June 20, 2018
By Peter Tolland
Original Article in GovTech Leaders
Often, government organisations think of their Master Data Management (MDM) solution as a business tool—which it absolutely is. MDM can help state and local governments increase efficiency, optimise cost savings, and streamline processes. But there is another, equally valuable benefit to MDM that might often go overlooked within the organisation—the direct benefit to end users (in this case, citizens). While the business value of MDM is important, if the members of the public aren’t seeing a difference in the quality or experience of the services they’re receiving, has the product really been effective?
Creating a different type of citizen experience
For example, last year North Lanarkshire Council in Glasgow, Scotland, signed on with MDM solutions provider VisionWare to help the Council streamline its Citizen Portal system.
The Citizen Portal is an online service in which citizens of North Lanarkshire can sign in to access a variety of tasks and services, from having a pet microchipped to learning the recycling schedule in their neighbourhood, to arranging repairs on their home or accessing council data. Prior to the Citizen Portal going live in March 2017, there was a very disconnected online presence. Citizens had the ability to conduct their business online, but tasks were disjointed and difficult to find or access, and often required that they sign in multiple times to access various departments and services. We spoke to our citizens and the feedback we received was that they wanted to be able to get in, get what they wanted, and get out quickly again—so we knew we needed a way to clean up and condense the data on the back-end, to simplify and improve the front-end user experience.
Invisible technology for a noticeable difference
In order for our citizens to conduct their business and access the Portal quickly, we need to know who they are. In the past, our citizens might have certain pieces of information about themselves within each separate department or system. With the information fragmented across different back-office systems, we’d struggle to get the necessary information to allow them to access what they were looking for, and often, the interaction would lead to a cumbersome experience or a phone call or face-to-face visit in the end anyway.
Now, an MDM system sits at the heart of our Portal, creating one “golden record” of each citizen, generated from the disparate information we have in our separate systems. The effect is that now, when the citizen logs on, that information can be called forth only one time, instantly. This gives the citizen access to all the services they need, through only one login.
A streamlined citizen experience
Currently, North Lanarkshire is leading the way in Scotland and across the UK by having such seamless government touchpoint options. Across Scotland, all citizens can chose to have a myaccount online identity, and each government department or service must provide its own separate services within the myaccount platform. But many council areas choose to do this by having separate sign ins—each within myaccount—for every unique department or service. North Lanarkshire stands apart with its master data management solution by simplifying this process for the end user; in December 2017, we won a Verint EMEA Digital Engagement Award for this innovative thinking on the Customer Portal project.
Feedback from our citizens has been very favourable. They love the ability to change their personal details and identifiable information on the system in real-time. With an MDM solution, we can link all our back-end tools together, so that when citizen data—including address information, births and deaths—changes, we know who they are, and we can update their information automatically. In the time that we’ve been using an MDM solution, we’ve gone from having about 7,000 customers who have all of the five standard data elements (first name, last name, address with postal code, gender, and date of birth) listed in our system to about 86,000.
The front-end experience is also very streamlined and clean, without looking cluttered, and is customisable, so that each citizen can see only the information they want at any given time. This minimises the amount of time it takes them to complete their business. We also have a feedback form on the Portal, and we reply individually to anyone who gets in touch with us, which has yielded valuable insights and feedback into what the citizens are looking for along the way.
As we move forward, my hope is that there will be more and more councils adopting this robust, data-driven approach.
North Lanarkshire looks to the future with AI
Speaking of moving forward, we’re also working with partners on the development of an artificial intelligence chat bot for our Portal. This feature will allow our citizens to have access to interactive services and information 24/7, 365 days a year. Importantly, it will also free up a lot of our human resources here at North Lanarkshire to focus on other portal priorities and allow us to help answer citizen questions that we might not have otherwise had the bandwidth to address. We’re able to do this because of the high quality of the data in our MDM. We will be teaching the bot like a member of staff, but its ability to learn is directly linked to the meaningful data it has access to. Because of our MDM solution, the chat bot has access to a vast array of accurate citizen data, enabling it to make connections, and thereafter access the back-office systems in order to help with queries and transactions.
We’re also expanding what we can do with data through a recent partnership with the Open Data Institute (ODI) in the UK. As their website notes, the ODI “works with companies and governments to build an open, trustworthy data ecosystem, where people can make better decisions using data and manage any harmful impacts.”
What we’ve done for ODI is develop a toolkit that organisations can use to process, de-identify, and anonymise data sets, thereby automatically creating an open data set. It’s basically the opposite of what we are doing with our own Portal, where we pull disparate information to create one golden identity for each citizen—in this case, we’re stripping the personal identifying information to create open data that anyone can access. The reason why this is so effective at North Lanarkshire is that we have the master data management solution on the back end that allows us to clean and match the data in the first place, so we can easily spot the personal identifying information and take it out. The first area we looked at applying this toolkit to was our local non-domestic business rates service, and in April this year, we won the Transformational Innovation through Data Award at the Scottish Digital Tech awards in Glasgow for that effort. We are now looking at our community grants process, which helps to fund local community groups in activities ranging from supporting young people through sports to days out for the elderly.
The ODI has told us that we’re the first ones to come up with that idea, which they are currently promoting via our marketing partners.
The versatile power of Master Data Management
I think state and local governments have long recognised what a robust master data management solution could provide to their organisation, in terms of the B2B benefits such as efficiency that leads to cost savings. But what makes North Lanarkshire’s approach so different is that we’re equally—if not more—focused on the B2C benefits. We’re asking, “How can a smart business decision also benefit the citizen, in ways they can see and feel every day?”
This is what we believe digital engagement should look like in the future. Whatever is going on “behind the curtain” for citizens—whether that’s text messages or chat bots or government services login platforms—the experience should be seamless. In terms of our access to the clean data we need to make this a reality—although it may be encased in service delivery systems or otherwise not visible to the user—master data management is at the heart of it all. MDM has allowed us to be truly transformational in the way we’re approaching digital evolution, and more importantly, how we’re approaching our citizens.
Peter Tolland is CIO of North Lanarkshire Council.