The Path to Manageable Data - Going Beyond the Three V’s of Big Data
The Path to Manageable Data
Going Beyond the Three V’s of Big Data
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Search Powered Data Discovery
Big data, big problems
Fighting the Digital Skills Crisis
How businesses can minimise impact of skills gap
Tips for Higher Quality Data
Addressing common mistakes and problems
What does big data really mean for banks?
Leek United Building Society
Case in point
- but not as you know it
Analytics against Fraud
How organisations can use analytics to reduce fraud
Mid Kent Services
Case in point
Big data is a big deal in business. While some industry experts
claim the journey is far from easy, the reality is that many are
unaware of the relatively simple steps to generate eﬀective
insight. Here Simon Nicholls, Sales and Marketing Director of
business intelligence and analytics specialist, Connexica, looks at
how business analytics software can help businesses on the road
to actionable data.
In the early 2000’s Doug Laney, vice president at research ﬁrm
Gartner, deﬁned the three Vs of big data: volume, velocity and
variety. Since then, following the development of the big data
trend, industry expert Mark van Rijmenam has added four extra
Vs: veracity, variability, visualisation and value. Together these
demonstrate how to deal with the demands of big data. So what
are all these new Vs and what do they mean? Has the concept
Veracity, the ﬁrst new V, is essential for big data. For the analysis
to be correct, the data itself must be accurate. The large volume
and velocity of big data means that it is statistically likely to have a
large number of errors.
Big Data, Big Problem
90%of the world’s data
was generated over
the last 2 years
Good business analytics software should already have a data
validation process. This means that, from the beginning, errors
and discrepancies are spotted, so only high-quality data is
subsequently analysed, reported and actioned.
Variability is an extension to Laney’s original variety. Big data
collected from multiple sources can take a variety of diﬀerent
formats. Data can now be collected from transactions, social
media comments or sensors. While this large amount of data can
be beneﬁcial to companies, it can be overwhelming if they don’t
know how to properly action it.
For example, retail companies improve their brand perception
and customer loyalty by monitoring variables including
purchasing habits, social media contact or in-store complaints.
The problem with variability, especially in regards to social media,
is that most analytics software will be unable to register the
meaning of a tweet in context. Therefore, it cannot correctly
evaluate whether it is a positive or negative reaction.
Using advanced analytics software, businesses can perform
sentiment analysis on this kind of data. It contains algorithms
that can interpret the context of the message and decipher the
correct meaning of the word in context. This makes the data
collected accurate and means that it can be visualised correctly,
as either a positive or a negative view.
Although analysing big data can yield lots of useful information,
many business leaders will struggle to make use of this if it is not
presented in an easy to understand format.
million tweets are
Source: Internet Live Stats
Powerful business analytics software is able to analyse data from
multiple sources and convert it into one manageable stream of
data. Businesses can then use this to change their processes
quickly and easily, rather than having to manually correlate data
across hundreds of ﬁles, documents and databases.
One of the speciﬁc pressures of big data is speed. With the rise of
the Internet of Things (IoT), more and more devices are becoming
equipped with sensors that can feed back data. Although data
analysts would traditionally use manually generated reports, new
monitors such as smart meters demand near real time reporting.
This is clearly impossible to do without the use of analytics
software and means that quick and easy visualisation interfaces
Although many analytics programmes can capture data in real
time, some software relies on SQL queries to perform searches.
Even for the most technologically savvy employees, generating
these queries still takes time. This means that the queries are not
truly representative of real-timing reporting. Software such as
Connexica’s CXAIR features a user-friendly search-engine style
interface, which allows anyone to generate accurate, up to date,
reports and means that employees can view data and make
Smart visualisation is truly the ﬁrst step to the democratisation
of business intelligence — the ability for anyone in the business,
regardless of their technical ability, to gain actionable insights
from big data. This means that, instead of spending hours poring
over complicated reports business leaders can roll out
self-service analytics, making data accessible to all, from
administration clerks to C-level leaders.
20.8million Internet of
Things (IoT) connected
devices by 2020
The value of big data is in the analysis, not in the data itself.
Research ﬁrm Mckinsey predicts that big data has a potential
annual value of $250 billion to Europe’s public sector. However,
this data is pointless and worth nothing if it cannot be eﬀectively
For example, the UK Mid Kent Services (MKS), a local authority
partnership consisting of Maidstone, Swale and Tunbridge Wells
Borough Councils, used Connexica's CXAIR business analytics
software to deal with a staggering volume of data.
The data consisted of over 20 million car parking records, 500,000
service-call records and 65,000 council tax records. In the past,
administrative staﬀ had to spend time combining data from
multiple data sources in order to prepare reports for managers.
This was obviously a time consuming and ineﬃcient manual
By using Connexica’s CXAIR software, managers could see all of
this data in one format, meaning that it could be transformed into
actionable information. By eliminating the manual processing,
CXAIR was able to deliver reports much more quickly, more
accurately and with information that could be actioned in a more
In the same way that Van Rijmenam's additional Vs help us to
better understand the complexities of modern big data, the same
is true for the way we analyse data.
Given the increase in the amount of data that businesses must
now manage, it makes sense that they use eﬀective ways to
gather, sort and analyse it. This is where good business analytics
software is indispensable - with the right software and the right
plan, maintaining manageable and actionable data is no longer a
searches per year
Source: Internet Live Stats
Digital Skills Crisis
A recent report published by the UK House of Commons Science
and Technology Committee stated that approximately 12.6
million adults in the UK lack basic digital skills. This IT skills gap is
aﬀecting businesses across industries, from ﬁnancial to
manufacturing. Here, Simon Nicholls, Sales and Marketing
Director of business intelligence specialist Connexica, explores
how businesses can address this crisis and minimise the impact.
The technological revolution of the late twentieth and early
twenty-ﬁrst century has brought with it signiﬁcant changes. Not
only has it fundamentally changed the way businesses operate, it
has signiﬁcantly increased the volume of data available to us. We
can now monitor and track every process in detail, gaining
valuable information and insights in the process.
Unfortunately, as the House of Commons found, digital skills
have struggled to keep up with demand. As such, business
management teams repeatedly encounter diﬃculties with
aspects of operation and even recruitment.
How Businesses can Minimise Impact of Skills Gap
12.6million adults in the
UK lack basic digital
Source: UK House of Commons
Science and Technology Commitee
In fact, 72 per cent of employers have expressed unwillingness to consider potential candidates
lacking these skills. This is understandable, but problematic in the midst of a skills crisis.
Interestingly, this latest report was commissioned as a result of a previous report — the big data
dilemma report in February 2016 — that identiﬁed, “the risk of a growing data analytics skills gap
as big data reaches further into the economy”.
This is a pressing concern, because the ability to analyse data eﬀectively directly inﬂuences the
strategy of decision makers and business leaders.
For example, most businesses can use data analytics to identify opportunities to improve
operational processes and achieve time and cost savings. However, this can only be done if staﬀ
have the skills to interact with this data and pick out the actionable information.
While this can be done by specialist staﬀ, recruitment increases costs and relying on IT
departments can limit the amount of real-time practical insight.
So how can businesses tackle the digital skills gap? The most obvious approach is by investing in
upskilling programmes to ensure staﬀ are fully competent using business IT systems. However,
this is a long-term objective that will do little to make an impact in the more immediate future.
Fortunately, businesses can make some small changes to improve the upskilling process for
While some software companies are already pushing towards self-service data analytics, which
sees analysis tools move out of the IT department and into the wider workforce, only 16 per cent
of business executives can adequately use those tools.
This is where search-based analytics software, such as Connexica’s CXAIR, can be used to bridge
the skills gap. Using natural language search, the same format found in search engines, makes
business intelligence accessible and actionable on a wider scale. Changing the way that users
interact with the tools directly can remove the unnecessary technical barriers to business
Tips for Higher
A study by Experian QAS recently revealed that 65 per cent of
businesses consider human error to be the cause of most of their
data quality issues. So, how can chief information oﬃcers (CIOs)
eﬀectively address the most common mistakes and improve
Rules-based Data Audits
The objective is to ﬁnd those data sources plagued by low-quality
data and rectify the information at the source.
Typically, these will be those data sources with little rules
governing data input and format. Fortunately, this is easy
enough to address.
Using a rules-based approach to the data quality audit uncovers
the likelihood of inaccurate data values.
Addressing Common Mistakes and Problems
65%of data issues are due
to human error
Source: Experian QAS
This is used to build unique identiﬁers within the data using
uncommon data values within the database. The idea is that a
“match” can be found by selecting several uncommon values to
create a unique identiﬁer, thus reducing duplicates and
improving data accuracy.
A typical example for local authorities is matching a citizen’s
record. This can be done by using the last three characters from
data values to build a unique identiﬁer, such as surname, council
account number and postcode. It is unlikely you will get many
instances of “TON7194ET”.
Setting a Master Record
More powerful analytics software also allows you to deﬁne a
master record. This is a database that maintains up to date,
accurate values, that can be used to drive amendments to other
data sources where there are duplicates and other invalid data
values. Connexica developed its CXAIR business intelligence
software to overcome this long-winded, manual, process.
While the staﬀ that enter data are only human and prone to
errors, these mistakes do not need to impact reporting. With the
right software and rules in place, businesses can ensure that the
systems catch what slips through by humans.
CXAIR across a variety
Big data has been a buzzword on the lips of business managers and CIOs for at least the last two
decades. Every industry, from ﬁnancial to medical and even local authorities, appears to be
investing in ways to be a part of the modern information gold rush. But what does big data really
mean for the banking and ﬁnancial sector? Here, Simon Nicholls, Sales and Marketing Director of
business intelligence specialist Connexica, explores further.
Traditionally, the ﬁnancial sector hasn’t been the most receptive to new technologies. As an
industry that thrives on minimising risk and making carefully calculated business decisions,
choosing to handle high-value sensitive information with what may simply be the technological
ﬂavour of the month is not a decision many rush to make.
Despite these reservations, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) included investment in
technology as the top priority of its 2015/16 business plan, a clear sign that the sector needs to be
making a more conscious push towards adopting digitisation.
What does Big Data really mean for Banks?
Investing in Big Data
The next step is big data, a technological phenomenon that has stirred signiﬁcant interest from
the banking industry. The idea that data generated during the everyday processes and operations
of a business can be used to inform strategies and achieve objectives is an exciting one,
particularly in a post-crash economy where banks are faced with constant scrutiny over the detail
of risk reporting.
However, there remains a question of what big data truly means for the ﬁnancial sector. Although
the information can yield a competitive advantage for banks, for it to be eﬀective it has to be
The majority of the conversation surrounding big data banking to date, has looked at what
models and systems are best at making the data accessible for analysts. Yet the question banks
should be asking is, “how can this information be actionable for us?”
This approach limits the functionality of big data. One of the most valuable characteristics of big
data is that it gives banks real-time insight into multiple data sets. The places that customers
regularly use their cards, for example, can be analysed to highlight opportunities for additional
revenue streams by partnering with retailers. This could take the form of targeted customer cash
back oﬀers or even to provide anonymised commercial insights to the retailer.
Changing the Data Analysis Game
When choosing a data analytics package, banks should look beyond SQL-based software into the
diﬀerent types of big data analytics for ﬁnancial services — notably search-based analytics.
Search-based analytic software makes use of natural-language search for a simple and
uncomplicated approach to navigating and inspecting data sets. As a result, cross-referencing
becomes an easy process and correlations can be spotted without the need for a technical skill
set. This means people at all levels in the bank can beneﬁt from actionable business insights.
Software such as Connexica’s CXAIR, for example, can even draw this data from a wide range of
disparate sources, meaning that banks that prefer the traditional bespoke systems can make use
of the functionality without the need for migration to a new system.
Big data might be a much more buzzword-friendly phrase than “search-based self-service
analytics” but it is limited on its own. Banks can only truly reap the rewards by setting up an
eﬀective means of using it.
Towards the end of 2015, The Business Performance Innovation
Network (BPI) conducted a survey of 250 executives. The survey
found that 52 per cent thought that their IT departments were
poor or only “just making progress”. However, Leek United
Building Society’s IT team has remained ahead of the curve, which
is why the organisation made the decision to integrate analytics
software from Connexica into its system.
Leek United Building Society was formed in 1863 in Staﬀordshire,
UK. Today, the organisation has a total of 12 branches across
various regions of the UK.
Leek United uses CXAIR business intelligence software to:
Case in point
52%IT departments rated
at poor or ‘just making
Source: The Business Performance
Innovation Network (BPI) Survery
Allow each department to produce its own reports
Analyse raw data from a number of disparate sources
Comply with ﬁnancial regulations
Banks and building societies are subject to an array of stringent regulations to protect both
consumers and the economy and the associated requirements for compliance are constantly
changing. Quite often these are small changes, such as an adaption in the way certain legal
documents have to be phrased. However, there can be amendments of a more serious nature.
In 2013, for example, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) was replaced by the Financial Conduct
Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) as a result of the Financial Services
Act 2012. The move, which also saw The Bank of England take responsibility for ﬁnancial stability,
implemented signiﬁcant changes to the UK ﬁnancial regulation framework by amending relevant
provisions in the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (FSMA).
Under the new act, laws relating to manipulation and misleading statements and impressions
were restructured and broadened and a new category was created for the regulation of activity
in relation to benchmarks and credit ratings.
This means that banks and building societies are now subject to prudential and conduct
regulation from the PRA and FCA. However, from the point of view of businesses operating in the
ﬁnancial sector, what this really means from a day-to-day perspective is continuous information
gathering and ongoing reporting.
Reporting for Duty
Leek United Building Society was established in 1863, which means the business has weathered
all manner of regulatory and economic change. Today, the mutual organisation has twelve busy
branches across Staﬀordshire, Derbyshire, Cheshire and Shropshire, oﬀering a range of
mortgages, savings and insurance products.
Each of these branches, as well as the central marketing, sales and risk departments, have to
generate a wealth of business and regulatory reports on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual
basis. Anyone who has ever put together any kind of report has an appreciation for how laborious
the process can be. When there are such stringent requirements to be met, fact checking and
cross referencing can be a headache.
“In 2015 alone our IT department produced over 700 reports,”
said Stephen Boulton, Head of IT and Admin Services at the
building society. “Historically, it made sense for reports to be
handled centrally, as this reduced the chances of
interdepartmental discrepancies between reports, something
that can result in ﬁnes and damage our brand reputation.
However, the ideal scenario is one where each department can
take full ownership of its reporting in the knowledge that the
data is accurate and the report is straightforward to produce.
This is why we were looking for an alternative that would enable
each department of the business, whether sales, marketing,
mortgages or savings, to take control of their own reports.”
With this goal in mind, Leek United Building Society found
Connexica’s business analytics software, CXAIR, through work
with a mutual partner.
Big Data, Big Results
Using search technology, CXAIR takes raw data from any number
of sources and converts it into visually appealing and easy to
understand reports that oﬀer actionable insight.
A mutual partner of both businesses originally introduced the
building society to CXAIR with the intention of using the tool for
reporting on things related to online transactions with
customers. After further review, Boulton realised that CXAIR was
what he had been looking for to help the company’s reporting
“Being able to integrate an analytics tool that can draw on
various data sources and automatically produce reports in
minutes is exactly what we needed,” said Boulton. “Rather than
someone spending hours searching through spread sheets and
databases and then compiling a report, we now have a solution
“Being able to
integrate an analytics
tool that can draw on
various data sources
produce reports in
minutes is exactly
what we needed.”
Source: Stephen Boulton,
Leek United Building Society
that completely negates this laborious process. It also means that we know every department is
drawing from the same central resource, so there can be no discrepancies in ﬁgures or results.”
Establishing CXAIR as part of the building society’s system was a straightforward process. This
was due, in part, to Connexica’s in-depth understanding of nominal ledger systems, such as Sage.
However, the main reason CXAIR is easy to integrate into any system is a result of its open
architecture design, meaning it can work with any existing software.
Where the real work comes in is deﬁning the sources of data needed to generate each report.
“We work with all of our clients to help them understand where the data they need resides and
what the format is, or needs to be,” said Daniel Rostron at Connexica. “This is really important,
particularly as all organisations are reliant on timely accurate information to make key decisions.
If the data you are basing these decisions on is of poor quality, inaccurate or is simply not
relevant, then the quality and eﬃcacy of any generated report and decisions made is going to be
“Our CXAIR software is easy to use and very quick, but it’s only going to help if companies put
eﬀort into inputting and accessing the right data in the ﬁrst instance. This is why we spent time
with Leek United Building Society deﬁning its data strategy to help them do just this.”
This has helped the building society not only achieve its goal of enabling non-IT professionals to
generate reports and access key information, but it will also reduce any potential for ﬁnes for
errors in consistency. For example, if there was a discrepancy in a ﬁgure between two diﬀerent
reports that would raise questions from regulatory bodies about clarity, ethics and accuracy and
could incur hefty ﬁnes.
Democratising Business Intelligence
When you talk to non-IT professionals about big data and analytics, there is often a look of panic
or confusion on their face. It seems like a complex thing to comprehend, even if the software is
actually very straightforward to use. This needs to be overcome with training and familiarisation.
“Our approach to analytics is all about the democratisation of business intelligence,” said
“This means that anyone can look at data and make informed,
strategic decisions without being dependent on the IT
department. That’s why all data CXAIR presents through reports
is visual and easy to understand. However, for people to really
get the most from it there has to be a process of knowledge
transfer through both formal training and hands-on migration of
This training process, delivered by Connexica’s team of experts,
has meant that Leek United Building Society has achieved its goal
and enabled individual teams to conﬁdently create all required
business and regulatory reports.
“Thanks to both the ease of use CXAIR aﬀords and the
comprehensive training from Connexica, we’re now in a position
to achieve our objective,” said Boulton. “In addition, the reports
generated by CXAIR are both more accurate, as a result of the
improved data dictionary and are more visually appealing. This
means we’ll be able to get much more out of them, using them to
support more strategic business decisions and enabling us to
keep up with the competitive ﬁnancial marketplace.”
Technology and the way businesses use it is changing at a rapid
pace. With key trends like security, business automation,
productivity improvements and operational resilience gathering
pace, a company’s IT department needs to be free to investigate
these advancements and upgrade in a strategic manner. If IT
professionals are continually relied on for tasks that could easily
be completed by other areas of the business, such as reports,
then they are not going to be able to achieve this.
If business leaders, like those surveyed by BPI, want their IT
departments to advance beyond “just making progress”, they
need to take a leaf out of Leek United Building Society’s book.
£193billion spent on fraud
every year in the UK
Source: 2016 Annual Fraud Indicator
In June 2016, independent auditing company Audit Scotland uncovered almost £17m lost to fraud
and error. The startling ﬁnd was only discovered thanks to the organisation’s biennial National
Fraud Initiative (NFI), which involves local authorities and other public bodies sharing data between
them. Here, Simon Nicholls, Sales and Marketing Director, explores how councils and organisations
can bring together service data to reduce both costs and the prevalence of fraud.
Fraud has been a recurring problem for UK local authorities in recent years. In 2013, the
now-disbanded National Fraud Authority (NFA) reported that fraud cost the country a total of
£52bn that year. That same year, it was reported that a ﬁfth of London council tenancies showed
indications of fraud.
It is easy to identify the high incidence rate of fraud, but it is signiﬁcantly more challenging to
identify fraud itself. Although the UK Government produces ﬁnancial year estimations of what
percentage of beneﬁts and services are fraudulent, these are simply estimates. In reality, the
ﬁgure could be much higher.
However, the reason so many incidents slip under local authority radars is due to a lack of resources
to provide extensive analysis. For example, housing beneﬁt fraud is often discovered by
cross-referencing service bills with housing records. Inconsistencies in this data ﬂag up potential
- but not as you know it.
It is the cross-referencing of this data that is diﬃcult. Traditionally, local authorities have stored
accumulated information in rudimentary databases and, sometimes, even Excel spreadsheets.
This makes the process of extracting insights tedious and time-consuming, which is further
exacerbated by the high volumes of data that is generated in our big data driven society.
Likewise, more advanced analytics requires the need for specially trained personnel to make
sense of the data. This means councils will either need to invest a large sum of money in
extensively training certain members of staﬀ, or alternatively spend even more in hiring a data
As local authorities are regularly subject to budget cuts and expected to do more with fewer
resources, neither option is particularly desirable.
In order to combat this, there needs to be a technological shift towards what we call the
democratisation of business intelligence. This calls for an understandable means of reviewing
accumulated data, allowing most staﬀ within an organisation to gain actionable insight from their
business intelligence — all without the need for specialist analysis.
Software such as Connexica’s CXAIR achieves this by replacing traditional dashboards of raw data
with a search-powered business analytics approach. Essentially, the software creates a
Google-type approach to navigating and bringing together data streams on one dashboard, while
still allowing for visualisations such as graphs to be generated. The software draws from a large
variety of data sources to allow cross-referencing.
This approach makes the information easy to understand for staﬀ from junior management to
C-suite, letting organisations spend less time making sense of data and more time using it to
make decisions. In fact, local authorities in Kent are already using CXAIR to achieve a range of
business objectives, including for counter-fraud purposes.
If we are to learn anything from Audit Scotland’s discovery, it is that the best means of
combatting fraud and its associated costs is by making eﬀective use of business intelligence.
Fortunately, a local authority’s greatest asset in doing so is the inescapable quantities of
information generated daily — councils simply need to connect the dots.
The 2016 Annual Fraud Indicator estimated that fraud costs the UK £193 billion every year, with
£144 billion attributed to business fraud. Having more ﬁnancial services and more personal
information online can entice fraudsters but companies can also leverage this information to
monitor and reduce risk.
From paying council tax to paying a leisure centre membership, many tasks that previously
required a trip to the local council oﬃce can now be completed online. While this is far more
convenient for customers, it also gives the organisations a chance to cross-reference this large
amount of data to prevent fraud.
According to the National Fraud Authority, fraud and corruption costs local government £2 billion
a year. At a time when budgets are tight for local authorities, any ﬁnancial savings have a large
impact. Fraud and corruption reduce the amount of resources that are available for legitimate
claimants and also reduce the money available for public services.
In response to these ﬁgures, Kent County Council’s counter fraud team set up the Kent Intelligence
Network (KIN). Local authorities involved in the partnership uniﬁed a wide range of data before
using analytics software to scrutinise the data to ﬁnd matches and patterns which could potentially
indicate fraudulent activity.
How Organisations can use Analytics to Reduce Fraud
By using business analytics software, organisations can identify discrepancies between
previously separated data sets such as council tax, beneﬁts and leisure centre records. Council tax
records may show that someone claims to live alone but leisure centre records may show multiple
people registered at an address. Analytics software will ﬂag up such discrepancies and authorities
can investigate further based on quantitative ﬁndings.
Streams of data that need to be analysed may come from diﬀerent types of software, especially
when they come from diﬀerent organisations. To successfully identify potentially fraudulent
activity, business analytics software should be able to monitor data from diﬀerent sources. For
example, Connexica’s CXAIR software is able to monitor data from a number of common business
applications such as Sage. CXAIR also uses plug-in adapters to import information from other
services such as Twitter or LinkedIn.
Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. Due to this huge amount of data that large
organisations record every day, it is impossible for employees to manually monitor all data to look
for any suspicious activity, or to look for patterns. In banking, analytics software is often used to
search for suspicious activity, such as a series of withdrawals or transfers to oﬀshore accounts,
and these can then be ﬂagged for further monitoring.
It is vital that large companies have safeguards in place to protect against fraudulent activity. For
example, bank employees have authorisation limits on the payments that they can make, but
even these measures have previously been circumvented by making two smaller transactions
rather than one large one. By using business analytics software, companies can trace all of the
transactions that have been made by a teller if suspicions are raised.
Software that uses natural language search makes this much easier for non-technical staﬀ, who
can search for all records by name. They will then see a record of all of the payments authorised
by that teller and can identify any fraudulent activity.
With experts predicting an increase in fraud over the coming years, the annual fraud report
recommends that companies should make investments into the development of anti-fraud
detection systems. By using business analytics software, companies have increased control and
management over the wide range of data they hold and can better mitigate the risk of fraud.
The concept of big data has gone from strength to strength in recent years. With more businesses,
devices and services making use of internet connectivity and wireless functionality, there is an
abundance of data being generated at every possible moment that can make resources go further.
This is particularly important for local authorities in light of constant pressure to do more with less,
as Mid Kent Services (MKS) has been demonstrating.
MKS is a consortium of three borough councils — Maidstone, Swale and Tunbridge Wells — in Kent,
UK. This accounts for approximately 410,000 individuals.
MKS uses CXAIR business intelligence software to:
Case in point
Reduce the costs of manually processing payments
Identify housing fraud and ease homelessness in the county
Analyse, in depth, parking services in the area
Local authorities have been subject to a number of budget cuts in
recent years. As the UK government has worked to ease the country
back to stability after the 2009 recession, councils have typically felt
the squeeze of funding cuts. As a result, there is a constant pressure on
them to make their resources stretch further and to achieve more while
avoiding additional costs.
Big data makes this possible. By analysing the information accumulated
by a variety of input sources, such as council tax payment methods and
parking permit services, local authorities are able to identify areas
where costs can be minimised, as well as where extra funding is
necessary or whether there is any potential fraudulent activity.
However, this is only achievable with an eﬀective approach to analysing
and reporting this data, something that has traditionally proven
diﬃcult for councils with larger constituencies.
An Intelligent Approach to Big Data
Mid Kent Services (MKS) is one of a handful of local authority
partnerships working to tackle this problem. The Partnership is
responsible for roughly 410,000 individuals, which subsequently
produces a high volume of data and makes analysis a laborious and
time-consuming process. This problem is exacerbated when you
consider that individuals with specialist analytical skills are often
needed to interpret and present the raw data into something more
It is becoming widely acknowledged that companies and organisations
require business intelligence software to make big data work for them.
This was highlighted in Gartner’s 2016 CIO Agenda Report, which
featured business intelligence and analytics as the top trending priority
from a poll of nearly 3,000 Chief Information Oﬃcers (CIOs) globally. In
fact, this is the ﬁfth consecutive year that business intelligence has
been top the priority.
410KIndividuals within the
Source: MKS Case Study
As a result, it is of little surprise that MKS turned to business intelligence software to help bring
together its many data sets into one central location. The partnership put in a successful bid for
funding from the Transformation Challenge Award (TCA), a scheme introduced by the
Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), in 2014.
A portion of this funding was dedicated to investment in software, the aim of which was to
simplify the cross-referencing of data sets to aid each individual council in meeting
government-imposed spending targets.
To achieve this, the software had to be capable of drawing information from the large quantity of
sources and cross-reference it all eﬀectively, while also allowing for partnership-wide data
reports. MKS turned to business analytics specialist, Connexica, for software that could deliver
this, prompted by work the company had recently done in providing counter-fraud analytics
through its CXAIR solution to Kent County Council.
“The brief we gave to Connexica was for software that could work across a number of projects
within the partnership to analyse a variety of data types,” explained Andy Sturtivant, TCA Project
Manager at MKS. “The software was required to not only analyse and cross-reference all of this
data, but to also draw it from several data streams to boost eﬃciency.
“Our previous approaches to managing and analysing data were very one-dimensional and unable
to provide useful cross-referencing functionality. With much of the data that we are making use
of, it can only truly beneﬁt us when we are able to see a more comprehensive overview of
information across the partnership.”
The ability to cross-reference data sets was especially important in reducing administrative costs
for the borough councils. In one of the MKS projects, Swale Borough Council wanted to use
business intelligence software to reduce the cost of processing payments for council services.
Although Swale Borough Council was already processing some of its electronic payments
automatically, without the need for staﬀ to complete transactions, a large amount of service
users in the mid-Kent region were still using traditional methods such as cheques or phone
payments. This resulted in elevated operational costs for the local authorities.
One of the objectives for Swale Borough Council in particular was to identify who already make
some form of direct debit or electronic payment for some services, but continue to use traditional
payment methods for other services where automation isn't available.
Uniting the Data
“CXAIR is designed to easily integrate a multitude of data streams, whether it’s within an SME or
even encompassing an entire county,” explained Simon Nicholls, Sales and Marketing Director at
Connexica. “However, being able to gather data from multiple sources raises the challenge of
dealing with low-quality data. Traditional analytics software struggles when presented with data
that contains inconsistencies — usually errors that were introduced when the data was entered
into the system. Even a missing space in a postcode, for example, can throw oﬀ many analytics
“Fortunately, CXAIR addresses this issue by running data validation processes as it receives
information. This allows us to identify these potential problems from the very beginning and
resolve them before errors occur, helping to ensure all future data is high quality.”
However, even having high-quality data is not enough. Hiring the right people, with the right
technical expertise to analyse, interpret and present the data in a way that makes it easy to digest
for non-technical staﬀ is equally as important. This costly and laborious process has traditionally
been a barrier to gaining deeper insights from big data.
“One of the biggest grievances companies face when deciding on analytics software is just how
eﬀective it really is at providing genuine insight,” continued Jones. “Business intelligence has
been increasingly high on CIO priority lists in recent years, so there are a lot of start-ups creating
analytical software. However, it often requires specially-trained analysts to draw any real insight
from the data.
“There’s currently a movement to the democratisation of business intelligence, which is the
process of enabling any member of staﬀ, regardless of their technical know-how, to navigate the
information and understand it. This has many beneﬁts for businesses, but is of particular
importance to councils looking to minimise costs. After all, using analytics to reduce
administrative fees is counterproductive if the authority has to pay a specialist to do so!”
“One of our biggest priorities when choosing the right business
intelligence software was that of data protection and security,”
explained Sturtivant from MKS. “Much of the information that councils
work with is of a sensitive nature and so it must be handled in
accordance with a number of regulatory guidelines.”
One such regulation is the Data Protection Act (DPA) 1998. The DPA
1998 outlines that all personal data held by businesses or organisations
must abide by eight data protection principles, the seventh of which
relates to the security of held information. This covers protection from
both third-party compromisation and from accidental data loss.
However, this causes concerns for many local authorities. There is
currently a heated technological debate about the security of cloud
computing, which is the platform that many web-based services use for
handling programs and data. In fact, the 2016 state of the cloud survey
revealed that many IT staﬀ believe that security is one of the biggest
challenges to cloud implementation – second only to functional
To calm those fears, Connexica uses a mix of cloud and local storage.
The software itself is based in a private cloud, accessible only to an
organisation’s workforce and keeps a local index of information. For
MKS, the data streams came via a mixture of locally hosted back oﬃce
and other secure cloud hosted systems.
Challenges of Business Intelligence
Implementing business intelligence software into a system can come
with a unique set of challenges in each application. Whenever an
organisation rolls out a new piece of software or a new computer
system, it often places a steep learning curve on staﬀ to get up to
speed quickly. In order to overcome this, Connexica provided a series of
training sessions to MKS, including admin setup and dashboard
navigation, to ensure staﬀ were ﬂuent in the software.
“One of our biggest
choosing the right
software was that of
data protection and
Source: Andy Sturtivant, MKS
“The support we received from the team at Connexica was excellent.
They guided us through the installation process and helped with minor
teething problems,” continued Sturtivant. “After setting up CXAIR
promptly, the team remained on hand to help, ensuring that it was the
ideal solution for the partnership.”
Making Big Data Work
The use of business intelligence software has streamlined the tasks of
MKS. Within Maidstone Borough Council, for example, one such task
was monitoring and analysing the housing options in the borough. This
had previously been a time-consuming process involving three
separate systems, but is now all done within the search-based analytic
The beneﬁts of this were that staﬀ could see at a glance whether
household spending was in line with audited household income, which
in turn informed decision-making. Likewise, the centralised location of
data made for better management of funding for temporary
accommodation — which was something particularly important to MKS
in light of the area’s rising reports of homelessness.
These eﬃciency and business-planning beneﬁts are possible with the
combined use of big data and easily-accessible business intelligence
software. As the quantity of generated and accumulated data
continues to increase, it will only become more important for higher
numbers of staﬀ to be able to make use of it.
While not every company or organisation will face the same budgetary
limitations as local authorities, many are under the same pressure of
streamlining processes and increasing return on investment.
Eﬀective business intelligence software is the key to achieving this and
making resources go further and gain a competitive advantage in the
“The support we
received from the
team at Connexica
Source: Andy Sturtivant, MKS
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