A consistent view of business identification before insight


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  • I’d like to spend a few moments today telling you about some of the work which Dudley has been involved with as part of the West Midlands Business Matters partnership (including Lichfield, Solihull, and WM Business Link). We will see how our approach started from the recognition that before we could gain useful insight which we could use to shape services, we had a more fundamental problem – how to identify businesses in the first place. I’ll then review how far we have got along the journey, and what we feel remains to be done.
  • We have become used to the concept of individual citizens as customers of local authority services, but the relationship with businesses has always been different, for a number of reasons. Obviously there are fewer businesses than citizens, but they also have their own organisation, which means the communication is not through a single channel. Local authorities are expected to regulate the activities of businesses – for example various forms of licensing arrangements, or trading standards. Some services are only applicable to business, and some which also apply to citizens are different – for example trade versus domestic waste collections. Some of these activities might be seen by the business as valuable, but many are not – I haven’t spoken to our planning enforcement officer for a while, but I suspect he doesn’t take many calls from businesses saying ‘could you come and visit us please, we think we might be contravening planning regulations’. Set against the perhaps adversarial relationship, there is real political desire for businesses to succeed. After our project won the ‘Best partnership between organisations’ award at the 2009 NLPG exemplar awards, our Chief Exec called to see if we could help him with a desire to get a real-world perspective on businesses, not via his usual links through bodies such as the chamber of commerce, which is itself part of the political lobby process. A more recent example from last month is where the Leader of the Council asked for help in contacting businesses to discuss his proposals to establish a new local enterprise zone in an area which had seen a large number of businesses closing in recent years.
  • I don’t intend to labour the issue here – the point is that communication between a business and the local authority is multi-faceted, many-layered and disparate, and has grown piecemeal over time. That disjointed conversation has made true understanding difficult on both sides. There is conflict and confusion – for example fast food outlets are often seen as having negative connotations (food inspection failures, anti-social issues such as litter and vermin, social issues such as being located close to schools and potential child obesity concerns. However, they are also the businesses with the highest churn, which is economically wasteful, so business support want to help them stay in business, and make the vegan café succeed where the chip shop, kebab house, pizza place and fried chicken bar all failed in the same location.
  • Most authorities will have businesses ranging from occasional sole market traders to multinational retailers or supermarkets, some will have diverse mixes of retail, manufacturing, and service sector in close proximity. In many cases, silo-based services discourage a coherent approach. Even if we deal with the same business for different service lines, we may fail to recognise it as a single entity, because the contacts on both sides will be different (we may be dealing with regional offices, parent companies, etc.). We are also poor at sharing information between service lines, so may not identify which services they need. Generally speaking, businesses know that they have to deal with local authorities, so talk to us when they have to, but otherwise would generally prefer us to leave them alone, and to complete our dealings with them as efficiently as possible. The onus is therefore on us to improve matters, and to do that consistently we need to have some quality data to start from.
  • Our work around businesses began as part of the work around e-Government priority outcomes, and other initiatives such as the Single Business Account. Now e-Government was a great technical success – I’m from IT so I have to say that, but it had a fundamental flaw. It’s focus was on making service electronic, not on making them good. So we didn’t make significant service improvements as a result. That therefore became the focus of our current work. So we needed a way of developing a single view of business which would allow us to start having a joined-up approach, and in order to do that needed to reconcile the existing disparate views, preserving the value to individual service lines, but also allowing a unified view recognising the business as an entity. The key to our work, and the main message from today, is the importance of Location as a way of unifying data. Geography gives a common reference point, and also places business in a wider environmental context. The pan-Government Business Identity Management Strategy accepted that organisational and locational views can co-reside, and neither is subservient. Whatever the business, whatever the service, however and whoever delivers it, it happens some where .
  • So we have a recognition that in order to move forward, we need a high-quality single source of data about businesses. Given that we don’t have that, we need a way of collating and managing different data sets, and Location gives us the means to do that. We recognised that this meant we had to commit significant resources, so convened an internal Business Matters board, chaired by a director. This gave backing to the approach, put resources in place, and appointed a ‘gatekeeper’ to take ownership of the process for collating data and managing change. At Dudley, we are fortunate to have a wonderful toolkit for this purpose – our GIS system, branded ‘GIS-MO’.
  • LGA/IDeA report ‘Value of Geospatial Information to local Public Service Delivery’ (July 2010) categorised Dudley as one of a few authorities having ‘Enterprise Geospatial Integration’ (doc on LGA website). Note the term ‘Linkable’ data – I’m not claiming to be part of the Tim Berners-Lee Linked-Data family, so no talk of URIs or Triple Stores from me today – basically this is old-fashioned data matching and cleansing using common references. Our wide user base is a key differentiator – all of our staff have access to GIS-MO, and many of them use it daily. This has led to its recognition as one of the key services in the Council’s business continuity plan – GIS-MO is one of the last services to close in an emergency, and one of the first to be recovered.
  • This is what GIS-MO looks like – not very pretty or technically advanced. But that’s the point. If we can do this with our GIS, so can you with yours.
  • I’ve no intention of running through this slide – the point is to give you an idea of the scope of our ‘linkable data’ approach, so these are just a few of our data sources.
  • Started off by taking a data set from West Midlands Business Link – 9,300 records. Then took records from our Environmental Health system – 9,300 records. Fantastic ! Ah but… they weren’t the same records. Then took our NNDR business rates records – over 10,000 of those. From next month, we will also be including Trade Waste records. So the laborious process of cleaning & matching began, using Location as our common reference. So far, we have ended up with over 16,000 unique businesses, and over 27,000 views of those businesses. Why are they different ? Some of these are historic views, representing the last known contact details from a service point, which may not have been refreshed. Environmental Health may deal with a trader, while NNDR deal with the landlord Once established, it is important to maintain the quality, through a managed changed process by the corporate GIS team.
  • This is what our data model looks like. The highlighted property boundary is a supermarket which is just being re-branded after being closed for a period – note how most of our line-of-business applications (blue) still record details of the old business, but the LPG record (pink) shows the correct current operator.
  • Here is another example, showing the different ways that our existing systems reference the same current business. So our model allows the separate views to happily co-reside, but also recognises they all represent the same real-world entity.
  • We’re not finished ! Knowing the totality of the problem isn’t enough. To go and tell my Environmental Health manager there are 6,000 businesses he doesn’t know about wouldn’t get him anywhere – it’s too big a task. What he needs to know are the businesses which he should be dealing with but isn’t. We know the who and the where, but not what they do. So the next phase is to identify what type of business they are, so we can then know how the business needs to interact with the Council, and therefore where our gaps are. Current thoughts on this are standard methods of classifying businesses, such as the Local Government Business Category List, or Standard Industrial Classifications. This might include seeking data from one of the business directory providers.
  • What is the end game ? Where are we trying to get to on our journey ? When we have a high-quality managed information source we can trust, we can then use it to target our service delivery activities. Are there businesses from which we should be collecting business rates but aren’t ? If we are carrying out food safety inspections, are we also providing trade waste services, or is the trader just dumping the left-over food behind the car park ? More constructively, we can proactively contact businesses in sectors we want to encourage, and offer them advice and support, and notify them of regeneration opportunities. Streamline our inspection regimes to be more efficient for business and the Council. The chances are that the businesses we don’t know about are the ones we should be regulating. We have been asked to do some early modelling work to correlate fast-food outlet data with measures of social deprivation to inform regeneration and planning activities – this could also potentially pick up litter and vermin issues.
  • A consistent view of business identification before insight

    1. 1. A consistent view of business Identification before Insight Andrew Tromans 19th March 2012
    2. 2. Why are businesses different as acustomer ?• Fewer in number, larger & more complex• Subject to more regulation• Demand different types of service• May not want our services, but have to take them !• Political desire to encourage growth
    3. 3. The different views of a business• Local Government services to business: • NNDR • Planning & Building Regulation • Licensing & Registration • Trading Standards • Health & Safety • Food Safety • Environmental • Business Support, Development & Regeneration• Difficult to have a coherent conversation
    4. 4. Practical problems talking tobusinesses• Extremely diverse• We don’t know we should be talking to them !• They don’t want to talk to us !• No single view from the authority’s perspective
    5. 5. The approach - the importance of‘where’• Began with e-Government priority outcomes• Wanted to concentrate on real benefits to the Council and business customers• Location as a common reference - business happens somewhere
    6. 6. The approach – continued• Started from an information management perspective (data quality)• Secured buy-in to commit corporate resources• Built on our existing GIS system
    7. 7. What is GIS-MO ?• Repository for gazetteer & all Dudley MBC spatial data• Managed collection point for linkable data• Over 400 geo-referenced datasets• Simple, web-based interface available to all staff• Recognised as business-critical
    8. 8. NLIS - Land Bus Routes (Centro) Flood Data (EA) Business ELMS2 - Community Charges Link Data Equipment Northgate Gas & Oil Pipelines British Waterways -Revenues and Benefits Phone Masts Water Companies SWIFT - (Mobile Operators Assoc) (South Staffs / Severn Trent) Social Service Clients ASPIRE - CRM (Dudley EMS - Council Plus) Early Years CENTRIS - M3/Northgate - Pupil Records Environmental Health GIS-MO Northgate -Electoral Register EXPERIAN - MOSAIC UK ExeGesIS - HBSMR ONS - Index of Multiple APAS - Deprivation / Planning iWorld – MAYRISE - Housing Census Data / Applications back to 1947 Street Lighting Management OAC Building Reg’s TPO’s Symology - CONFIRM - SIDEM – GVA - Enforcements Highways Arbor / Grounds Parking Corporate Asset Planning Policy Maintenance Maintenance Management Management
    9. 9. What have we done (so far) ?• Collated disparate data sets• Cleaned & matched• Developed data model to correlate current & historic data views• Introduced a managed change process
    10. 10. Single View of Customer
    11. 11. The missing piece of the puzzle• What is left to do ?• We know where businesses are, and who they are• But what do they do ?• Identify how the business interacts with the Council, and then re-engineer processes
    12. 12. So what ?• See where regulation should be happening but isn’t• Identify services which could benefit businesses if they knew about them• Coordinated service response• Target enforcement activities• Consider social impacts