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Sooraj Shah

Contributing Editor

Sooraj Shah is Contributing Editor of New Statesman Tech with a focus on C-level IT leader interviews. He is also a freelance technology journalist.

IT Leaders: Wolverhampton Council IT chief Andy Hoare on better outcomes for citizens

Like many councils in the UK, Wolverhampton is embarking on a digital transformation programme.

The man focused on delivering the programme is the council’s head of IT Andy Hoare, who explains that he sees it as an opportunity to deliver services in a different way, increasing efficiency and delivering better outcomes for citizens, all while managing a tighter budget.

The citizen – or end customer – is the key focus, and Hoare has been busy ensuring that Wolverhampton Council has the right technology platforms in place to support the digital transformation programme.

His team has split the programme into three streams: putting digital services online, improving data usage, and delivering business intelligence in a better way.

For the first, Wolverhampton Council has created an account portal where citizens can sign up and get access to digital services. Currently there are only a few services available but Hoare believes this will ramp up significantly.

On the data side, the council is using Microsoft Dynamics as its customer data platform. This supports its customer contact centre with relevant information.

“It allows us to capture all of the information in one place, where it can be updated and be fed back into the system,” says Hoare.

But data itself needs to be better utilised, he states, and an existing issue is with the quality of data that the council is using.

“It isn’t as whole or as good as it could be – so the data of ‘John Smith’ is replicated in a lot of systems, and this needs to be matched accordingly. Once we do that, we will know more about ‘John Smith’ and we can use that data properly and hook it into our back office systems – and ultimately give our citizens better services by having a single view of them,” Hoare explains.

Business intelligence for everyone

Wolverhampton Council is also striving to improve the way it serves information to decision makers within the council.

“We have a lot of information but we had to ask ourselves whether we really consolidated that and presented it in a way that [all decision makers] understood,” he says.

The council already had reporting tools including SAP Business Objects and SQL but it was looking for a strategic platform that didn’t require the high-level of technical know-how to use, but with the same level of important information at hand.

“The ambition was to deliver the insight to decision makers but also enable them to use the tools,” says Hoare.

“So we’re talking about end users that aren’t as technically proficient as those using SQL or BusinessObjects – but we wanted them to use a reporting tool to gain better insights. So it was an end-user driven requirement as to why we wanted something different, but we also wanted to scale the solution up so that it was available to a wider number of people,” he states.

As Wolverhampton Council is a Microsoft house, it considered Power BI but Hoare says that the product wasn’t as mature as the Qlik business intelligence platform – while Tableau was also considered but because Qlik had a small footprint in the council’s HR team at the time, it had the edge.

The Qlik platform was initially used to produce a number of dashboards around its ERP product, which contains finance, HR and payroll information. The scalability of the platform meant that its finance dashboards could be used by over 200 budget managers, and its HR dashboards could be used by over 600 managers at the council.

The ambition, Hoare states, is to be able to go up from dashboards to predictive analytics.

“That’s where we see the greatest value that we will be able to use information,” he says.

He suggests early intervention with children put into care is one of the areas where predictive analytics could help.

“You have to ask what it means for the family, and ultimately what do early interventions mean for costs in the long-term; we may have to spend a bit more upfront but will earlier intervention mean less costly interventions in the long-term?”

For Hoare, like many other IT leaders, the transformation programme is about the customer experience, not the technology.

“There is a lot of technology involved, which is important, but the root and cause of the transformation is to look at the way we deliver services,” he says.