Civica: Public sector IT needs shake-up

The government needs to change its IT culture and focus on smarter use of data if it is to deliver its much-needed cost savings

Without an overhaul of public sector IT, the government will fail to deliver the savings needed, according to a report by Civica.

The report, entitled Enabling a new world of public service delivery, calls for an increase in the “public sector’s data IQ” through better use of data, joining up systems and developing self-service and outcomes-based intervention. 

“Public service providers don’t suffer from a lack of customer data. In fact, they have the opposite – masses of data that is often collected and stored multiple times over,” the report said.

“However, with countless public services relying on multiple systems, there is an imperative to integrate core data – essentially adopting a ‘whole area approach’ – which identifies and avoids overlap between organisations.”

Jackie Walley, head of customers and education support at Denbighshire County Council, said the council has more than 300 active systems and the cost of maintaining them “is not viable”.

“We’re currently collecting data multiple times, but we want to get to a point of collecting data once and then push it out to relevant parties as a service,” said Walley.

The report also calls for public sector organisations to become more “customer-centric” and have a “joined-up approach to procurement”, in line with prime minister David Cameron’s announcement that legislation will be introduced to combine back-office processes, IT and procurement across the police, fire and ambulance services.

In the upcoming spending review, chancellor George Osborne is set to outline a further £20bn of cuts, and reducing spend wherever possible is vital.

The Civica report hails data and technology as the answer, and John Hood, chief technology officer at Civica, argued that public sector organisations need to change the way they work very quickly or face being left behind.

“Urgent attention needs to be applied in the next two to three years, with effort focused on driving the appetite for change amongst public service delivery leaders, particularly when it comes to unlocking the barriers for progressive change, and embracing technology, which moves at breathtaking speed. It’s very easy to get left behind and lose relevance,” he said.

“From a data insight and analytics perspective, the past 10 years have seen public sector organisations progress only 20% of the way through the business transformation journey, with the remaining 80% to be delivered over the next 10 years. For innovation to happen, we need to step out of this era of data blindness.”

As well as improving the way public sector uses data, it also needs to make sure the public is on board with the sharing of information, the report said.  

As shown by the debacle in the NHS – a programme which aims to send anonymised medical data from GPs to a central database in the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) – having the public on board is key. The programme, which was initially set to launch in February 2014, caused uproar from the public and privacy campaigners and is still not live. 

According to the Information Commissioner’s Office, 85% of people are concerned about how their information is shared or sold to other organisations.

Civica, which provides public sector IT services, increased its revenues by 13% to £170.5m in 2014, mainly due to local government sector and business process services.

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