North Lanarkshire Council is reaping the benefits of a new self-service data matching and cleansing tool provided free of charge to councils by the Improvement Service (IS).
The Data Hub, part of Digital Public Services, can analyse multiple data sources and produce data analysis reports for partner organisations. The aim of the service is to assist organisations in identifying the most accurate and up-to-date addresses and person records for their customers.
It was originally created to help councils with data verification around the National Entitlement Card (NEC) replacement programme in 2016. That programme saw 31 Scottish councils use the service to verify addresses for around one million card customers. The project was so successful it won the ‘Big Data/Analytics Project of the Year Award’ at the 2017 UK IT Industry Awards and the ‘Excellence in Technology and Innovation’ award at the Scottish Transport Awards.
Since the NEC project, the Data Hub has been further developed to help councils to keep their customer data up-to-date using an online, self-service tool.
It’s time-saving. We have control of our own processes and I can do it when it suits us. We can format it ourselves and run it as many times as we want.
After using the Data Hub during the NEC project, North Lanarkshire Council (NLC) was quick to see how it could help it improve internal data quality and have practical applications.
Anne McLellan is Data Custodian at the council and has most recently used the Data Hub to ensure they don’t cause distress by sending letters to customers who are deceased. “We’re preparing to send out letters about free school meals and clothing grants. We really don’t want to send a letter to someone whose child has died.”
This involves taking the service’s own data set and seeding it with Unique Customer Reference Numbers (UCRNs) from the Data Hub. The data set is then compared to the NHSCR to get a ‘date of death’ for anyone who has passed away.
For free school meals, that meant matching around 10,000 data rows. “Around 90% of them are matched but there are always unmatched, particularly with children—their names change or are misspelt. We send away to NHSCR and they provide results back”, says Anne.
Anne’s colleagues in NLC Education also used Data Hub to improve their customer SEEMiS address data ahead of going live with the new parentsportal.scot, another Improvement Service product. Address data was cleansed and seeded with Unique Property Reference Numbers (UPRNs), enabling data to match up during the registration process.
The council uses this matching process to enhance its own data too. Like many councils, North Lanarkshire holds customer records across many systems; in its case there are separate systems for social work, council tax, blue badges, CRM, Scottish Welfare Fund and the NEC. Each system can hold slightly different data or have gaps. The Data Hub not only highlights matched and unmatched data but formats all records to Corporate Address Gazetteer (CAG) standards and can provide UPRNs and UCRNs for each one.
Anne uses the Data Hub to match the data in the disparate systems, then the edit function to fill in the gaps in each one, e.g. adding a date of birth to data sets where it is missing. It’s a key part of the council’s quest to create a ‘Master Citizen Record’ for all council customers.
The provision of UCRNs is also valuable to the council “to ensure that these are unique people” but also to speed up matching from other systems for ongoing maintenance. “We get notifications from myaccount but they all need UCRNs to ensure they match”, explains Anne.
Although North Lanarkshire Council has worked with the Improvement Service on data matching for several years, the matching was always done by the IS on behalf of the council. The big advantage of the new Data Hub, says Anne, is the self-service aspect. “It’s a definite improvement for us and it has helped us no end to be able to do this ourselves.
“It’s time-saving. We have control of our own processes and I can do it when it suits us. We can format it ourselves and run it as many times as we want.”
The main problem is keeping up with the demand from council services: “Once everyone knows, they all want to put their data through it!”
Anne now intends to use the Data Hub to cleanse data before entering it into the council’s systems. “I can see myself using it in the near future to put data through before we take it into our system, especially with large data sets.”