Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council (RMBC) places Location-Based
Intelligence at the heart of its e-Government strategy
The UK's e-Government initiative to provide all services online by 2005 is currently a major focus for local authorities and councils. While turning this concept into reality has been fraught with challenges, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council (RMBC) has made significant progress in delivering online services to its citizens by placing location-based solutions at the heart of its IT strategy.
Rotherham's initial e-Government goals were to provide methods of working
that would make it easy for citizens to contact the Council, allowing them
to access services directly. This would include online access where
the boroughs' citizens could find information relevant to their location,
based on a single postcode search. This kind of information would
encompass everything from access to planning regulations through to vital
services such as bin collection times.
Through achieving this high level of information access, RMBC has seen a dramatic cultural change in the way different departments are now working together and sharing core information to deliver better, timelier services.
Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council (RMBC), a 'Beacon' Council serving a population of 248,000 in the North of England, has successfully exploited the potential of GIS for many years and has utilised the benefits of MapInfo Professional, across dozens of departments for functions such as planning, research, statistical analysis and service delivery. These intensive users tended to be GIS experts who typically created and edited data. Their work was and still continues to be shared with other council employees who require 'lighter' functionality for answering the thousands of 'who, what, where' questions that a council deals with on a daily basis.
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Effective though this has been, RMBC's use of GIS still remained largely 'departmental' serving the requirements of individual groups of users 'working in silos'.Little information was shared outside of these departments and consequently it was difficult to reap the advantages that working with one consistent set of data brings, nor was it easy to deal with inquiries both internally and from the public without passing requests from one individual to another and so on.
In order to meet its e-Government objectives an essential task for RMBC therefore has been to ensure that all staff, regardless of location and level of technical ability, were connected to the full range of council information internally. But it also was vital that this information could be shared effectively across the entire organisation.
For Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, the goal of 'joint working' has been made possible with the Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN), derived from Rotherham's Local Land and Property Gazetteer (LLPG). This digital database, maintained using MapInfo's BS7666 toolbox, provides the key to joining up RMBC's services.
"Location-based information is the key to the way a Local Authority works and the LLPG provides the common thread, enabling us to link the many disparate address-holding databases that council employees work with every day, from council tax to social services to education and a multitude of specific departmental data", explains Richard Copley, principal systems analyst (GIS) for RMBC.
"For the first time, we will be able to store a single Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN) in all our address-holding systems. The use of the UPRN as the common search element will enable council employees to retrieve all information held by Rotherham Council on that location instantly. This will not only be more efficient but once completed will also provide a significant time saving on current procedures", he adds.
Currently Rotherham is working hard to make the UPRN an integral part of its entire IT systems and it has already recorded a major achievement in making much of its location-related data available to all internal users cost-effectively via an Intranet based solution called MapKey. This solution was built on MapInfo MapXtreme, an Internet mapping server for enabling the broad deployment of mapping applications.
MapKey empowers the council's 3,000 employees to utilise, via a browser, an easy-to-use secure website to access and share location enabled data. The system, which receives in excess of 600 visits per day, is available from every PC within RMBC and currently makes over 150 different datasets available to everyone within the council - information that hitherto has not been shared.
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Data is stored on central GIS web servers making maintenance, updates and dissemination simple. This includes maps and analysis created in MapInfo Professional, aerial photography and databases of location enabled point information. As more and more address holding databases are integrated with the LLPG so more information can be retrieved that is relevant to a specific location.
The key benefit of this new enterprise wide system was accessibility for all, according to Richard Copley. "MapXtreme has delivered a level of accessibility previously unknown by RMBC. The GIS data held on our Intranet is now available to everyone. A point-and-click format makes it easy-to-use by all our employees, regardless of whether they are power or relatively inexperienced users."
While Rotherham has succeeded both in sharing information internally and making disparate data accessible, it has also done much to improve its services to customers. The principle way in which it has achieved this is through a dedicated contact centre for handling calls from the public. RMBC has also invested in a new, multi-functional website called Rotherham Connect (www.rotherhamconnect.com). Here citizens in the borough can go online to directly access a variety of information including planning, education, housing, local taxes and other address-specific information. Such has been the success of the site that it recently won a prestigious CRM award in the UK.
"We want our customer's contact with us to be a quick and successful experience.We don't want people to be passed from 'pillar to post' in their attempt to find the answer to an inquiry", Copley said."Rotherham Connect provides an interface between us and our customers. Underpinning the delivery of this service is the high quality spatial information, which already exists in our Council departments."
While RMBC still has some of its original 'joined-up government' goals to attain, it has demonstrated that for any local authority e-Government project to succeed, location enablement is a key factor. Equally important however has been the cultural change that the process has driven within RMBC."There is a new openness and understanding of the importance of sharing our information and joining up our services", Copley concludes.
About the Author
MapInfo Corporation is a global software company that integrates software, data and services to help customers realise greater value from location-based information and drive more insightful decisions. MapInfo solutions are available in 20 languages through a network of strategic partners and distribution channels in 60 countries.