The problem with Management Information

MISO or Management Information System Online is a system used by Crown Commercial Service to help them understand what work is done through their frameworks, and to calculate their fees to suppliers. All suppliers are expected to submit Management Information (MI) on orders and invoices submitted each month under G-Cloud and the Digital Services Frameworks.

In principle, MISO is a positive thing: the data shows how much suppliers are charging for the services and when. This helps government and suppliers to be transparent.

Unfortunately, in practice, it’s a system that’s not fit for purpose – and would fail any objective service assessment by a mile.

Where is it going wrong?

Since joining dxw, we have been looking at our systems, trying to make them run as quickly and efficiently as possible. We’re a small company, with lightweight process. We rely mostly on close communication and a trusted team. When we first started working through government frameworks, submitting our MI was simple, but it has now become completely impractical.

There are five active G-Cloud frameworks that we need to report on (III, 4, 5, 6 and 7) and two Digital Services frameworks (DSF 1 and 2) and each has a different spreadsheet with 2 tabs for G-Cloud and 3 tabs for DSF. Soon, there’ll be Digital Outcomes and Specialists as well. Put together, this is over 20 different sheets, each of which need to be completed every month.

In order to understand what information was needed across all of dxw’s work, Leanne (dxw’s administrator) and I spent a morning where we wrote a Post-It for each column in the 20 sheets we’re supposed to fill in. By the end, we’d counted 50 pieces of information we might need to collect for any given project. For the Digital Services Framework sheets, each project is also split into digital capabilities, such as research, front end development, systems administration, etc and each of these needs to be reported on separately. So one invoice that may have four lines of charges needs to be split out and the same project information replicated.

Across the 20 sheets, many pieces of information are repeated but only three pieces of information are common in all sheets. It’s really badly organised.

Even having produced these spreadsheets, we can’t upload to MISO ourselves, because it only supports Microsoft’s XLS format – not the ODS open standard that Government has committed to supporting. So an administrator at CCS has to to do this part of the process for us.

For SME suppliers, this is an unreasonable ask

For large companies with large finance departments, managing this amount of data for every project is perhaps possible — if not proportionate. But the effect on SMEs is much more significant. We do our best to maintain and submit these records, but we often struggle. It requires a great deal of staff time.

Initially, we automated most of this work by pulling data from our internal systems, but the various iterations of the spreadsheets have made it impossible to keep up with. So that tool no longer works, and we’re sufficiently busy with client work that we have no capacity to maintain it.

Now our only option is to manually go through all our projects each month, pulling the data into a master spreadsheet of all 50 pieces of information. We do our best to get this done, but we’re a small team, and it’s a lot of work. We think this situation isn’t really practical or fair. We’re also frustrated that the process seems to have been designed entirely for government’s benefit, with so little thought for suppliers’ user needs.

We’re more than happy to submit the management information that government needs, but we’d like to see some proper design thinking and user focus brought to the problem.

This post was featured on Government Computing on 31st March 2016