Terry Knowles, Project Lead, Department for Education

This project was about defining standards for the exchange of information.  The Department for Education is a key government department and it has requirements to communicate and share data with other parts of government and public sector bodies in a highly defined and specified way.  With legacy systems in use across many government departments this was a complex and sophisticated project.  It was also highly sensitive and confidential and as such we can share only limited information here.

For example an education provider may have to provide the same data in many different formats to multiple government departments.  For example in education individuals can be called students/pupils/learners, and four organisations use different terms that must be aggregated up when it’s collected for use in different areas e.g. formal letters, emails, phone calls etc.

Business Thinking was asked to provide senior business and data analysts to support an on-going service whose aim was to undertake a series of tasks to define data standards for areas of data needed across education, skills and children’s services. The data standards are unique in that they are constructed so as to be building blocks of an enterprise data architecture, and not optimised to any one application.

Each task began with business analysis around the way that organisations work in the public sector.  This was done in order to understand the data that the various government and public sector organisations need in order to do their jobs.  Rather than accept a ‘given’ view of the requirement for the exchange of data, the analysts started at the beginning and carried out their own business process and information analysis so that they could be sure of the total enterprise-wide requirement and negate the possibility of assumptions being made from point observations of one use of the data.

Terry Knowles the project technical lead said ‘this was an invaluable start because with any such project, even though each party believes they understand the requirement, we all need to understand why we’re digging before we start digging’.  This analytical approach gives total clarity on the requirement at the start of a project and highlights timing and cost implications for the delivery of a robust and sustainable solution.  Terry said that internally people are often too close to their own activities and “the way we do things”, ‘they are able to dig and turn up lots of information but they cannot see the patterns and make the connection back into the wider business and see the need for that data’.

Terry commented further that ‘the team at Business Thinking have an ability to identify methods and approaches that are right for the particular problem at hand, and then apply them.  It’s a good approach and delivery’.  The objective eye and analytical skills that Business Thinking brought to the project allowed them to focus on the core enterprise data.  Out of all of the data available for information transfer, focusing on the key data allows you to make informed business decisions with clarity.

Terry also commented on the people side of the Business Thinking delivery.  The fact that government departments and the public sector use multiple legacy systems was indeed an issue, however they also have a specific operational culture, and a solution that might suit a commercial private sector organisation would not necessarily be suitable in the public sector for cultural and operational reasons.  Terry said that ‘Business Thinking understood these people and culture factors and offered a bespoke solution tailored specifically to us’.

It was also a huge benefit to this project that Business Thinking are not tied in to any particular systems provider.  It gave them the flexibility and opportunity to scrutinise potential solutions and ensure they delivered the perfect fit for this project without any need to ‘shoehorn’ in prescribed solutions.  As Business Thinking deal with many complex projects this flexibility and breadth of
knowledge regarding what is available in the market and how it can be applied is a great strength that not all consultants can offer.

Terry finished by saying ‘this work is more complex than most because of the need to look past any one use of data to the enterprise-wide needs for the data, and doubly so because the standards developed must be embraced by many independent organisations in order to be put into widespread service. It calls for special skills and Business Thinking provided a valuable part of a successful team’.