Whitehall must unify management information, says Martin Read

business intelligence

Whitehall must unify management information, says Martin Read

Brian McKenna

The UK government Cabinet Office has published a report by former Logica CEO Martin Read (pictured) advocating a more unified approach to using management information (MI) across Whitehall.

"In the past, the federal nature of Whitehall meant departments developed different systems for collecting data, even where two departments were spending money on a similar function – such as HR or procurement," the report states.

Read’s recommendations were delivered to ministers in 2012, and the Cabinet Office has since put them into action. They include:

  • Working with departments to simplify and strengthen the system of quarterly comparative data reporting – the so-called QDS.
  • Making senior financial officers responsible for management information in their departments.
  • Establishing a cross-government MI profession to share knowledge and best practice among departments.
  • A new tool for quarterly data which will make information on government spending more accessible to the general public.

A February 2011 National Audit Office Landscape Review report on government IT urged better data management, including greater emphasis on the use of business intelligence (BI) systems and business analytics skills.

“Business intelligence capabilities are often built into government’s business or back-office systems where they are used for measuring performance of particular services by specialist business analysts,” the report said. 

"However, it is extremely rare to find these types of systems meaningfully applied at the top level of government bodies where their potential to assist with strengthening financial management and making informed decisions about the future is greatest,” it stated.

Read’s report, Practical steps to improve management information in government, published on 13 June 2013, echoed that earlier NAO review, published in the first year of the present parliament.

Early last year, the government’s Efficiency and Reform Board asked Read to make recommendations to improve management information in Whitehall, since progress up to February 2012 had been too slow.

The former IT services company CEO found that “much data is collected and presented on an inconsistent basis"; that “there is no clear, single point of accountability for departmental management information"; that the centre of government "lacks a coherent management information strategy"; and that "the use of technology to automate data collection is generally poor”.

In his summary, Read said: “I must stress that there is no 'perfect' solution to the implementation of a management information framework across government – 100% consensus is not possible. However, this is an area where the 80% plus solution will deliver 80% plus of the benefits. Moreover, the production and use of the new QDS will in itself drive improvement in the quality of the data being collected and the use that is made of it.”

The report is said to be part of the Civil Service Reform Plan, aimed at making the service 23% smaller than in March 2010, and more strategic, including being digital by default.

Cabinet Office minister Chloë Smith said: “We are strengthening the role of finance directors, improving data collection and scrutinising the information we collect with greater rigour.”


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