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North Lanarkshire County Council

North Lanarkshire County Council achieve a single customer view by cleaning and merging their contact records

Putting customers first is at the heart of the customer services strategy of Scotland’s fourth largest Council, North Lanarkshire Council. In trying to achieve this vision, improving the quality of their customer contact data was a top priority.

Customers of North Lanarkshire can access information and service quickly and easily, when and where they want, however they chose in a manner that suits their needs.

North Lanarkshire County Council - Customer Services Strategy,

Having a single view of the customer affords significant benefits to local government organisations, including the power to:

• improve the quality of customer records, and deliver joined-up services
• reduce operational costs, and the cost of customer contact
• make it easier for customers to migrate to lower cost channels, including online
• protect their reputation in the eyes of the public, removing the need to ask a customer to repeat details already known about them, and reducing the potential embarrassment - and distress to families - by contacting customers after they have died
• increase revenues & benefit take-up
• generate more income; and
• run more effective marketing campaigns.

The Challenge

Putting customers at the heart of service delivery is a cornerstone of the customer services strategy of Scotland’s fourth largest Council, North Lanarkshire Council. Serving a population of over 326,000, this commitment is reflected in the Council’s vision:

Bottom Line Benefits

• 24% - improvement in quality of Council Tax records
• 21% - improvement in quality of Housing Benefit records
• 6 weeks – time taken for the automated data quality exercise to complete, compared to around 52 weeks if exercise run manually
• 1 x FTE – staff savings freed up for release into front line service delivery

In trying to achieve this mission, North Lanarkshire Council shares a challenge common to most, if not all, UK local authorities. The delivery of over 800 services to its customers involves the Council operating and supporting multiple computer systems and databases holding a vast number of customer records. Many of these records are subject to a significant amount of change arising from changes in circumstances such as births and deaths, marriages and divorces, address changes and new build developments. Keeping on top of the changes can present a costly administrative burden and overhead, yet for the effective delivery of services and entitlements to customers, the quality and integrity of customer records is an important dimension to their role as a public service provider. In short, this means that the Council needs to know who its customers are, where they live and to keep track of their relationships within and possibly, also, beyond the Council.

Yet while understanding that a good standard of data quality was required, the Council also recognised that the current situation presented the following challenges:

• back office data designed specifically to meet local needs
• back office systems that contained data with keying errors, omissions and sometimes data held in the wrong fields
• no practical way of cross referencing the same customers across multiple databases
• services not having the resources to clean their own data to the necessary level for use across the Council
• no unique identifier for the customer.

The Solution

In partnership with Experian Data Quality and the Improvement Service, North Lanarkshire Council ran a successful customer data cleansing and matching exercise.
Using the Experian Data Quality data cleansing and de-duplication tools, the exercise analysed thousands of customer records held across a number of the multiple systems and databases operated across the Council.

‘Customers of North Lanarkshire can access information and service quickly and easily, when and where they want, however they chose in a manner that suits their needs.’
North Lanarkshire Council, Customer Services Strategy

The Customer First Advantage

In the new spending context for local government, the Customer First programme helps councils to deliver:

  • Better quality public services through improved collaboration and learning
  • Faster response by delivering “first time” public services
  • Enhanced credibility improving perceptions of local government
  • Lower costs by delivering public services more efficiently
  • Wider coverage ensuring people receive the services they’re entitled to
  • A discovery phase to understand North Lanarkshire Council’s distinct needs and context
  • A scoping phase to identify clearly the statement of works, the data sets on which to focus attention during the fieldwork phase, and roles and responsibilities
  • A fieldwork phase centred around data integration and quality
  • Importing and exporting customer data sets including, for example, Libraries, Housing Benefits and Council Tax; formatting the data into a common standard, a particular challenge given the lack of standardisation due to historical and other factors
  • Correcting and improving data e.g. adding missing elements, spelling errors, re-coding postcodes, adding valuable demographic and geographic information to records
  • Merging duplicates and assigning unique IDs – a single customer view and deploying these to operational systems.

North Lanarkshire Council followed a five-step process during the fieldwork phase:

• Stage 1: Identify data sets to be cleansed;
• Stage 2: Cleanse and append date of birth;
• Stage 3: Add any address changes;
• Stage 4: Identify and remove duplicate records;
• Stage 5: Build new customer record.

The exercise was well scoped out and as a result delivered some impressive results in the process.

The Results

The Experian Data Quality, Improvement Service and North Lanarkshire Council exercise emerged with some early wins. First, Council Tax record quality increased by almost a quarter (24%), from 73.9% to 97.8%, while the quality of Housing Benefit records increased by over a fifth (almost 21%) from 78.1% to 98.6%.

Second, the exercise resulted in the creation of a ‘single customer view’ across several key data sets used by the Council to deliver vital public services. Using our data cleansing tools, the data matching and cleansing exercise involved around six weeks of effort to complete, significantly shorter timeframes than those typically experienced by the Council when processing and validating records manually.

The Council estimates it would have taken one full time member of staff working over a 12 month period to achieve the same results using manual processes. The exercise demonstrated the real potential to divert savings into supporting front line services from the shorter times taken to improve the quality of the data, and from the reduced staff effort it involved. To further enhance the project the Council deployed indexing tools provided by VisionWare and as a result the Council’s back-office systems are now benefiting from having an accurate - and definitive – views of the customer.

Learning Points

Some useful learning points emerged from the exercise. The Council concluded that manually cleansing back office systems would take too long, and that automation is the only viable option. However, the Council also concluded that automation does need to be used with a degree of care. For example, some date of birth information provided from external sources was less complete than records already held by the Council.

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