Business intelligence transforms consumers of information into analysts, who can drill into data and understand it. Such information has become an increasingly important commodity in an NHS environment of tightening finances alongside a drive for efficient, high quality services and balanced budgets.

Clinicians and managers at the operational level need to receive timely and succinct information that enables them to see where things are going right or wrong in a service, and how to take corrective action, writes Jennifer Taylor

With tight financial times ahead in the NHS, more than ever trusts need information about their business that facilitates better decision making.

We know that we’re not susceptible to the same kind of failures so people have confidence that it works every day

This so-called business intelligence is increasingly being sought after by primary care trusts to meet the world class commissioning agenda, which is all about getting the best value for money and the best quality of service for local populations. PCTs are drilling into the raw data and looking at key indicators to decide if they are commissioning the best service.

Across the NHS in every type of trust, managers and clinicians at the operational level are using information about their service to make well-informed decisions that enable them to improve services, weed out inefficiencies and balance their budgets.

Service line management has placed clinicians at the centre of the health service’s new commercial environment of managing income and costs. Being able to look at information about individual patients, consultants, procedures and care pathways allows clinicians and managers alike to understand why income and costs are as they are at every level.

Business intelligence transforms people from being consumers of information into analysts because it gives them the capability to drill into the information and understand it, says Graham James, vice president and director of business intelligence systems at CACI. “The more a person can, for themselves, analyse presented information the better prepared they are to make good decisions.”

Case study: Salford Royal

At Salford Royal Foundation Trust, data was historically obtained in an inefficient manner. The trust’s system was about 30 years old and needed specific expertise to extract information. Increasing demands for information put more and more demand on the hardware and if something failed there could often be a week’s gap before the information could be obtained.

In addition, there were copies of the same data in different databases, and it was being extracted two or three times for different purposes. Some information was updated and some wasn’t.

The trust knew it needed a single source of data and tried twice to set up a system on its own but failed, probably because of a lack of knowledge and resource. It decided to invest in a new system and after a procurement process, purchased CACI’s InView data warehouse and business intelligence solution.

InView is now the single source for the trust’s non-clinical data, which is available and ready for use by 7am every morning. It contains inpatient activity, outpatient attendances, A&E attendances and waiting list information.

Salford uses it for all statutory reporting to the Department of Health. In the past, one return took half a day and today takes about five minutes.

Since adopting their new business intelligence system, the trust has experienced a complete culture change, right up to executive level. With the old system, people did not trust the data and if there was a problem with it they blamed the information. Now if they see a problem in the data, they know there’s a problem somewhere in the service.

“We know that we’re not susceptible to the same kind of failures so people have confidence that it works every day,” says Jon Lawton, head of information services at Salford. “And if anybody wants information out of it we’ve got the expertise internally to be able to produce that very, very quickly.”