Performance Management in Government – driving visibility, accountability and better decision-making

Today the public sector faces increased scrutiny from legislators and the public and is forced to do more with less, while continuing to offer high quality service delivery to citizens.

February 1, 2010

By David McWilliam, Business Intelligence and Performance Management Manager, IBM South Africa

Today the public sector faces increased scrutiny from legislators and the public and is forced to do more with less, while continuing to offer high quality service delivery to citizens.

This is not limited to South Africa but is a global issue.  At a recent Kennedy School of Government executive session held at Harvard University, it was determined: “management is essential for Government agencies seeking to improve outcomes and rebuild confidence in Government”.

One of the key enablers of improving management is the discipline of Performance Management (PM). This enables the public sector to meet the challenges that come with disparate tools, paper-based processes, and legacy IT systems, and ultimately improve service delivery to the public.

Indeed, PM for government promises the bigger picture: the ability to see how relationships, connections and direction integrate with each other. With access to reliable and timely information, better decisions are made, positively impacting on cost and service delivery.

While there are many different kinds of decisions that need to be made by the public sector, they all depend on answers to these fundamental, interrelated questions:

. How are we doing? – A gauge of the most critical indicators.

. Why? – The ability to dig deeper into current issues, successes, or problems in order to understand what led to the results.

. What should we be doing? – The facility to set plans, allocate resources, monitor them, and adapt.

PM is an integrated approach that encompasses measuring and monitoring; reporting and analysis; and planning, budgeting and forecasting.  It offers the public sector the opportunity to greatly improve its understanding of its core business, serving the citizens of its country, and enhance its ability to make timely, informed decisions.

As with any other part of business, the starting point of each government department will differ. However, the bottom line is that an incremental approach can be adopted, starting with one PM component and building on from there.

With each element addressed you fortify your foundation and strengthen your decision-making, management and performance.

Starting point 1

If you had to do only one thing to improve your department’s performance, what would it be?  For some, it is tracking how and where the money is spent. For others, it is finding better ways to share processes and delivery capacities across agencies.

Irrespective of the above, PM software enables you to understand the information in order to do that one important thing, and then grow from there.

Starting point 2

Leveraging your existing data resources is another relevant starting point.

As a public sector entity your data might be locked away in a variety of databases and systems, with no effective way to report against them.

Accessing and integrating this data is a good step, which allows everyone involved to generate their own timely, meaningful reports. With a firm grasp on the “Why” behind performance, you are ready to move forward.

Starting Point 3

Take advantage of a scorecard, which in turn can drive your performance agenda. Here it is important to monitor the key metrics that map to your organisational strategy. Leverage your existing data resources to deliver this information into a scorecard that shows you status, trends, relationships, and interdependencies and gives you the ability to drill through to the BI layer for more information.

Starting Point 4

Ensure that you change your budget to a rolling, responsive forecast, which is pertinent in an uncertain economic climate. Think beyond unwieldy spreadsheet-based systems. Use technology to engage all cost and revenue centers in preparing realistic forecasts that take into account your department’s strategy.

A rolling forecast will allow you to improve your analysis and view into the future.

In the public sector’s efforts to improve citizen service delivery; accurate and current information will go a long way in providing insight into how you are doing, why, and what you should be doing.