Council competes for decision excellence

Necessity was the mother of invention at Auckland City Council, where development of a decision support system has landed the council a finalist spot in the Computerworld Excellence Awards.

Necessity was the mother of invention at Auckland City Council, where development of a decision support system has landed the council a finalist spot in the Computerworld Excellence Awards.

ACC is in the running for the "excellence in IT to support decision management" award.

Auckland City Council business analyst Deborah Mann says there was no IT system tailored for decision management support in a public sector environment. “And we have 26 different business units, all in different industries."

Last October ACC implemented the Strategic Measurement System (SMS), developed for the council by SAS Institute. SMS is intended to improve the collating, analysis and reporting of performance results to management. Mann says the key users – the organisation's directors – have seen an improvement in the efficiency and, importantly, the integrity of results reported to them.

One of SMS’s end users, finance and democracy services director David Rankin, says the council’s size and diversity means much performance data is generated. Having access to that data is therefore both good business practice and an audited, statutory requirement for local government, he says. “Until this project the process of reporting on measures was paper-based and time-consuming,” he says.

Another public sector finalist in the awards’ "excellence in IT to support decision management" category is the Land Transport Safety Authority. This is for the LTSA’s crash analysis system (CAS), in existence since 1996 but recently upgraded.

The CAS allows the LTSA, local authorities and engineering contractors to view maps and analyses of traffic, crash, vehicle and victim data. All data is held in an Oracle database, with systems integration and project management being done by Wang.

LTSA says CAS makes for greater understanding of the effectiveness and cost benefit of road safety initiatives, and therefore comprises excellent support for strategic decisions by the LTSA and other bodies. It also believes CAS plays a crucial part in the reduction in the road toll, especially in so-called black spots. A report released in February shows a 29% reduction in such crash sites since 1985, a saving in social costs estimated at $2.4 billion.

The LTSA is now looking at making the system available online, passing on the benefits to a wider group of users.

The final nominee in the category is Ericsson, for the Telecom service level agreement (SLA) extranet.

The extranet collects, collates and displays a variety of weekly and monthly SLA reports from the many systems that run Telecom’s TDMA mobile phone network. (TDMA uses unique time slots for its digital signal as opposed to Telecom's upcoming CDMA system, which codes each digital packet.)

The extranet allows Telecom staff to download data that is no more than 24 hours old; such report processing used to take days. This streamlines decision-making and improves strategic awareness, says Ericsson’s SLA manager for the Telecom account, Pamela Booth.

Booth notes that the extranet has been a success for Ericsson too, and the company plans on replicating the model for other clients. “We’re actually struggling to meet the demand – but it’s a good problem to have."

Another extranet making waves in a different category of the Computerworld Excellence Awards, this time for "excellence in use of IT for customer service", is the system developed by law firm Simpson Grierson.

In conjunction with systems integrator gen-i, Simpson Grierson has created an intranet/extranet employing Filenet’s Panagon content services and web publisher products.

The system improves the service the firm's 240 lawyers can provide to their public and private sector clients, for instance BP, by making it easier for lawyers to attend to documents without recourse to technical staff.

Legal staff can use their normal production software such as Microsoft Word to create content that clients can access, according to IS manager Valerie Fogg. “We’re not selling books or CDs,” she says, “but rather the knowledge of our staff". The system simplifies the processing of highly detailed information, and by making life easier for lawyers it’s simpler for their clients.

Queensbury & Co is an example of the increasing use small New Zealand businesses are making of IT, and of the greater personalisation they can offer in their customer service. The Auckland company, which is also in the running for the customer service award, makes photograph albums for professional photographers worldwide, using a secure website to let clients track the progress of their orders.

Queensbury & Co turns around orders within two to three weeks, and, according to director Stephen Baugh, this union gives his company a great advantage over even overseas competitors. “Our technology and systems, developed in-house, enable us to deal directly worldwide with small business partners as if we are local."

In what may be seen by some as a surprising move, the Department of Work and Income (DWI) has also been nominated for excellence in the use of IT for customer service. But the department – once criticised for apparently holding up student loans and allowances – is determined to put the past behind it, and its IT work has become central to that task.

In tandem with Clear Communications, using Kbase software from Christchurch’s Hindin Communications, the DWI has developed a call centre relationship and escalation management (CCREM) software system. The system, which went live on October 16 of last year, tracks student information during the high-pressure enrolment times, when even the DWI admits the opportunity for error is “enormous”.

The project’s success has been noticeable, and the DWI has even garnered praise from various student associations.

The last finalist in the customer service category is the computerised-clock-based flower auction system from Floramax, a division of auctioneers Turners and Growers.

Unique in Australasia, Floramax’s system is displayed on flower-buyer desks at their premises, allowing buyers to view lot number, price, bidding unit, quantity and flower type. Buyers "stop the clock" at a price acceptable to them.

Turners & Growers says the system is advantageous for customers in that it is a totally unbiased auction system, with none of the potential vagaries of the past. The company also believes buyer/retailers can benefit from the clock system by getting the right flowers in their shops much more efficiently. For growers there’s more competition over a shorter time, and they can more accurately gauge who and where their flowers are going to.

Things are coming up roses, evidently thanks to IT.

“Going, going, gone has definitely gone,” says information chief Keith Jesson. “Clocking on is the path to the future.”

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