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Leicestershire County Council is using data visualisation tools from Tableau to improve its services.

Leicestershire County Council is using data visualisation tools from Tableau to improve its services.

Like other county councils, Leicestershire must rationalise for the looming 30 percent cut to its budget, but continue to provide reliable public services.

As part of this, it is encouraging all departments to analyse their data using Tableau, to see where they can improve customer service with the existing budget.

Robert Radburn, the council’s research and insight team leader said: “Most county councils are facing real, unprecedented financial constraints and losing 30 percent of their budgets, which for Leicestershire is a funding gap of £100 million. You cannot sort that by salami slicing budgets anymore.

“In the past we didn’t have to rely on business intelligence to make our decisions but now we do. Public sector is playing catch up with the private sector.”

Radburn previously worked as a visualisation researcher for the giCentre at City University. He uses Tableau to visualise the council’s various datasets.

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“Our data is complex; we provide a lot of services from museums to children’s care to potholes. We were using Excel spreadsheets which were great, but it is slow and does not have the collaborative feel. It’s difficult to sit around an Excel spreadsheet and get excited,” he said.

Value of data mapping

The council collects data on most services for regulatory reasons, but analysis to improve customer service was limited before bringing data mapping in. "We are changing business culture, and how much people value the data," Radburn added.

With an IT department that Radburn described as “cut to the bone”, the council relies on third-party Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for support, which means the insight team have been left to support the software themselves. Often, Radburn said, it can be difficult to get a connection to the data warehouse to feed figures into the Tableau dashboards due to trust issues with data security.

Despite this, and pressure on maintaining services while driving down costs, Radburn’s insight team of four is playing a larger role than before.

This is a trend that filters across to the private sector. A study found that business groups in a growing number of companies appear to be ploughing ahead on data analytics projects with little input or help from their own IT organisations.

Mapping potholes

Radburn’s team visits council service departments to discuss data collection and encourage them to begin using Tableau to spot trends and predict costly problems. One example is its progress with mapping potholes.

Customers ringing to complain about potholes will have their GPS coordinates mapped. The council can then decide to deploy its maintenance team to target as many gulley problems (water in the ground causing holes) in one go, saving energy and staff resources.

Improved social care

One area that has softer economic returns but Radburn said was the most “successful area where Tableau is working” is within the council’s social care department.

“Social workers have seen a lot of things I haven’t seen – there are a lot of weary people there. I go to their office and I say ‘I’m going to talk about performance’ and they sigh. But once they see the data, and even though it is pixels on screens, we start to see that a dot on the screen is a child.”

The council now maps Ofsted data or adoption rates so that social workers can effectively serve the area’s specific needs.

“It’s not big data – I’m not linking to Hadoop clusters. It’s things like data on adoptions for social workers, and all I’m doing is showing them a different view,” said Radburn.

“It is really, really simple and it starts conversations which improve our service.”