Local authorities in the UK dance to the tune of many key performance indicators (KPIs). In England, for example, the Government’s national indicator set (NIS) is used to track the performance of local councils against nearly 200 KPIs measuring citizens' views on the quality of various services. A similar system of statutory performance indicators is used in Scotland.
The burden of manually collecting all of that KPI data from scattered spreadsheets has become too much to bear for some councils, which are looking to address the problem with corporate performance management (CPM) software and systems.
That’s the case at North Lanarkshire Council, the fourth-largest local authority in Scotland. Charles McCabe, the council’s service improvement officer, said North Lanarkshire officials wanted to use real-time data to make decisions about government services. But, he added, in actual practice, KPI data “was generally looked at quarter by quarter and was about three months out of date by the time the people making the decisions were seeing it.”
Two years ago, the council began implementing a CPM system built around technology developed by Helsinki-based QPR Software. The QPR ScoreCard software, which is sold in the UK by IT services firm CACI, “lets us see in traffic light colours how we’re doing,” McCabe said. “That is a major step forward, being able to visualise [the performance data].”
KPI measurements can also be viewed on a more timely basis in the new CPM system, which has already helped North Lanarkshire to improve its services performance on particular metrics. McCabe noted that the council previously ranked in the bottom 25% among Scotland’s local authorities on some statutory performance indicators. For example, councils are supposed to turn around invoices within 30 calendar days, "and we were very poor at that," he said.
However, it created a new KPI in the CPM system that measures on a week-by-week basis how many invoices are being processed within the desired 30-day window. Each manager can see how his or her unit is performing on invoices, said McCabe, who added that North Lanarkshire is now in the top quarter of councils on invoice turnaround.
CPM software’s dual role: performance and business management
From the start, McCabe also saw wider potential for the CPM software as a business intelligence (BI) tool, and he recruited a nine-member panel made up of performance analysts and service and operations managers to help steer the project. “That was a big selling point for us,” he said of the BI possibilities. “There was a great value in being able to open [the CPM system] up and let managers use it to manage their business.”
After setting up the CPM system, the project team began focusing on identifying key systems with data that could be useful to users tracking the council’s performance – such as its finance and customer relationship management (CRM) applications – and working to move the information across to the CPM system.
That hasn’t been straightforward, however. “The red tape of getting access to the back-end systems was horrendous, and a lot of the systems had sensitive data,” McCabe said. In addition, the council’s IT staff had to write a series of report schedulers to get the data out of the operational systems – a process that took six months to complete.
Northumberland County Council, a new unitary council formed in April 2009, has begun using a CPM application called PerformancePlus Local Authority that was developed by InPhase, a UK-based systems integrator and Microsoft business partner. Tom Gallon, Northumberland County’s performance systems manager, said the council acted to deploy the CPM software after it was criticised in a government review last year for being "a large organisation without a single solution for collecting performance data".
The CPM system’s key benefit, Gallon said, is that it gives council officials "a single version of the truth" for NIS data as well as local KPIs across Northumberland County’s 40 services units. In addition to getting all of the performance data in one place, he said, the system enabled the council to create ‘causal maps’ that show a series of interlinked performance objectives, in order to help officials understand the potential cause and effect of KPI results.
Making CPM software ‘a little smarter’ with added functionality
The Northumberland council now is looking to further leverage its CPM software investment, according to Gallon. For example, he said it has been working to make the system "a little smarter" by setting up automated exception reports so that officials can quickly see performance measures that are doing particularly well or poorly.
The council has also bought a geographic information system (GIS) bolt-on application to enable employees to look at performance data at a sub-county level. Linking to GIS data and being able to break down services performance via maps “would be a big step forward for the authority,” Gallon said.
Gartner analyst Neil Chandler said local authorities are lagging behind corporate users in the UK in deploying CPM software, with only about one-third of local councils having done so thus far, according to Gartner’s estimates.
Local authorities have long embraced the concept of balanced scorecards and performance metrics, Chandler said. What has changed in the CPM software market over the past couple of years, he noted, is the development of CPM suites that integrate performance measurement software with budgeting, planning and forecasting as well as strategic planning tools.
However, Chandler added: “The linking of these disparate process flows is something that is relatively new and as yet not that well adopted by local government.”
He advised that councils that are thinking about launching CPM projects start by setting up a steering committee with representatives from IT and various business functions and giving it responsibility for defining and executing a combined CPM and BI strategy – similar to the approach taken by North Lanarkshire Council on its deployment.
Tracey Caldwell is a freelance writer based in the UK.
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