As austerity bites, Wolverhampton Qliks

David Reed, director of research and editor-in-chief, DataIQ

Faced with a squeeze on central government funding and limits on local council tax rises, City of Wolverhampton Council is one of many struggling to meet the demands of its 250,000 citizens, especially given its densely-populated, but less affluent catchment area. Leveraging an existing single citizen view, first built in 2004, as a basis for better business intelligence, it has extended its use of visual analytics solution Qlik. At the same time, it is undertaking a digital transformation in the way those citizens interact with the council and access its services.

“Broadband coverage in Wolverhampton is pretty good and there is an ability to connect homes, but take-up is low compared to the national average,” explained Andy Hoare, head of ICT at the council in an interview with DataIQ. “What we have been seeing in visits to our web sites for a couple of years is growing access via mobile devices, like tablets and smartphones, which is above the national average. That gave us the interesting insight that the people of Wolverhampton are not accessing our services from their homes, they do it while they are out and about.”

Two actions have flowed from this insight. Firstly, there is the need to optimise those services for mobile access. Secondly, there is a need for customer services (as well as councillors and other stakeholders) to have the ability to see how citizens interact across all channels and respond to messages. “We need to create an end-to-end process and give customer services a view of what people are doing if they do not use the call centre. The underpinning of that is data - we have got a huge amount and we needed to bring it together and make better use of it,” said Hoare.

He spent over a year listening to what different members of the 5,000-strong council staff needed as well as evaluating both the existing technology stack, which included Business Objects, SQL and Microsoft Power BI, and potential alternatives. This saw a head-to-head between MS Power BI, Tableau and Qlik, with the latter winning out, not least for its ability to connect to multiple internal and external data sources, including Google Analytics and Facebook. 

“Customer services required a platform that gave them a consolidated view of citizen engagement,” said Hoare. Dashboards now show the department how citizens are interacting across channels, from the call centre to the web site, face-to-face and social media. Councillors also have a dashboard showing how citizens have engaged with communciations and messages they put out.

Although these are just “baby steps”, according to Hoare, from a wait time of seven days for the delivery of business intelligence using its previous solution, City of Wolverhampton Council’s BI team now provides real-time visual analytics to front-line staff and decision-makers. That has provided a strong use case to the council which “was starting from the beginning and was not using data to its full extent,” he said. 

He describes the customer services project, together with a data quality and master data management programme to ensure consolidation of data on individual citizens across systems, as phase 0 to 1 in the transformation. Dashboards have also been built for finance and human resources which show where budgets and resources are being deployed. 

“We needed to bring the team on a journey to the point where they can being to answer questions for themselves,” he said. “That is where we are now as we move into phase 2.” Reporting to external stakeholders, from the media to government, will be a key aspect of this to ensure transparency as well as monitoring public attitudes towards the council. Qlik will be used across this next round of transformational projects. 

One example will be the delivery of social care. Volunteers will form an increasing part of how this is delivered, necessitating a cross-comparison between where those in need of care live and where voluntary support is available. This should sustain support levels while also reducing the number of visits by social workers.

“We have built a blended in-house and external systems integrator team that has data, analytics and reporting skills. My programme has focused on making sure we have the right tools and technology, so if we need to analyse data from any source, we can do it,” said Hoare. 

Having spent the last few months going around the council again to audit its requirements, his business case for phase 2 goes for approval in October. If agreed, it will launch a two-year project covering CRM, digital services, MDM and data quality building on the firm foundations already put in place.

“My job will be secure if it gets agreed,” joked Hoare. “We have done a lot so far and have opened people’s eyes and enhanced the citizen engagement we are getting. With budgets needing to find savings every year, there is still a lot we need to do to enable digital services.”

Knowledge and strategy director, DataIQ
David is developing the framework for soft skills and career development among data and analytics practitioners. He continues to be editor-in-chief and research director for DataIQ.