Data visualisation drives council savings in Islington, Chesterfield

Two English councils have found efficiency gains by deploying data visualisation tools. Islington Borough Council opted for LogiXML, while Chesterfield Council has deployed Intuitive Dashboards.

Two English local authorities have turned to data visualisation software to gain efficiencies against a background of economic austerity. Islington Borough Council and Chesterfield Council have implemented LogiXML and Intuitive Dashboards.

John Galsworthy is head of parking and services for Islington Council. He and his colleagues were aiming to collect parking ticket revenue more efficiently when they went looking for business intelligence (BI) technology last summer. However, the public sector is not a place where data visualization is commonly found, he said, and the private sector is hard to learn from.

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At a corporate council level, Islington runs SAP and IBM technologies, but those systems are centrally managed and Galsworthy and his team found them too unresponsive in terms of reporting. Before the Web-based Logi Info implementation, the council’s street parking system was failing to give an overview of operations or of real-time information, he said. Managers and the traffic wardens on the ground did not have mobile access to information about vehicles.

“We considered all the BI vendors on the Gartner Magic Quadrant for BI and selected LogiXML because it was the simplest to use, was priced right, with the lowest ongoing cost overhead, and it was able give us a level of integration that was better than we needed,” Galsworthy said in a press statement. In an interview he added that the tool’s workflow capability was attractive, and, since the council has 450 staff, using the tool with a user-based pricing model was off-putting. All in the tool has cost £50,000, he confirmed.

Parking fines range from £80 to £130. Previously, “lots of tickets were getting lost,” Galsworthy said, and the council is now getting the income from such “stuck’ tickets -- for example with foreign vehicles.

Parking tickets have to be dealt with within six months. But motorists can kick up a fuss and get matters dragged out so that the fine is cancelled. Logi Info allows Islington to access individual parking tickets, analyze CCTV evidence to judge if complaints are justified, view the history of individual vehicles and drivers, query the system to find addresses for tickets that have none and issue immediate responses, according to Galsworthy. The recent rash of metal theft has added to the problem, Galsworthy said. Motorists can point to the absence of signs, stolen for their scrap value.

Galsworthy and his department can now match the numbers of tickets served and cancellations against specific streets. Cancellations due to missing signs or vandalised lines can be seen quickly and rectified at the root problem. Other streets are “naturally compliant [law abiding],” so there is no point in patrolling them too frequently.

“The dashboards have revealed a drop in productivity after 1 p.m. By tracking staff performance and improving processes productivity across the board increased by 15%,” Galsworthy said. “This, coupled with removing areas of nonproductive effort, meant we could reduce the staffing headcount from 170 to 135 whilst maintaining, or in some cases, increasing output.”

Galsworthy is looking to extend the tool to waste management, where it can be used to maximize the efficiency of rubbish collection.

Chesterfield Borough Council is another English local authority that has turned to a data visualization tool to increase cost efficiencies. Mark Evans, acting deputy chief executive, recounted that the council had “a bespoke performance management system that was about a decade old and had been developed in-house. “It was no longer fit for purpose,” Evans said. The council bought some technology that was “good for the back end,” Performance Plus, from Inphase. But it did not “give the front piece.”

The hiring of a new chief executive, Huw Bowen, triggered the quest for better business intelligence. “He wanted a slicker operation, with a ‘cockpit of the plane’ technology” in place, Evans said.

The Council chose Intuitive Dashboards in the autumn of 2011. Evans stresses that it is still “early days” with the tool. But he is pleased that it provides “good quality, real-time information at your fingertips, at the touch of a button.”

The software is being used by the chief executive, the deputy chief executive, six “heads of service,” such as housing and leisure and three employees in the council’s business transformation unit.

“It gives managers real-time access to performance and financial data,” Evans said. One beneficiary is the council’s leisure centres business, whose managers now get income information that is not one month out of date.

He estimated that, once fully implemented, “the dashboards will save the equivalent of half a person’s time, which can be redeployed on other projects.”

He confirmed that they evaluated two other tools, which he declined to identify, but said that Intuitive Dashboards “came out best in cost and quality.” He said he would recommend the technology to other local authorities, “especially district councils, who have fewer resources than larger authorities.”

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