The Digital Transformation Project, implemented by DAERA in partnership with GIS (Geographic Information System Mapping) specialist, Esri Ireland was announced as the category winner earlier this month at a ceremony at Ormeau Baths, Belfast.
Competitors on the shortlist for the Digital Innovation Project of the Year included organisations such as Danske Bank, Department of Health and HSC, Global Payments Integrated and the Rakuten Blockchain Lab.
The Information Hub has proven to be a massive success for DAERA. For the first time, all staff in DAERA now have access to a central system currently containing high-value datasets and analysis tools to enable them to conceptualise what effect potential policy decisions will make on the environment, or the economy before they are implemented. Past trends can be examined, along with the ability to analyse the success of previous schemes.
In conjunction with delivery partners, Esri Ireland, world-class technology and high-quality management and implementation processes have been combined to create the truly informational and innovative Information Hub.
The technology is at the heart of the Department, enabling improved organisational excellence to meet business plan targets and objectives under the New Deal New Decade Approach.
Commenting on the project's success, Geraldine Devine, Head of DAERA's Information Systems Unit said,
"Thank you to everyone involved in work on the Information Hub and for those who helped with the submission for the Award. It's fantastic recognition for us all to win this. We had very strong competition from across NI and it shows how far we have come that we have been successful in this."
As a still relatively new Department, DAERA faced a number of challenges that they wanted to address with the Information Hub. The Department lacked strategic alignment across all of its business areas.
There was also no single source of truth of corporate data accessible to operational staff, policy staff and decision-makers.
Across the Department, there were many data silos where data was being captured or acquired for one business area that could save costs and help inform policies in other areas. There was also limited business intelligence capability and mobile technology across the Department. This meant that they could not use their rich evidence base to inform policy and operational change and the time taken to capture and record data in the field was hampering the ability to quickly address emergencies.
In order to align thinking across the Department, they needed to create a shared vision, goals, objectives and strategies.
A significant data gathering exercise was undertaken by meeting with individual teams and running workshops with representatives from across all business areas to understand what they needed and what they had to offer. From this, a road map for success was created.
An organisational development plan was launched with a focus on strategic alignment, business integration and customer experience. To ensure stakeholders were involved every step of the way two formal groups were created to represent the needs and issues of the business areas. An Oversight Board and a Technical User Forum were involved in everything, from the GIS strategy to the look and feel of the Information Hub.
A data strategy was developed with the vision statement:
"Creating an insight-driven organisation placing data at the heart of all decision making."
A complimentary GIS strategy was also developed along with a three-year road map to enable strategic alignment and business integration.
The Information Hub has been a resounding success and boasts over 2800 internal and external users. The Hub has been a vital enabler for meeting the Department target of moving to 95% digital correspondence by 2022.
The target to publish 30 datasets to Open Data NI has also been smashed with over 60 having been published from the Information Hub in a new fully automated process.
Other unexpected benefits have been the speed at which the technology can be deployed for emergencies like Covid-19 and the Avian Flu, with the fastest app deployment of 10 days for the Avian Flu outbreak.
The success of the Information Hub has meant that the Department is now sharing data like never before, enabling collaboration across multiple business areas, not just within DAERA but with other Departments too. This has greatly aided the process to build policies and strategies for the future.
Another major outcome for the project has been how access to mobile technology is helping teams that need to go out into the field. Response times have been greatly improved and data can be accessed in real-time to inform decision making.
DAERA will look to build on the foundations laid by the Information Hub and continued collaboration through their Esri Enterprise Agreement to take advantage of the hot topics in tech.
There are many possibilities to use more and more real-time data from multiple types of sensors to monitor everything from weather, to plant health, to animal movement. Advancements in imagery techniques through the use of drones and satellites will also enable the Department to create 3D mapping of landscapes and buildings.
Other opportunities include using more mobile technology to track, manage and monitor assets in real-time and even leveraging machine learning to help predict trends and answer complex environmental questions.
All of this means that the Information Hub will continue to have a lasting impact for years to come.
For more information, the full story map of DAERA's Information Hub DNA competition entry is available here.