Citizen revolution: How local councils can use predictive analytics to help citizens

6 October 2015

Andrew Gunn

Andrew Gunn

Consultant

Early intervention prevents misery and saves money

Being able to predict the future would be rather useful.

While it’s certainly not time to completely abandon the crystal ball yet, the growing sophistication of predictive analytics is bringing the future into sharper focus for organisations who recognise that high quality customer/supplier/citizen data is the kingmaker for savings. These techniques can spot connections between vast quantities of data and predict what is likely to happen in different circumstances.

Predictive analytics have a number of unique applications within councils that are slightly different from commercial uses.

Take the situation in the London Borough of Croydon as an example. Just 30 troubled families in the borough account for £3m of council money spending on interventions. So you can just imagine the UK-wide figures. It’s a truly mind-boggling amount, but every council will have a similar list of problem families known to social workers, local police, and other council departments.

So how can the 30 families rack up such a mighty price tag? Imagine the case of Mary. She’s abused by her husband and taken to hospital. As a result, she misses another appointment with the council and her benefits are cut. She takes it out on the kids, who play truant at school and get involved in petty crime.

Regardless of the personal cost, the initial trigger of her husband’s violence (even though it probably wasn’t the first time) has a domino effect on other aspects of her life. 

One of the problems with local government is that its services aren’t joined up.  Yet the actions of one department can have ramifications for other departments in a butterfly effect. With budget cuts rife in councils, this situation is set to worsen. Cutting someone’s benefits, for example, will mean that they may be unable to pay their rent.

But what if councils were able to have all the information about Mary in one place, rather than held in individual department siloes? Then they could see that if one are of her life changes, how it is likely to have a knock-on effect in other areas of her life.

Several Universities in the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ are trialling analytics that can look out for these patterns. So for example, if someone has their benefits or funding cut off, they won’t be able to pay their housing bill or if you know that Mary has borrowed money then it’s an indication that she’s in trouble.

An intervention early on could help prevent the string of events that follow.

It sounds a bit Big Brother, but the benefits in terms of cost savings for the council and hopefully improved outcomes for the trouble families make it worth it.

The spanner in the works is the data protection lobbyists, who see this level of information held about people as too much of a personal intrusion. But to my mind it’s a quid pro quo: if you want councils to provide a fantastic service, then you need to give something back in return.

For me personally, I’d rather that the council could see I was in trouble and offer help rather than struggle on and do something stupid and the council would not delve into information that was truly private.

The tools and technology to predict these outcomes are becoming ever more commonplace, but councils need to know what kind of information about their citizens they need to capture and where do they want to capture it. The technology itself is secondary to that decision.

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About the author

Andrew Gunn

Consultant

Coming from Newcastle my simple analogy to my entire career is to think about the many marvellous bridges across the River Tyne. I have spent over 24 years bridging the gap between client’s business challenges and technology helping my clients spend wisely. I am a highly experienced Digital Transformation evangelist specialising in the field of Information Management using Big Data and Mobile technologies delivered through the Bluefin Solutions Public Sector and Services business unit.

Simply speaking, I work for my clients in local government in either Customer services, Finance, Procurement or HR, helping them to get more value from the right data at the right time. These challenges are not new, they are simply bigger because there is more stuff to process.

I have worked on more than 15 projects in Public sector over the years - ranging from client side digital strategy engagements (£20k+) to forming an integral part of larger teams delivering mega projects (£500m+) for my clients in various roles such as Technical Design Authority, Digital Strategist, Business Architecture Design and Programme Management. A key aspect of my Digital Transformation passion is to ensure that I identify and deliver real transformational led savings with examples ranging from £0.5m to £20m per annum saved across a wide range of organisations.

What frustrates me is that many firms bamboozle their clients with complexity. Often recommending unnecessarily overly engineered solutions costing in excess of £5m. Big data challenges are not new, it’s about the right data at the right time in the right format, managed properly. I believe that working collaboratively with our clients to deliver complex Enterprise Information Management challenges simply is vital to achieving sustainable results. This, rather than doing transformation to our clients, as adopted by certain organisations, is the way I like to work.

Bluefin and SAP S/4HANA - welcome to the one horse race