By Simon Barlow, Executive Director of Consultancy and James Rodger, Executive Director IT Services
Rapid, accurate responses have become critical to society. For health issues, particularly, it’s important to have complete confidence in the underlying data that helps us to support vulnerable people.
In the wider sphere, if we want to improve the quality of life by improving services – and need to calculate the travel times, for example, between people’s homes and their nearest hospital, school, supermarket or pharmacy – then decision-making depends on having the right location, people and business data to hand. To model different scenarios and their potential outcomes, we must use the most accurate data.
Government and businesses maintain a huge amount of data about citizens and customers, as well as organisations that are part of society’s supply chain. The most common link between all of this data is place, or the locations at or between where things need to happen.
If we can’t link people and organisations (as service providers) to places, then we don’t get the best outcomes. As many of us who have been involved in supporting some of the COVID-19 response know, we are still seeing a wide range of attitudes towards location data and its role in providing solutions and services to our nation.
Most organisations create data about their customers. This is often supplemented by third party data to enrich that content and add further context or insight for analysis. For example, location data may be used to add latitude and longitude information to analyse travel times for shipments, or perhaps place customers and citizens within catchment areas. Usually this data will be sourced externally but – once embedded in internal systems – it may exist as a snapshot of its former self, rather than get regularly updated.
Often, this third-party location data doesn’t get refreshed at all because it is almost impossible to refresh the information without overwriting the organisation’s own edits and additions.
A simple yet robust data management policy is the key to any organisation’s productivity and success – supported by information security and enterprise level buy-in.
Our top 6 tips for establishing a location data management policy are:
1 – Identify the best reference data for information you don’t need to maintain yourself
Data should be captured or acquired from a trusted source with a mandate to refresh it regularly. Use unique identifiers to make connections with your own data rather than appending it into your own data content.
In the UK, the whole of the public sector has access to a highly accurate and well-maintained address and street network dataset. This data is updated daily to reflect real world changes. It provides the basis from which to link your own operational data to or use to extract a filtered set of locations from.
2 – Take responsibility for the quality and content of the data that your organisation maintains about the products and services being delivered
Data governance is key to ensuring your own data is well maintained, accurate and giving you the basis for delivering on expectations. Nominate data owners or stewards as a gateway within the organisation for ensuring the data is right for your current and future needs.
Any identified errors need to be reported back and fed back into a monitored workflow. This can ensure corrections are made by a nominated data steward, rather than a free-for-all scenario where everyone has editing rights.
3 – Use data models and standards to make your data more interoperable.
Use of open, ISO or OGC standards for data management allow you to develop services more easily to integrate into web platforms or system solutions. Again, by adding unique identifiers to the data (and using common standards), it becomes easier to use machine-to-machine services such as address verification, and to exchange location IDs between systems.
4 – Know the data protection law and how it applies to your organisation
Any data that can be used to identify people is protected by the legislation. In the UK this is the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA 2018), and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Every organisation is different, so it is important to understand the principles of the legislation and how they apply to your data. Failure to comply could lead to fines of £17.5m or 4% of your total annual worldwide turnover, whichever is higher.
5 – Protect data with resilient systems
IT systems are not 100% reliable, despite what the vendors might tell you, so store your data in systems that are designed to be resilient. Ensure they have redundant components that can automatically take over in the event of failure. Depending on your risk appetite and budget, this can range from redundant disks, power supplies and network connections, to hot-standby disaster recovery systems in a different location. Test this resiliency regularly to ensure it meets business needs.
6 – Establish a data retention and archiving policy
If you need to keep historical data for contractual or legislative purposes, agree and document a data and file archiving policy. System backups are often not the best way to archive data for long periods, either because they need the whole system to be restored to retrieve the data, which is sometimes not possible, or because the storage technologies they use become obsolete over time. If you are using backups to protect your data, make sure they’re tested regularly. Purpose built archiving solutions offer a more flexible and practical method for long-term data retention.
GeoPlace operates the country’s national address and street data infrastructure and is working hard to get more and more organisations to utilise the power of location data as part of its core business.
GeoPlace focuses on delivering flexible, innovative and reliable answers to business problems involving spatial data and can help you embed best practice within your organisation.