The London Borough of Newham, one of the poorest boroughs in the country, is using business intelligence (BI) software to help to identify people who are eligible to claim benefits but are not doing so, writes Karl Cushing.
The council uses the software to analyse its data and then carries out targeted mailshots to make sure people know about the types of benefit they could be claiming. BI software is also used to measure the change in benefit take-up periodically. Over the past four years, Newham has increased the amount of benefit delivered to citizens by £2m, and continues to add £500,000 per year.
Geoff Connell, the council's development services manager, says the BI initiative is part of a four-year drive, based on a data warehouse project, to move information away from the IT department and into the hands of end users. "It is effectively about getting better and more timely information to the end users to allow them to make better decisions," says Connell.
The BI software is being used by several departments. The regeneration services department is using it to analyse the cost impact to the borough of building roads along different routes by looking at a number of "what if" scenarios. The council's WarmZone project, which aims to identify members of the community who are entitled to a heating grant, is also using BI to sift through information in the data warehouse.
Another key area where BI is helping the borough to achieve its goals is through improved customer service. The council is using the BI software in conjunction with its customer relationship management system to monitor and analyse the way customers use its call centre and other local services centres.
This information is helping the borough to establish the shift requirements of personnel, resourcing needs and the best opening hours of the centres. Originally, the council had intended to permanently lengthen opening hours to include evenings, but when it looked at the timing and number of visits it became apparent that this was not where the core demand was.
The BI software, from Business Objects, is also supporting the drive towards self-service. While the council recognises that improving service levels and increasing choice are important drivers, the key objective here is to reduce costs. Whereas person-to-person meetings cost from £15, the equivalent interaction on the telephone costs £2 and self-service using the Internet just 10p.
"It is all about trying to migrate users away from the expensive type of channel to the cheaper type, while all the time maintaining choices," says Connell. All of these initiatives should result in major cost savings for the council, although the figures are hard to quantify. As Connell asks, "What's the value of a better decision?"