How City Authorities Are Building Intelligent Services Through Data


The increase in data within our cities is leading to new opportunities for decision makers to provide citizens with efficient, personalised and intelligent services. Jon Robertson, Delivery Lead for Tombolo and City Data Projects, examines the current initiatives authorities are running and possibilities for intelligent councils in using City Data.

I’m optimistic.

I’ve had great conversations with data professionals in city authorities over the past few months and capability is maturing in intelligence-savvy authorities. We hosted an event at Future Cities Catapult this October and the range of opportunities highlighted by our speakers was phenomenal. We’re coming through the trough of data disillusionment and the sweet benefits of data-based decisions are within our grasp. The path to reaching these benefits is becoming clearer.

It’s a city authority’s responsibility to push boundaries through innovation and to build more intelligent services. The benefits of these services are threefold:

Benefits to city authorities

In the form of service improvements, higher revenues, and cost savings that arise from running more intelligent front and back office services powered by data analytics.

London Borough of Newham’s ‘Data Warehouse and Business Intelligence Programme’ started in 2016. It was launched to improve data warehousing capability at the council. By bringing together data from across the authority into one place the warehouse enables predictive analytics – analytics that can help city authorities maximise their resources. Newham reported that they’ve saved or generated £1.2m in the first year of their programme – key benefit areas for predictive analytics have been in fraud detection, landlord licensing charges, and triage within Children and Young Persons Services.

Benefits to citizens

An integrated view of the citizen across the council enables personalisation of services. Authorities can challenge their ‘reactive’ service delivery model by using things like predictive analytics to guess when things might fail and act before they do.

London Borough of Hackney are currently trialling data science in their organisation. The potential benefits the citizen sees in customer experience looks promising! Tom Harrison, Digital Transformation Manager in Hackney’s Housing directorate, recently wrote about their Housing Arrears data science project. Authorities currently take a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to collecting rent arrears with a heavy reliance on workflow that dictates how staff and automated notices respond. But intelligent authorities now envisage that the future is one where service delivery is more measured and personalised to the citizen.

Take, for example, Jane Doe. She usually pays her rent on time but always seems to fall into arrears at the same time each year. Despite falling into arrears, Jane usually pays her rent back within a fortnight. A lot of us know how stressful getting into debt can be. A rush of cortisol and adrenaline hits our system as we read a dreaded letter from our creditors. Ultimately, effecting our wellbeing.  Despite this, a city still needs to collect it’s rent on time or it can’t pay its staff and bills.

Advances in data science and customer service systems means that an authority may soon have a choice in how they respond at this point. They’ll ask themselves, “do we continue with a ‘one size fits all’ approach and send Jane a standard automated reminder or do we tailor the response and language we use to her circumstances given what we can assume through the data we hold?” This is a very exciting proposition that may well change how an authority views its customers and how it interacts with them.

The public sector, like the private sector, has cut back on personalised front-line service for years. Local officers have been replaced by call centres and call centres replaced by automated customer management systems. It’s now time to begin considering how empathy can be introduced into automated customer service management. And that begins by better understanding your citizens through data.

In September 2017, the Open Data Institute launched a fund designed to advance research and development in the area of data-driven service delivery. I cannot wait to hear some of the outcomes in early 2018.

Benefits to wider economic and social stakeholders

Opening or sharing data means more opportunities to unlock new services with local partners, including other city authorities, business and academic institutions.

One of the more prominent UK-based initiatives to try and advance data sharing across administrative boundaries in cities is the London Office of Data Analytics (LODA) initiative. GLANesta and ASI are leading the project and it is using data to address the urban challenges shared across administrative boundaries. The project began in April 2016 with aims to test the policy or service impact of data science, develop data sharing protocols across London, develop a culture of data sharing within London and to drive collective innovation in public service delivery.

The vision and aims are admirable. It’s a genuine pathfinder project that’s working through very real challenges in applying data science in and data sharing between city authorities. It hints to a future whereby authorities can unlock insights across boundaries and share information and know-how. For example, how to identify and tackle very real problems such as unlicensed Homes of Multiple Occupancy – a use case for the project.

If city authorities can crack data sharing amongst themselves then sharing across other public and private sector organisations to enhance service delivery is just a short hop away.

These case studies are good examples of the possibilities for intelligent councils in using City Data. But the challenges remain real; data, technology and people will always provide constraints. We will be posting on the current challenges in City Data in a future blog. Watch this space!

Learn about the Tombolo project.

Follow Jon on Twitter or connect on Linkedin.

First Published on Future Cities Catapult Website.

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