Customer has clear picture of data thanks to TimeXtender® The challenges facing local councils in the Netherlands are not easy. They find themselves having to deal with upscaling as a result of mergers with neighboring councils, the transfer of tasks from central government, increasing expectations on the part of citizens in relation to online services, and complicated cash flows in the social domain. On top of all that, the financial resources available to local authorities are diminishing. Whereas several years ago policies were aimed at the distribution of extras, now it is more a question of stretching resources as far as possible. This makes it essential that local authorities have a clear picture of their current cash flows.
Despite this, it seems that many councils have only a limited, if any, idea of their current finances. This included the Horst aan de Maas local authority, the largest by area in the province of Limburg. As Rik Miltenburg, BI specialist with the council, explains, “To know how you are performing and what your current expenditure is, you need to be able to see and understand your data. For us, this was difficult. Data is found in various systems and various domains, from Pink to Centric, and from social to geographic domains. We had difficulty accessing this data, never mind being able to combine it or visualize it in dashboards and reports. In 2018, we decided to get on top of this, with the help of an external party.”
From data source to report The Horst aan de Maas local council chose FourPoints as its external partner. Rik Miltenburg continues, “The FourPoints vision very much appealed to us. They offered us a total solution – ‘from source to report’ – which enabled us to do the work ourselves, once it had been implemented. This aspect was particularly important for us. We were not looking for a complicated IT process that would make us dependent on external parties. What we wanted was a pragmatic solution.
Remco van Vliet, Operations Manager at FourPoints, says, “For this type of process involving data automation and data analytics, we always recommend TimeXtender®. TimeXtender® comes with a tool that allows all an organization’s data sources to be consolidated at one location. You can also use TimeXtender® for modeling, cleaning, and creating consistent language between the various systems. This means automating and accelerating the process for making data accessible for analysis. And the great thing about TimeXtender® is that people with no strong IT background are able to use the tool. As a result, organizations retain the flexibility to implement any modifications themselves, to access new data sources, and more.”
Nowadays, the BI environment at the Horst aan de Maas local council consists of a TimeXtender® data warehouse with a test and production environment, linked to Microsoft Power BI for making dashboards, reports, and other visualizations. All the data that concerns the organization in any way – operations, youth care, debt counseling, public spaces – is now consolidated in TimeXtender®. Rik Miltenburg says, “The implementation went without a hitch. During that time, we and FourPoints looked in particular at the overall structure. What roles and responsibilities are there? What is important in terms of the GDPR? We then simply started with the first data source. That’s the great thing about TimeXtender®. You can show results even from day one.”
An example to others The importance of having a clear picture of your data is evident from a recent article in Follow the Money. This Dutch investigative journalism platform sought to gain an idea of the cash flows “from cabinet to child”. It is telling that many local authorities have only a limited idea of their own expenditure – of the 149 that were approached, only seven were able to return a completed dataset. One of these seven was Horst aan de Maas which, according to the article, “sent an (almost) complete dataset within just a few days”, and is “completely on top of its figures” to “prevent it being caught off-guard by unexpected high care costs”. Rik Miltenburg adds, “This is just one example of how TimeXtender® is helping us. Another example involves the ‘Compensatieregeling Voogdij’ (compensation scheme guardianship). Local authorities receive compensation from the central government for the youth care costs they incur for children placed under guardianship. They are given a fixed amount for each child, but any additional costs that arise may be claimed retrospectively from central government. Many local authorities have no clear picture of this information. We have – and that has enabled us to reclaim substantial sums for three years in a row. From that perspective, TimeXtender® has paid for itself in a very short time.”
Ready for changing future Thanks to data automation with TimeXtender®, the Horst aan de Maas local council is more transparent, is able to respond quickly to requests for information, and – perhaps most importantly – can act rapidly to account for budget deficits and prevent them where possible. So is the project now over? “No”, answers Rik Miltenburg. “With data, things are never over. Our council recently announced that it would be entering into a close operational partnership with the Venray local authority. This is certain to have an impact on our data automation strategy. Because we have built strong data foundations with TimeXtender®, the future will mostly be about innovating and adapting to changes inside our organization. A reliable partner, that makes our organization stronger.”