Reengineering Government Reporting – or, Garbage In – Garbage Out

I've seen an estimate that the Government of Canada spends between 5% and 10% of resources on reporting. That's a lot of FTE's. Even when I was a manager in the public sector (decades ago), there was no shortage of reporting.

Much more so today, when every manager with a spreadsheet can whip up an ad hoc report and promulgate it on the unwary at the speed of e-mail (a syndrome known in some departments as Death by Template). Add in PAAs, PMFs, DPRs, MAFs, and the rest of the Treasury Board alphabet, and you got a lot of reporting going on.

So we can stipulate the government gots data; lots and lots of data. BUT, how much of that data is actually useful for planning, budgeting, and managing to improve results? And how much is duplicated, redundant, overlapping, pointless, and otherwise wasteful of scarce resources?

My answer, gained from experience across a dozen or so departments and any number of functional areas, is this: there's lots of data gathering going on, but not so much is managed in a coordinated fashion to support improved results. This makes reengineering government reporting a target area that is ripe to produce significant savings.

For example, I've personally witnessed 'Executive Dashboards' at major departments that were comprised of more than 60 pages; that ain't a Dashboard, folks, that's a phone book! Scaled beyond the ability to actually analyse and make serious management decisions, yet still lacking some critical management information components.

(Not to brag here, but take a peek at the top of the column at right to see a real Dashboard, designed by yrs. truly and the ever-able Mr. Snelling, with the help of our development partners).

Let me jump for a second to the current federal government focus on efficiency; first, no matter how you down-size, right-size, or reduce it, a program or process that is not producing desired results is NOT EFFICIENT. It is a waste of resources that could be better used in other ways.

And yes, I realize that a program may be executed perfectly but not achieve expected results; this could indicate a failure of policy. But that's a topic for another rant.

Real efficiency requires that we fund outcomes, not line items. So we therefore need to know what those outcomes are, and which of our actions are influencing them. This can result in a net savings. And of course, this is what good performance reporting and program evaluation are supposed to tell you.

Second point, to reiterate, there are big savings to be harvested, by refocusing and thereby reducing the cost of data collection and reporting. Reengineering government reporting is gonna happen, its just a question of when and by whom. And (since I was a PS manager) I'm a firm believer in the axiom 'it's better to do than to be done to'! Harken ye, and get your reporting house in order.

The good news is, the approach to reengineering government reporting can be relatively cheap and easy, at least at the beginning; I've worked on projects wherein we reduced the sheer volume of reporting by more than 80%, while at the same time improving the relevancy of results. And we accomplished this over a time frame of weeks, not months.

Now, how do you reengineer government reporting to reduce 'backroom' costs and get at better results? Start by compiling an Information Map of current reporting.

You can start at any level of reporting - strategic, tactical, or operational. Identify reports, formats, data points, and who collects, collates, approves, and ultimately USES the data for decision-making.

Ultimately each report should have an owner, and the owner should have a clear reason why the report is necessary for their work.

You will find opportunities for savings in:

  • eliminating duplicate data capture;
  • reports that are no longer required (i.e they no longer support planning, managing, decision-making);
  • reports with small variances between work units that can be consolidated;
  • reports with a higher-than-necessary reporting frequency;
  • and reports that aren't reaching the right people – e.g. don't create a new report if the interested party can be cc'd on an existing one.

Reduce, re-use and recycle isn't just for tin cans, it applies to data, too.

Then apply technology intelligently to the (reduced) information flow.

Eliminating information clutter is a significant step in improving reporting while reducing the cost of admin. There are obvious benefits like better planning and budgeting.

Reengineering government reporting can also provide benefits in less-obvious areas like risk management i.e. better information leads to better 'flags' identifying risk conditions.

My first Executive Training Workshop on Business Process Reengineering and Change Management in the Public Sector has been scheduled for January 14 2013, in Ottawa at the Minto Business Centre.

Other workshops will follow throughout 2013, let me know if you want to book for a later date

Workshop on other topics have been scheduled as well, and we can also deliver a custom workshop at your site. Use the form below for more information, or drop me a line to reserve space for your team.

Scott Kelland, President

Performance Reporting Solutions

613 302-3924

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