Council halves red tape with data strategy

Port Stephens Council in NSW has sliced the time taken for simple administrative tasks simply by changing the way it manages data.

Just a few years ago data at Port Stephens Council was heavily segregated, resulting in administrative delays and a lack of collaboration between staff.

Managing development works was a huge administrative challenge, with tasks like issuing planning certificates taking five days.

Looking to unlock new efficiencies and improve the experience of its 70,000 ratepayers, council in 2015 undertook an audit which revealed what had been expected – data that was heavily siloed and poorly shared.

Juan Hernandez, corporate systems and business improvement coordinator at Port Stephens Council told Government News that a lack of collaboration within council meant good data was slipping through the cracks.

“What we realised at that particular juncture is that it wasn’t so much that our corporate systems weren’t performing to the standards they needed to perform but that data was in a very isolated form,” he said.

Fed up with the inefficiencies, council launched a data strategy and took on a new software platform to help connect data and streamline operations.

The platform allowed council to automate work orders and connect, share and use data in transactions with citizens, enabling it to quickly update citizens on service requests.

Optimising planning

Since adopting the new approach, council  has driven time savings of up to half an hour per transaction based on reduced data entry, reduced manual payment, automated acknowledgement and follow-up communication and reduced searching and filing of records.

Council has also reduced the time taken to issue planning certificates to conveyancers from five days to less than one.

The data transformation strategy has sliced council’s administrative burden, resulting in a reduction of double handling of up to 40 per cent.

Previously, issuing planning certificates required requests to be processed by multiple teams over a span of a few days. Now council is able to manage requests in single teams.

Ratepayers are also able to fill out a single online form for development applications which is sent to a central database.

Mr Hernandez says the changes have dramatically transformed the way council uses data and has unlocked new efficiencies.

“We always worked well together but now it’s a much more dynamic collaboration and the information is flowing from one particular organisation to other and equally as important if not more important is that the customer is getting notified and communicated with on the process,” he said.

“(There has been a) dramatic improvement in council operations, with services much more streamlined, and less administrative labor overall,” Mr Hernandez says.

“It’s helping a number of different processes minimise data entry associated from specific transactions.”

Having a plethora of data that is used in isolation is a habit that Mr Hernandez says is not new for  government, and one that more councils need to address.

“It’s quite universal for governments in general,” he said. “It’s about continuously evolving business processes and finding transaction points and where those feed into different parts of the organisation.”

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