabilities are the same. Some are really only capable of telling civil servants what has happened. The kind of analytics now required are able to provide the hindsight to see what has happened and the foresight to predict and model what might come. As in-depth and valuable as those insights will be, government cannot wait months or even weeks to acquire them. Speed-to-insight is essential, and actionable insights must happen immediately, making the ability to analyse real-time data absolutely mission critical. 

What difference can it make?

A great deal. When we look at a broad range of use cases from as far afield as DWP, HMRC, the British Army to the NHS and the police, a surprisingly diverse and powerful suite of applications appears. The British Army, for example, has found new ways to realign what it spends money on and to eradicate £770 million of waste. In policing, SAS is powering the analysis of huge volumes of intelligence data rapidly, so that teams can cut through the noise and focus on real and emerging threats.

At the Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, they have deployed SAS capabilities to create a single data repository so that information on infection rates can be analysed and shared between specialists, supporting the development of prevention and treatment best practices. Clearly, there are plenty of examples of live analytics deployments making a real difference to the way that frontline public sector organisations work.

What is the one key takeaway from these case studies? Essentially, once an organisation has developed a culture of evidence-based decision-making and has begun to derive meaningful benefits, analytics will be firmly embraced and its value will multiply.

However, as with all great ideas, taking them from theory to execution can be problematical. As simple as it might seem to collect more data, share insights and power key decisions with evidence, there are a number of practical steps that government agencies will need to undertake in order to yield the benefits of advanced analytics.  

How to implement analytics in the real world

It’s not an overnight change. However, following these critical steps will put your organisation on a proven path.

  • Getting buy-in from senior leaders to explore the opportunities for advanced analytics and present these alongside the risks doing nothing
  • Demonstrating the value through workshops to understand possible use cases
  • Learning from best practices, benchmarking against the outcomes experienced within other industries
  • Educating the organisation to embrace a new evidence-based culture of decision-making
  • Coordinating and sharing ideas, resources and budget across linked departments will help to optimise the value of advanced analytics
  • Auditing information assets so that you have one central information register rather than largely unknown silos of data
  • Building trust in data by cleaning it and maintaining it at a minimum level of quality
  • Consolidating information assets, skills and tools is a certain way to expose gaps and to drive value
  • Partnering with experts will help to reduce initial costs, fill in skills gaps and shorten project lead times
  • Create centres of excellence in order to pool expertise and skills and share success stories to multiply value across government organisations

Whether your primary objective is to seek out new cost savings, to develop smarter, evidence-based policies, or even to explore new service scenarios that improve citizen outcomes, there is certainly a very powerful business case to be made for embracing advanced analytics.

And one last thing: as AI becomes ever-more applicable in day-to-day working scenarios, now is the right time to invest in analytics, the backbone of AI. With an effective analytics programme in place, public sector organisations will put themselves in a position to make full use of AI for smart public service.

So are better decisions, smarter policies and more efficient operations mutually exclusive? With analytics in place, they don’t have to be.

Hugo D’Ulisse, technical director, public sector, SAS UK
Image Credit: Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock

Hugo D’Ulisse is public sector technical director at SAS UK, the leader in analytics. He helps public sector organisations make the most of their data to inform strategy and service.