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Interview: Business Intelligence in the public sector

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Passionned Group is a leading analyst and consultancy firm specialized in Business Analytics and Business Intelligence. Our passionate advisors assist many organizations in selecting the best Business Analytics Software and applications. Every two years we organize the election of the smartest company.

Who are you?

I am Daan van Beek of the Passionned Group. Our job is helping people to work smarter. It starts with people, with the human side of Business Intelligence and organizational renewal. To put it better, it means that the organization must have a certain ambition, you must want to go somewhere and creating that is perhaps the most difficult thing in our profession, you have to start things going and teach people to start things going.

What is Business Intelligence?

Business Intelligence: there are many definitions, on the one hand, we have to deal with the collection of all kinds of data from systems and linking this together and ensuring that it ends up in a report. However, in our vision, Business Intelligence goes one step further and then it is particularly about what you are going to do now with that management information and what can you do with it?

People do not automatically do something with that information, they need to be stimulated, and perhaps they also need to be taught how to do it. Learning to deal with that information and then how to discuss those figures together but also how to be able to interpret the figures. It is also about being able to analyze those figures and consider the background of the information. Sharing information with colleagues and with that ultimately to take part in decision-making.

So then information actually has much more value than it seems at first sight?

Yes, information may in itself already provide a lot of insight when it refers to a specific area in the organization or discipline. However, Business Intelligence is mainly intended to bring together all the different disciplines within the organization, thus providing a comprehensive insight into the overall performance of the organization.

You have recently done research on critical success factors in Business Intelligence, which kind of research was done and what are the main conclusions resulting from it?

We examined the intelligence of organizations both in business and in Government. In doing so, we set a limit of 250 employees or more, because that is where the problems become more complex, when it comes to collaboration, integration and unifying the organization. So we focused on that group and we have taken a sample of about 10 to 12 % of them. We presented questionnaires to them and we asked what the situation is now, do you have key performance indicators, do you have one version of the truth, do you do something with that information etc.?

There was a response to those questionnaires, a fairly large response. Around 390 organizations participated in this study, so that is quite representative too. A number of things emerged that have caused quite a stir in the market.

What sort of things have emerged that have caused a stir?

The organizations in the study all use Business Intelligence in one way or another and by that I do not mean one specific solution for it, but I mean that they use information in one way or another in the form of reporting or creating dashboards to see how things are. Some are more successful than others; we can also see that in the research. When it comes to organization-wide Business Intelligence, we see a success rate of 6.6%, which is actually quite low.

Why is this?

That could be because organizations too often think that Business Intelligence and performance management is a cure-all, while it is a very complex subject. This is mainly because Business Intelligence turns an organization upside down. You will no longer manage through departments and discipline, but rather you will manage based on processes and chains. So that means, there you have it, get on with it. Then you are talking about being able to stop arguing about definitions. We were once at a Municipality that had around seven definitions of sick leave and it wasn’t even a large Municipality. Well that kind of thing, that there should be clarity in the business operations, in the definitions, that is trying to get everyone to agree. That is a very complicated process.

Could you detect any differences between Government and business when you looked at the results of the study?

It is interesting to see that in the research we have done in both the business and public sectors, so not only Government, but public sector and that includes education and health care, we do see a number of differences. One of those things, for example, is encouraging a focus on performance. In the business sector that hardly seems to be a critical success factor, however, we see that it almost is number 1 in the Government. There you can certainly see differences between business and the Government. I think that the business community is already so saturated with managing on targets and performance related-pay, that it is therefore no longer a critical factor. That is the same as a key performance indicator that is always at 100%; then it is no longer a key performance indicator. However, encouraging the focus on performance is very important within the public sector.

If I establish Business Intelligence effectively in my organization, what benefits can then be achieved?

There are many, I will name some. In any case you get a better insight into how things work and thus the opportunity to improve things. Down to the level of the smallest detail. If your organization has faster and better information, it can therefore make faster changes. You can respond faster, anticipate better, perhaps also look some way into the future and possibly make some predictions. I think another advantage is that you are all discussing the same things together, about the same sick leave, for example; or about the same definition when it comes to backlogs of work or customer satisfaction or profitability.

On what do you focus Business Intelligence?

In the public sector, we see that it can actually be established very easily. Companies have to manage on profit and turnover, the economic things. In the public sector, you should manage a lot more on customer focus and customer satisfaction and ensure that you as the public sector make yourself as serviceable as possible, in order to help the customer as well as you can. That means designing your organization efficiently and effectively and working efficiently and effectively. You can only see that properly and thus improve it if you are getting insight into your performance as a Government organization.

Does technology play a role there?

I think so, IT always plays a role. Only this role is often overestimated in our view. Like water in the human body, we are 70% water and maybe you can also say that about organizations, nowadays they consist of 70% technology and everything associated with it, but it is not critical to the achievement of a good career, for example, all kinds of soft factors are important there. For example, having a good network, a good education, learning from your mistakes and those kinds of soft factors. If you look at Business Intelligence in organizations, then the technology part is important, but it is not critical to the success and that is a difference.

What is critical for success in order to do well as a municipality or a government organization?

One of the most important factors is that management information is used for analysis and action. Behind it is actually a so-called analytical corporate culture, a culture in which people talk about the figures together, interpret the figures, analyze the figures, to all make an effort together and ensure we can also take action. That is the one thing … that is the most important thing for both businesses and governments. Second is that we discuss the positive and negative results with each other. So not only positive, not only pats on the shoulder. Not just destructively criticising and firing people. No, simply seeking improvement of the possible result in a very positive atmosphere. I should mention one more thing, which concerns the adjustment and evaluation of standards and targets. I think that is particularly important within Government, in which you obviously have a political cycle that is often revised every four years. It is very important to take the temperature of the organization more often and that of the citizens and the companies. We should ask where we are now, where do we want to go and how big is the gap between those two.

Does it also provide a quick financial gain if I make such an investment?

Is very difficult to calculate whether Business Intelligence yields a quick return. We asked about this in the study, in the perception of those who completed it. Yes, that link can certainly be made. If we look at, for example, at the UWV (Employment Insurance Agency) objection and appeal process, they managed to reduce the backlog of work by 50%, in the space of 4-5 months. You can of course translate this directly into money.

Do you have any tips for municipalities and organizations with which they can take the next step?

I can think of a few, one is; do not start with purchasing Business Intelligence tools. We quite often see the idea within the Government, but also in business, of ‘we will obtain a solution’, several hundreds of thousands of euros are spent on this, and they have no idea what they want to do with it. So that goes through a tender process in the Government and then there is already two, three hundred thousand ‘down the drain’. You must first know: ‘what do I want to do with BI?’, ‘what do I want to use it for?’, I think that is the most important thing.

You will have to search for space in your organization for this with the management and with the employees to see what that space consists of. Because not everyone wants an organization-wide BI solution at once. Maybe you should first start with one service or one department, but thinking about it as part of the larger concept.

So do not start too big but simply define your questions well, while at the same time already having greater ambitions for what follows afterwards?

Yes, that is right, we have look closely at the big picture of Business Intelligence and there especially is a very big challenge in order to be able to sell it. I sometimes speak about BI not in the sense of a technology, a concept or a solution, but as a belief. Because BI is something that requires huge perseverance when it comes to creating, using and applying uniform, clear information across the organization.

Another example I would like to mention here too, when it comes to the application of BI. Currently it is very popular to measure safety and crime – the counterpart of safety. Business Intelligence is there in many areas, operationally as well as tactically and strategically, it is an excellent tool for this. Operationally you have to think of police officers and detective staff walking in the neighbourhood and get an alert saying, it could very well be that at that location there is a hemp plantation and then they can therefore take immediate action. By using a smartphone, they immediately see the location, all integrated management information from different services at that location, so who lives there, who does the house belong to, what is the history, what is the context of the environment etc. So all the management information comes together through BI and that can mean huge gains.

I think an important focal point in the near future is going to be the use of the same information right across governments. Then you are not actually talking about Business Intelligence but are you talking about Country Intelligence, if I may use the English term. So how great it would be if the Prime Minister or the cabinet simply has a dashboard on which he can see how the country, how Netherlands Ltd is performing, where there are opportunities for improvement. That immediately indicates that if Business Intelligence wants to be successful, the information used must be in line with the strategy and therefore the decision-making must also be in the line, in the hierarchy of the organization.

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