The public sector is perpetually under scrutiny, with the delivery of service a primary priority and clear indicator of its success. 

In South Africa, many departments are still shackled by a massive information dilemma. To leverage the available data to accurately gauge and drive performance, they must first identify it, clean it, and integrate it for collaborative use across functions, departments and even spheres of government.
Explains Gerhardt le Roux of Cognos: “Few government leaders understand clearly enough, and early enough, the leveraging power of performance management.
“It provides a toolbox of enabling systems, structures and approaches to refine the alignment of strategy with execution.
“In South Africa, however, government systems and departments are at different stages of maturity, with the majority still reliant on numerous un-integrated data sources to inform their decisions.”
However, local governments especially need to strengthen their performance management systems, and have been allocated a large investment towards this as indicated in the 2006 budget speech.
Fortunately, progress on the Local Government Competency Framework is advanced and three strategic priorities were adopted for local government during the current term of 2006 to 2011:
* Mainstreaming hand-on support to local government to improve municipal governance, performance and accountability;
* Addressing the structure and governance arrangement of the state to better strengthen, support and monitor local government performance;
* Refining and strengthening the policy, regulatory and fiscal environment for local government and giving greater attention to the enforcement measures. In addition, a governmentwide monitoring and evaluation (M&E) proposal and implementation plan will come under scrutiny.
The debate in various sectors of the public service is now whether to call a halt to all reporting and concentrate on cleaning the data needed, or to run a reporting system in parallel with an information management strategy that includes ensuring data quality and integration.
“With a specialist focus on data management, Cognos’ advice is to run these strategies in parallel and start at the lowest reporting levels. In this manner, incremental wins will ensure steady improvement in the quality of data – and decision-making,” says Le Roux.
Performance management consists of a series of integrated steps where an organisation defines key priorities, measures progress towards these goals, and analyses and communicates results to stakeholders and role players, allowing them to set goals, drive accountability and improve performance by making informed decisions.
However, measuring and managing performance requires accurate metrics, realistic plans and budgets, and detailed actual results and this has been a challenge because disparate tools, paper-based processes, and legacy IT systems provide limited visibility into operations and activities.
“One of the greatest misperceptions of government departments that purchased and standardised on business intelligence and analytical applications was that the software was a silver bullet to their problems,” explains Le Roux.
“In reality, these applications only enable and drive performance management strategies such as a balanced scorecard or dashboard strategies – they don’t create these strategies. Government organisations need to see the big picture – the relationships, connections, and direction – as well as the details to make informed decisions and improve outcomes. The key is to empower the user directly.
“To date, government has had to rely on information and report requests to MIS staff who could take two weeks or more to write queries to the various systems, compile the reports and return them to the user.
“Often, where the data is incomplete, inaccurate or request has been incorrectly interpreted, the report has to be redone.
“In this scenario there is minimal involvement of the business user whose task it is to simply make the request,” explains Le Roux. “Outcomes are hit-and-miss and ‘better late than never’ is the norm, making timeous decision-making a rare beast.
“New technology advances in analytical applications puts the power in the hands of users, however, allowing them to explore, query and analyse data at a click, create their own reports and share those reports in a collaborative environment.
“But none of this can become a reality if government organisations do not take a few very necessary steps to ready data, technology infrastructure and architecture, and business structures, models and processes.”
A three- to five-year process is, according to the experts, usually necessary to transform the culture and processes within an organisation to allow it to successfully establish performance management.
“Where organisations begin on the path to performance management will differ, and how quickly they implement the platform will vary,” says Le Roux. “The bottom line is that an incremental approach can be taken.
“The transformation is different for every government department and organisation as each are unique in their setup and operations, but the broad methodology used to enable the move to performance management is well established,” he advises.
It starts with the data sources, which need to be audited and profiled. Once this is complete, the information is cleansed and an extract, transform and load (ETL) process sucks the data from the diverse systems (such as HR, CRM, ERP and financial systems) into a data warehouse that has been structured to enable information sharing, allowing users to access the data in a standardised format. This process is largely the domain of data specialists and has an enterprise focus.
“The second half of this process is more narrowly focused and requires input from all levels of business, as it involves putting in place a performance management business layer and enabling analytics, forecasting, budgeting and planning,” says Le Roux.
This will require the co-operation of staff at a business unit level as their detailed expertise is essential to ensuring accurate measures and metrics are identified to enable intelligent reporting.
The creation of effective scorecards for projects and personnel, for example, cannot be done without considerable input of the units concerned with completing the assigned tasks or projects, and development of a successful organisationwide scorecard strategy is an ongoing task.
“Every time you address one element in the system, you strengthen your decision-making and performance,” says Le Roux.
Taking advantage of a scorecard or other method to drive the performance agenda makes a lot of sense. Existing data resources can be leveraged into a scorecard to shows status, trends, relationships, and interdependencies, enabling everyone to monitor key metrics that map to the organisational strategy.
“Government departments cannot afford to redo data integration and management services separately. If they want to begin seeing immediate positive change and performance improvements, the two must be run in parallel,” says Le Roux.
“For many departments there is a lack of understanding regarding how to turn data into business intelligence and link it to performance management.
“A proven method is to implement business intelligence and performance management on the front end – give users access to the applications that allow them to pull reports, so familiarising them with this approach. Immediate benefits are that end user data requirements will inform and drive data cleansing efforts.
“This tactic will also assist the development of metadata stores, subunits of larger pools of information that are specific to particular departments. The benefit of storing data in this manner is that it allows for faster access by users. As the quality of the data improves, so will the effectiveness of the reports.
“Then, starting in the business units, build a scorecard strategy. This will show fast results and allow for collaboration. Within two to three months, users will be able to pull meaningful reports, do analytics and slice and dice the information.
“From the scorecards, proactive dashboards can be built, allowing for drill down to discover the underlying causes of performance, or lack thereof; alerting users to thresholds that are reached; and keeping them up to date on key performance metrics.”
Scorecards also drive accountability and enable better planning, forecasting and budgeting. They link strategy to the people responsible for executing the strategy and support this with reporting and tracking.
Alerts can be set to, for example, warn users of potential budget crises. “If spend ratios reach identified thresholds – eg, if 70% of the budget period has elapsed and only 30% of the budget has been spent – alerts can be sent to relevant staff with copies of the reports and further alerts on time-to-resolution sent to seniors responsible,” says Le Roux.
“This will help eliminate the spike at the end of budget periods that all departments are currently struggling with due to inadequate systems, data and reporting.”
The benefits of instituting performance management in any organisation are myriad. Not least, it empowers individual employee to make better decisions, understand their role and impact of their actions on the business process and in the achievement of goals, and improve their own performance.
For managers and senior staff, this system assists to drive accountability, improve collaboration and inform planning, execution and strategy creation. It is of critical importance over time in identifying the underlying causes of recurring problems, as well as the actions and strategies that breed success.
“Any government office that adopts performance management will undoubtedly see an improvement, but this it does not guarantee overnight successes,” Le Roux says.
“Performance management requires the building blocks be put in place – ie, data cleansing; data warehouse creation; the development of a business management information layer; and the establishment of tools and strategies for measurement and assessment, such as scorecards, dashboards and reporting. Key to success will be ensuring the systems are user friendly and that skills transfer takes place at all levels, empowering all users.”