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N°26  |  May   2008
Experts voice

Business Intelligence, a tool to guarantee successful decentralization
By Yannick Rolland, responsible for Bull’s Business Intelligence (BI) offerings in France

Yannick Rolland, is a graduate of the Audencia business school and holds a Bachelor of arts in Business Administration from Lincoln University. He is responsible for Bull’s Business Intelligence (BI) offerings in France. In his capacity as both a business manager and expert, he supports assignments for large regional authorities and other public sector bodies to implement cross-functional management control solutions and systems to evaluate public policy.


Regional authorities in France are gradually seeing their responsibilities being extended, while in parallel there is an ever growing need for their operations to be transparent and efficient. By enabling data that has previously been held in functional ‘silos’ to be used across the whole organization, today’s BI tools can help identify drivers for efficiency, and provide the statistical information that authorities need for effective decision-making, enhancing their employees’ day-to-day work in the process. Four major initiatives being launched in France are likely to benefit significantly from the introduction of these kinds of tools: the widespread introduction of the RSA1(income support), responsibility of elderly and other dependent people, the management of equipment, and reforms in legal protection for vulnerable adults.

The move towards decentralization – which started in the early 1980s – continues apace, with more and more government responsibilities and budgets being transferred out to the regional authorities. But along with these new responsibilities come ever more demanding requirements for transparency and efficiency in expenditure. So locally-elected representatives and senior administrative officials have an even greater need for tools to help them optimize investments and support their decisions, so that they can justify them, if necessary, in retrospect. Business Intelligence (BI) applications are capable of providing the statistical information required, which is why they could play an increasingly important role in the execution of local government policy over the course of the next few years.

Identifying drivers for efficiency
Even now, the management of the various departments within local authorities is focused largely on day-to-day operations and generally quite isolated. The data produced is rarely shared or cross-referenced to help identify trends or issues that would otherwise be hard to spot ‘with the naked eye’. For example, interest on overdue payments is rarely correlated with rates of absenteeism, because these figures are ‘owned’ by completely different departmental management teams. However, such analysis could enable authorities to identify which departments are under-resourced, and so rectify the situation. As this example shows, deploying a BI system is not just about ruthless cost reduction, but a way of identify drivers for more efficient organizations and funding. Generally speaking, BI systems provide three levels of indicators: operational, aggregate, and strategic, all of them drawn from a single repository built around internal or external data (statistical data gathered, for example, by the French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), or data collated by the National Geographical Institute, the IGN). Depending on the subject and the level of aggregation, the data may be publicly available or restricted only to a certain group of personnel within the authority.

Helping employees work more effectively
Because they can provide a cross-departmental, consolidated and personalized view of information, BI tools can help to support the transition from a working culture based on responsibility for resources – because budgets are being spent in isolation by different departments – to one based on responsibility for results. However, this new approach is by no means driven solely by financial imperatives and the expectations of the electorate: local authority employees themselves can see this as a golden opportunity to enrich their work, and offload the less rewarding tasks where mistakes can often creep in (the painstaking business of creating dashboards, for example) to give them much more time that they can dedicate to data analysis. As a result, BI tools can lighten people’s workload, and make what they do more attractive and inspiring, while at the same time improving the efficiency of service delivery.

This argument is even more compelling in a situation where new requirements are emerging... Over the next few years, regional authorities, and notably all the administrative départements in France, will be faced with a new wave of decentralization initiatives. Echoing the recent transfer of the minimum wage allocation2, the allocation for the dependant3 and administrative responsibility for so-called TOS4 employees , these initiatives will extend regional authorities’ remit and create new business imperatives. More than ever, a global approach to management control will be needed to take on board these new responsibilities and optimize the way they are managed. So the implementation of effective Business Intelligence tools could prove a decisive factor in the success of these programs.

1. Rolling out the new income support program
The first initiative that all départements will have to anticipate is the general introduction of the RSA income support program. This system is undergoing trials until the end of 2008 in 34 authorities, but will then be implemented throughout France. Even if the precise ways of working are still to be determined, it is estimated that it will have an €11 billion impact on the départements. At the time of writing, social security (the RMI, APA and social funding for children in need) already accounts for 50% of regional authority budgets, which is why it is so vital that they are managed with skill and precision. BI tools can be used very effectively in this area, with two goals in mind: on the one hand to achieve better management of budgets and staff assigned to these projects for optimum administrative efficiency, and on the other to measure the impact that expenditure has on the beneficiaries, in order to tailor policies more precisely.

2. Assuming responsibility for the so-called ‘5th risk’
The second major initiative is the transfer of administrative responsibility for what is known in France as the ‘5th risk’: the dependency of vulnerable and handicapped people. Responsibility for providing places in hospitals or senior citizens’ homes is due to transfer to départements in 2009. By then, they will need to be ready to set up dashboards that help them identify available accommodation, to optimize resource allocation and the filling of places in the various establishments. A key feature of BI tools is their capacity to take information originating from different systems into account, and to create simulations. Under these circumstances, it would be possible to draw on data held in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to identify concentrations of ageing populations, and so anticipate how availability of accommodation is likely to evolve.

3. The management of equipment
The third challenge involves changes in the management of equipment and resources relating to local authority infrastructures. Départements are increasingly having to decide whether to do the work themselves or to sub-contract or outsource it. Very often, decisions have to take a number of factors into account – not just cost. When it comes to highway maintenance equipment, for example (everything from salt-spreaders and snow-ploughs to hedge-cutters), managers not only need to know, for example, how often machines are used, when they will need to be replaced and how much they cost per kilometer to operate, but also the results of the work that is carried out. If these kinds of figures can be established, it means that comparisons can be made with other similar départements. It is also a way of delivering tangible evidence of services delivered to the community. And if a local authority can demonstrate that it is performing well, it can be a good way of strengthening its attractiveness to potential new residents and businesses.

4. Legal protection for vulnerable adults
Finally, reforms to legal protection provision for vulnerable adults will come into force in 2009. The management of the guardianship of ‘incapable’ adults5 (whether by reason of health, learning difficulties or addiction to alcohol/drugs) is going to require huge investment in terms of staff, equipment and funding. In particular, social workers will need access to the relevant information systems, usually while they are out of the office. This means they will need effective tools and procedures that enable them to work remotely, so they can spend as much time as possible ‘in the field’. Modern BI tools are built around technologies that provide this openness while ensuring the highest levels of IT security that are essential given the confidential nature of the data being handled.

The keys to the success of a Business Intelligence project
BI applications can obviously play a fundamental role in modernizing local public services, and more specifically, in helping local authorities take on their new responsibilities for service delivery. Deploying these new services requires three steps: first, the restructuring of internal procedures, which has to include integrating the new possibilities offered by BI tools, and redefining everyone’s roles; secondly, sharing of resources, so maximum benefit can be gained from all everything that is available; thirdly, appropriate change management.

A high-level project sponsor is essential to the success of any BI project, because it is usually instigated by operational departments to meet their business needs, rather than by the IT Department. In other respects, a high level of uptake of the tool by all users is also essential. To ensure that these kinds of projects are successful, Bull advises against the ‘big bang’ approach, recommending instead that it is best to take things step by step and work iteratively. In this way, the first components are deployed within limited perimeters, where the potential impact and need are greatest. These components can then be enriched through their daily use, but also serve as a model before being extended to other areas. Having progressed through these first steps, users inevitably become increasingly autonomous, so the service provider (who offered support to begin with) can take more of a back seat. It is vital to look ahead and put in place solutions that are very open and scalable – for example building spare capacity into data warehouses – as these systems have to be sustainable, while also being able to adapt to evolutions in legal requirements.

As a tried-and-tested partner to many local authorities, Bull has the operational and technological culture and know-how that are so essential when it comes to successfully implementing these kinds of systems. Over the years, with each successive project, Bull has developed the methods, tools and good practices that guarantee success. Above all, we believe it is a question of building a global picture of needs, formalizing the key areas of business analysis and indicators, and only then putting the solution in place. As a result, Bull is well placed to support local authorities on every BI project – strategic and operational – right through to the evaluation of government policies.

1RSA (Revenu de Solidarité Active) is an income support payment that takes into account the earnings and expenses of a family
2RMI : Revenu Minimum d’Insertion
3APA : Allocation Personnalisée d’Autonomie
4TOS : personnels Techniques, Ouvriers et de Service - technical, manual and service staff
5The so-called ‘tutelle’ and ‘curatelle’ systems

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