Features: June 3rd, 2005

The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing But The Truth

Roy Houston

Definition of Truth: Something factual, obvious fact, something generally believed. Seeking and relaying the truth in today’s ‘open government’ environment is seen as key to promoting fairness and efficiencies. Unfortunately, unravelling the truth appears to be difficult in today’s local and central government office environment, not from it being missing, but more from it being ‘buried’ in the mass of data stored and delivered to officers and members.

I was interested to see an article in some papers that sneaked onto my own desk pile the other day, from a recently produced CD from IDeA called ‘Local e-government NOW 2004’. This is not exactly an up-to-date picture. Although I have other interesting observations about this CD that I won’t mention here, there is an old classic hidden in the papers sent out mentioning ‘Information Management’ and councils’ lack of management of their own information. Definition of Information Management: Knowledge, from gathered facts and controlling your activities or projects successfully using that knowledge. Although the facts abound in councils, this article and others indicate that creating the knowledge to help them operate more efficiently is still elusive.

Getting the big picture out of the detail

Unfortunately these words will not help councils in their drive to improve efficiency. We are going to have to dig deeper to find those nuggets, although the good news is that they are there. When we at Exor were looking at developing a way of enabling councils to use information on the suppliers and service providers, I was told by an officer at a South East England based authority (is that anonymous enough?) that I could not possibly show them where they spent their money, as they had tried themselves and could not produce any useful information. This was just last year and now ‘supplier analysis’ and ‘spend spread’ analysis are some of the key buzz words in the drive for efficiencies within local government. We started producing reports for our local government clients at that time to help them understand who their key suppliers were, to speed up the process of supplier recruitment and development of a fairer use of all those suppliers, especially SMEs and to support Urban Regeneration. We now have another ‘latest’ buzz – the use of SMEs and efficient contracting to produce best value, which will be covered in the next column and in line with the latest ODPM paper ‘Small Business Friendly Concordat – Good Practice Guide’.

Adding value with external information

Back to finding the ‘truth’ in the information and how to obtain this. The principle is very simple and today’s technology sufficiently powerful to help, but obtaining the information and being able to use it are two different things. The simple truth is that it follows the old adage of the ‘devil is in the detail’ and the detail is in councils’ accounting systems. Extracting that detail and measuring it against the outside world environments is a specialised area that requires the use of external information outside of the information systems currently used in councils, although it can be obtained cost effectively. The important yardstick for the use of this information is to ensure that the company used to help get the value out of internal data can provide current measures by using up to date sources and will provide an on-going measurement against market trends. I will leave you with this thought – to manage information properly for driving the organisation forward will require the current spend trends, not something that was done 18 months ago.

So can you have the truth? ……Yes, but……….

Roy Houston is Marketing Director of Exor Management Services. roy.houston@exorgroup.co.uk.