County Council aims to collect customer data once for repeated re-use for range of services
Denbighshire County Council has launched a project to collect data on its customers once and make it available as a service to its departments to prevent duplication of effort in the processes.
Jackie Walley (pictured), head of customer and education support at Denbighshire, said the move is being made as the cost of the maintaining its 300 plus active systems is not viable.
The council is building a repository for the data with software supplier Civica connected to its Citizen Service Portal. Full details of the project are still to be worked out, but Denbighshire is hopeful that it will pay for itself within two years and provide a range of operational benefits and efficiencies into the long term.
Walley told UKAuthority that it is an element of three interlinked programmes for the council’s digitisation of services: getting itself ready, getting customers ready and making better use of its data.
“Instead of collecting the data multiple times we want to collect it once and use it multiple times,” she said.
“The immediate reaction I came across was that we can’t do it because of data protection. But what we’re saying is we can do it, we’ve just got to have the right authority in place.
“It’s also selling it to our customers that we want their permission to use the data multiple times within the local authority under the restraints of the organisation.”
She said this involves emphasising the benefits to customers, such as helping them to reduce their energy bills, in contrast to the perception that some have about data sharing being used mainly to identify benefit cheats and chase debts. But she acknowledged that it could still be used for such purposes.
Denbighshire is implementing the project incrementally, with Walley’s own department leading the way in collecting data through the customer portal while asking for the appropriate permission to share. There are plans for Denbighshire’s Streetscene service – for reporting environmental problems – to follow by the end of the year, followed by transport, education admissions and complaints. Walley is also working with other heads of service to establish if there is a strong business case for their involvement.
“It’s early days and we have to make sure there is security around access and of the integrity of the data,” she said.
The data held in the repository is expected to be relevant to more than 80% of council services.
Looking for blueprint
“We’re looking at what, in an ideal world, the blueprint for a file layout should look like for the information we need from a customer that will tick the box for as many services as possible,” Walley said. “It would cover all the different fields required for the majority of services.
“Then we may decide to bring on services depending on which would give us the data for the majority of those fields.”
“We could also – and we’re not certain about this yet – look at what information is missing and go out to proactively collect it. We don’t yet know which approach is going to be the most effective.”
The council is anticipating that it will take two to three years to fully implement the plan, and emphasising the customer consent element by talking of its services going ‘digital by choice’, rather than the government’s preferred phrase of ‘ digital by default’.
'New world' report
Walley was speaking about the plan as part of the launch of a new report from Civica, Enabling a new world of public service delivery, and said it aligned with one its key points around the need for organisations to “increase their data IQ”.
This involves breaking down the boundaries between their systems and making more intelligent use of the data to join up services. An important element of this is gaining permission to share the data, breaking down public misgivings and providing more information on how it is being used.
The report – which says public sector organisations have so far made only about 20% of the progress in their transformation – urges them to respond to the increase in online self-service and place a greater emphasis on outcomes based interventions.