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South London Partnership shows how to ask the right questions of data

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A group of local authorities is using a common data platform to get best value from IoT data, writes Tom Day, local government client director at Hitachi Solutions

Aggregating data from different public sector bodies often involves dealing with an array of systems, spreadsheets and sticky plasters that makes it hard to squeeze actionable insights from the effort. But this can be overcome when an effective data platform is combined with an emphasis on outcomes in using the data.

There is a great example of what can be achieved in the experience of the South London Partnership (SLP) – a collaboration of Croydon, Kingston upon Thames, Merton, Richmond upon Thames and Sutton Councils – which has been harnessing data from its trial of internet of things (IoT) technology in support of service improvements throughout the boroughs.

Bradley Coupar, smart places project manager for Sutton, described some of the achievements at the recent UKAuthority AI & Data4Good conference, emphasising a core point that the real value comes not from pulling together as much data as possible, but asking questions and using the right data to produce desired outcomes.

He said SLP’s IoT programme is based on a memorandum of understanding stating that the projects must be problem focused to support one of three objectives: promoting economic growth, supporting the response to Covid-19 or a local response to the climate emergency. This is underpinned by principles of citizen control, public trust, security and privacy, sharing data by default, only engaging in solutions in which the data is publicly owned, and working with partners who sign up to the principles.

Supporting vulnerable people

In addition to the above the programme has delivered a number of projects that have focused on supporting vulnerable residents. As a result we have set stringent controls around data privacy and data access which has been underpinned by a consent model whereby explicit consent has been obtained.

The innovative project has generated significant interest across the region.

“We had over 150 proposals for trials that we whittled down to 40+ and were faced with 12 suppliers, multiple dashboards and lots of data,”  Coupar said. “ When presented with so much data we needed to aggregate that data in a way that would  make it more useful and more appropriate to support those business areas.”

As an outcome of a detailed tendering process  Hitachi Solutions was chosen to build the data platform for the programme. It is based on Microsoft Azure and integrates with several data sources, including Breathe London and EMSOL for air quality and Enovation for telecare, Vivacity for traffic and iDefigo for visual monitoring and security.

The platform enabled SLP  to triangulate the data for different use cases and provide insights to support interventions and preventative measures and work towards better outcomes, with the trials providing three examples highlighted by Bradley Coupar.

Another project has involved the cross referencing of sensor data on air pollution with traffic levels and Met Office data on weather conditions to assess air quality in specific streets at specific times. This has been used to support a case for closing some streets with schools when children are arriving and leaving.

There has also been an effort to use data from sensors in street culverts to identify those at risk from flooding and adjust the maintenance regime, since when there have been no instances of serious flooding in the relevant places.

Change at right time

“It’s a fantastic example of using data to get change at the right time to protect citizens and help our local authority colleagues in delivering services,” Coupar said.

“Aggregating data into the platform enabled us to create additional visualisations and enable us to triangulate the data for further use cases. For example, the Safer Streets project combined the Breathe London and Vivacity data to provide an aggregated view of the quality of air around the schools in our boroughs, which had not been done before.

“Working in collaboration with Enovation, the alarm receiving centres data platform provider, we were able to identify that telecare data could be visualised and that this may bring significant value to residents in helping spot their decline early.

"Through working with partners we’ve been able to access APIs from telecare ARCs, and through use of test data we’ve been able to prove we can bring in the data around falls and develop dashboards for early insights to prevent something serious or a hospital admission.”

He said SLP is working with healthcare partners to assess what other benefits the platform could bring to health and social care, and pointed to the possibility of building customised theographs – a visual representations of the contacts an individual has with the services – to support vulnerable residents.

Insights and positive outcomes

A lesson from this is that it is not necessary to join up all those systems and spreadsheets individually, but that a common data platform can be a great asset in obtaining actionable insights and providing positive outcomes for the public.

The SLP's platform, built by Hitachi Solutions, is a great option. It is supported by a significant ongoing investment by Microsoft in the underlying Azure platform, which means it will continue to improve; and the company does not claim the intellectual property on how it is used by public sector bodies, which gives them plenty of freedom in how they wish to use it.

It also supports a key element of a successful data strategy, to ask the right questions in bringing together an array of available sources and ensure that the right data is provided and used effectively for the public good.

Learn more about how Hitachi Solutions is delivering a smart city platform for the South London Partnership here

You can view Tom Day and Bradley Coupar's presentation at AI & Data4Good 2022 below:  

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