Business Intelligence in the Public Sector

Written by Mikaeel Lucien Gengan on Thursday, 07 August 2014. Posted in Articles

One of the biggest challenges that senior managers in the public sector are facing today is poor service delivery.  I attribute this to the lack of performance management within public service institutions.  A performance management system will enable senior management to foresee potential problems, and act to prevent them before they become a reality.

Why is it that a national department reacts so late to the non-delivery of textbooks to schools in a region?  I’m guessing that the timely delivery of textbooks was not tracked and measured.  Or if it was, then the red flag was not raised soon enough to indicate a potential problem.  There is also a dire need for collaboration amongst departments. For example, by integrating information from health services to that of home affairs, international travelling patterns can be correlated with health related symptoms and certain conclusions can be drawn. A lack of performance management leads to a lack of ownership and accountability.  Nothing can be managed it if cannot be measured.  And if it’s measured, it gets done!

Technology, and specifically business intelligence (BI) technologies, is vital in enabling true performance management.  Whether it is in public health services or education or social services, by having the right information at the right time, one is able to make intelligent, informed, fact-based decisions that will ultimately lead to improved service delivery to citizens.  BI also helps to address regulatory reporting and compliance.
 
Business intelligence helps in achieving better outcomes by applying a collection of technologies, methods, standards, policies and principles.  The process involves collecting data from multiple, disparate systems, analysing and transforming this data into meaningful information, and representing this information in digestible formats such as insightful dashboards and reports.  Through this process, the right information is provided at the right time so that decision-making can be informed and fact-based.

Technology alone, however, is not the answer.  The focus must be on the questions requiring answers, rather than on the technology required to provide the answer.  So a multidisciplinary approach, encompassing strategy, processes, data, technology and people, is required.

Strategy

Alignment to the strategy is vital.  This involves understanding the strategy and the resulting initiatives, and mapping objectives to them.  One needs to constantly measure progress towards achieving an objective.  This is usually done by identifying and defining the key performance indicators (KPIs) relevant to a performance area.  The KPIs are what end up on the executive dashboard as a way of tracking performance on an ongoing basis.  Ensuring correctness and validity of the actual numbers reported involves a detailed understanding of the processes and flows in the data before it is implemented in a BI system.

Process

Process is what turns strategy into action.  Every bit of data circulating within an organization ultimately supports a business process.  This helps understand the vital pieces of information that is important to the business and where and how it adds value.

The processes of defining and understanding KPIs and their related information requirements are essential in enabling BI technologies to focus on the right information.  This includes processes about how the data flows between systems and how the associated business rules are applied.   This in turn assists IT in enabling business by means of providing the right information back to them in the form of visual dashboards and detailed reports.

Data

The information related to the processes is translated into data in the operational systems.  Here, the focus is on mapping the right bits of data to the information elements within the selected technologies.  There are usually numerous challenges that need to be addressed in the data.  This includes ensuring quality, consistency, non-duplication and relevance, whilst complying to standards and policies.

Within this discipline, there is also emphasis on identifying and agreeing on the right data source systems and applying the business rules correctly.

People

Getting the buy-in of all stakeholders can be a challenging task and usually involves some level of change management.  The two people-related barriers to strategy execution are:

  • The lack of understanding of the company strategy by most of the workforce
  • The lack of reward and personal satisfaction linked to the overall strategy

Ultimately, people are responsible for turning the strategy into action.  There would be an element of behaviour change required in progressing from where you are, as a business, to where you want to be.  If people feel that there is something in it for them and that they are part of the process, it will be easier to establish their buy-in and commitment.

Technology

Technology is purely an enabler to the processes to provide speed, agility, consistency and reliability in fulfilling the processes.

One needs to be pragmatic as to which technologies to select.  The choice must be based on the requirements and once those are clear, the correct evaluation of various technologies can be performed.  Always consider the total cost of ownership of a selected technology.
 
By following a multidisciplinary approach and by prioritizing the needs, we at EON Consulting can enable public service organizations to get to grips with their performance management challenges so that decision-makers can make informed, fact-based decisions rather than perception or intuitive-based ones.  The BI investment will bear fruit in the long run and ensure that service delivery is continually improving.

At EON Consulting we provide end-to-end ICT services, including business intelligence.  This includes strategy, governance, project management, architecture, analysis, design, configuration, training and change enablement.  We also offer a full software evaluation and selection service to enable our clients to select the right technology that provides the most value.

About the Author

Mikaeel Lucien Gengan

Mikaeel Lucien Gengan

Managing Consultant – EON Consulting