Efforts by local authorities to cut costs through the smarter use of IT have received a double boost this week. Socitm, the local government society for IT professionals, has published a report on cross-agency information sharing, and Nottingham County Council is implementing internal shared services.
Notts has hired services provider Logica to implement and manage a SAP suite that could save £170m over the next four years. The county council is the eleventh largest in the country with an annual budget of £1.3bn and needs more effective systems, acknowledged Tim Gregory, director of its corporate services.
ERP to simplify processes
"The first reason for choosing an enterprise resource planning suite was because our current systems are not integrated and are complex to manage. The second was that we needed to radically transform the way we support the organisation," said Gregory.
Installing an ERP suite is a money saver for most councils because it integrates core systems such as finance, HR and payroll. Duplication of data that may arise through inconsistent naming of suppliers, for example, is eradicated, explains Mike Harounoff, local government consultant with Logica.
New skills needed
Implementing ERP calls for new skills and many local governments will hire or retrain in SAP and Oracle, and also seek change management experience. Once local authorities have put their own house in order through shared internal systems, there’s greater potential to be efficient by sharing data with other agencies, adds Harounoff.
Coinciding with the Nottingham move to introduce shared services is the publication of ‘Too many cooks’, a report advising how to share data between agencies. Socitm evaluated 13 'Total Place' pilots, which had explored how a collaborative approach to service delivery across public sector agencies can create efficiencies.
The report highlights two central problems it found in information exchange between public agencies: willingness to share and the format of the data. Other problems cited by a Socitm spokeswoman include misunderstanding about the Data Protection Act and also poor outsourcing contracts, which deny councils access to their own data.
IT the frontline of change
IT staff are on the frontline of efforts to improving data exchange, confirmed a Socitm spokeswoman. “We’re finding that IT people often own and manage this data, perhaps because it’s a by-product [of a system they maintain]”, she said.
Protecting frontline services requires a local, joined up, evidence-based approaches, according to report author Chris Head. “Public services need to get their information assets in order and ensure that employees have essential skills in analysis, presentation and interpretation of data in order to deliver evidence-based decision-making”.
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