The GIS and Analytics team in North Ayrshire Council sits within IT and has 3 core functions:
- It is the corporate GIS team using the Esri ArcGIS platform, with a focus on delivering mobile digital enablement using the ArcGIS field apps Survey123, Collector and Workforce.
- It provides a corporate business intelligence and data analytics function, mainly using Power BI.
- It does automations and integrations using FME (an Extract, Transform and Load tool) and Python scripting.
The team was formed following an idea of the then head of service as an enabler as part of the newly written digital strategy. The hope was that the team would be able to use council data to bring new insights, improve processes and help to bring about much needed transformational change.
Team Formation – Timeline
- November – The team formed as Data Analytics with what were previously two Workforce Analysts from HR as Data Analysts, 1 GIS Analyst Programmer from IT and a Research Analyst from Community Planning as the team leader.
- May – The initial team leader left, and the GIS Analyst Programmer took over as temporary team leader. Took on a graduate intern from the Data Lab for an initial a 3-month contract.
- September – IT restructure leads to the temporary team leader being permanently appointed as Senior Technology Officer and team lead. Graduate intern gains a permanent post as a Data Analyst. Team is renamed GIS and Analytics.
- May – Mini team restructure with Senior Technology Officer promoted to Team Manager. The then vacant Senior Technology Officer post is filled by the Data Analyst recruited from the Data Lab.
- August – Team expands to take on a further two Data Analysts. There is now a Team Manager, Senior Technology Officer and four Data Analysts.
First steps – free up time
Six months after its creation, with the change of team leader and recruitment of a graduate intern via the Data Lab, the team had a renewed focus and dynamism.
The Data Analysts that were brought in from HR also brought their legacy workload which consisted of the creation of workforce-related reports. These were created using one off exports from the HR system, Access, Excel, Word and with a lot of manual manipulation, copying and pasting. The annual version of the maximising attendance report, for example, could take well over a week to produce.
The graduate intern that came in from the Data Lab was given the project to automate, as far as possible, the creation of these workforce reports. Using a combination of Power BI, R scripting and SQL to pull in the data he was able to get the team to a position where the reports take 15 around minutes, with only a few parameters needing adjusted each time. This meant that instead of spending 100% of their time on workforce analytics, the Data Analysts only now spend about 15% of their time on this, freeing time for other projects.
Sell yourself and your work
After the team finishes each large piece of work they do a ‘show and tell’ to launch and show case their work. The team hires a large meeting room, such as the Council Chambers, and do an interactive presentation to all the relevant team leaders, senior managers and chief officers, and take any questions they might have. This has built a significant awareness of the team, the technologies they are using and what they can do for them. This engagement is so successful that after each ‘show and tell’ the team receives more queries from colleagues in other departments.
The team also have written case studies and held various demonstrations to other councils that are interested in their projects and ways of working, further raising the awareness of, and goodwill, towards the team.
Take on more work and expand
After the success of the automation of HR Reports using Power BI and freeing up much of the Data Analysts time the team were able to take on more projects and really improve the team’s skills in Power BI and SQL. They have now delivered Power BI reports for HR, Procurement, Finance, Housing, Building Standards, Information Governance, Chief Officers Leadership Team, IT and HSCP.
The demand for their work is so high that the team now have a significant backlog of projects. Because of this, and also the fact that most of the projects that we deliver have some kind of transformational benefit, the team put together a paper to take to the Executive Leadership Team asking for two more Data Analysts for the team. This bid was successful at the June ELT with the new Data Analysts starting August 2020.
Recruit interns from the Data Lab
The team have twice now recruited graduate interns from the Data Lab for three-month projects. This allows the team to concentrate on transformational change projects that they may not have capacity to do ordinarily in the hope that these can then be implemented on a wider scale. Their first project was the automation of HR reporting using BI tools and the second was the dynamic route optimisation of streetsweepers using Python.
The graduates from Data Lab come with data literate skills like Python, R, business intelligence, machine learning and cloud applications that are valuable and potentially hard to recruit for. A similar route is to recruit from CodeClan, which is where one of the most recent Data Analysts came from.
The projects that the graduate interns complete then form the basis of their Master’s thesis and it also gives them experience of working on a real world problem.
Data and technology as a driver for transformational change
Many of the projects the team do come from, and are delivered in conjunction with, colleagues in the Transformation team and have a direct transformational benefit. For example, the team has been working with these colleagues to completely change the way the council’s Streetscene service works using the suite of Esri ArcGIS field apps.
The various teams in Streetscene now receive their work via their mobile phones and tablets on the Workforce app, which in some cases are manually raised from the office and in others automatically raised based on a previous survey or inspection from Survey123 or Collector. The automation elements of the workflow are handled by FME or Python.
The Streetscene service now has a much better understanding of the work that is getting completed on the ground and has an accurate account of all the inspections and assignments that it is carrying out. It has also large eliminated the need for paper for inspections and job sheets with the obvious environmental benefits and costs savings that this brings from reduced usage of resources.
The future direction
With a newly expanded team, the North Ayrshire GIS and Analytics team is ready to take on more work similar to that it has delivered in the past using the business intellegence, GIS and automation tools they have available to them.
The team also now have the capacity and skills to move into new areas of interest in the data field, such as the internet of things, predictive analytics and robotic process automation. It hopes to use these new tools and techniques to bring about further transformational benefit to the council.