The Raven's Blog


Visual.ONS: How to compete with the big data aggregators

Advertisement feature

Christopher Gallagher, territory manager at SAS, explains how big data can be used by the public sector to find innovative solutions to common problems. 

I have been really impressed by the work of Visual.ONS – the team at the Office for National Statistics, who are responsible for exploring imaginative new ways of "making data, statistics and analysis more accessible, engaging and easier to understand."

It delivers data in a really engaging way to answer some of the biggest questions in our society – something that’s especially important in the era of ‘fake news’. One such output is the Well-being Wheel (that measures national health, happiness and economic satisfaction etc). Yet one question strikes me: how can the underlying statistical analysis be nudged on a stage further in order to become more meaningful to individual citizens and businesses, especially start-ups and small firms? 

I believe it’s particularly important for the ONS to always be seeking new sources of value it can deliver to traditional customers and to a generation of new ones. Because today, it is somewhat competing against powerful data aggregators such as Google and Zoopla. These organisations are in the business of collecting contextual data that can really help citizens understand more about the fabric of their daily lives, in ways that help them make important decisions.

If you were making one of your most important financial decisions – buying or renting a house, for example – knowing how well the local schools are performing, or how likely you are to be afflicted by an environmentally triggered health condition, would be incredibly helpful. Similarly, if you were planning a coastal retirement, you’d probably want to know what the flood risk is or the quality of care you could expect to receive by local health and social care providers.

Imagine taking that first intrepid step to setting up a small business. You’d really want to understand the nitty-gritty of locating the best possible market opportunities, or knowing which local authorities offer the best incentives, what other start-ups are saying about the support they’ve had from local banks, business groups, councils etc. In short, you’d want to know what potential the local population holds for you – facts that population density, predicted growth rates and disposable incomes can help with.

Making your statistics more personal means diving down to a more local level. It requires Visual.ONS to be able to perform analyses on a continued basis throughout the year in order to deliver more frequent outputs. Most importantly, it requires the ONS to be able to integrate new sources of data – both structured and unstructured. We live in an era where citizens keenly use social media channels to deliver their ‘thoughts’ on a wide range of topics. Harnessing that enthusiasm could be one way to add new richness, depth, context and meaning to the statistics you provide.

Could you one day produce a Local.ONS? This could be a personalised account that recommends data based on your preferences, using the kind of AI-driven intelligence as ‘Amazon recommends’.

The challenge this approach poses is one of data management and rapid analysis. Therefore, what would be required is a system that is capable of collecting massive sets of disparate yet associated data, preparing them rapidly and accurately for analysis in line with data privacy legislation.  

Furthermore, once collated, the best way to gain the maximum possible value from that data would be to make it, and analytical investigation tools, readily available to different departments within the ONS. Using a single analytical platform which also provides users with the ability to work in the coding language of their choice is key to driving the value of data and collaboration. This capability exists in your current analytics investment. 

By developing analyses and insights that are more highly tailored to the needs of local communities, or to businesses at different points in their lifecycle, the ONS would be well placed to reposition itself as an enabler of citizen decision-making. That’s a powerful place to be, with nation and life changing events, such as Brexit, on the horizon.

Imagine if you were able to predict the impact of the removal of funding from the EU on the economy of certain locales, such as the London Borough of Brent, Somerset and Inverness. Such intelligence would give vital insights and risk-assessments to would-be start-ups. Or perhaps you could model crime risk based on historical factors, forthcoming changes to police budgets and strategy, and local sentiment analysis.

The exciting thing is that you can deliver this kind of value-generating work right now and become the ‘go-to’ organisation for citizens and businesses who need credible answers to some of their biggest decisions. By putting your current analytical platform and tools to work, alongside your existing SAS products, you have a powerful analytical engine – with machine learning and AI capabilities embedded – to support automation of your statistical outputs and a more collaborative approach to working with fellow ONS departments.

Your ability to compete and to surpass your competitors is at your fingertips. We have compiled a helpful eBook to show how we believe the ONS can further extend its position as the pre-eminent provider of UK statistical data – and deliver more insights and value to a broader range of customers. Please download a copy here and share with your colleagues. 


Ndeea   20/11/2017 at 11:00

With an emphasis on predictive analytics, it is important to provide customers with the ability to move beyond simple reactive operations and into proactive activities that help plan for the future and identify new areas of business. Predictive models use known results to develop (or train) a model that can be used to predict values for different or new data. Modeling provides results in the form of predictions that represent a probability of the target variable (for example, revenue) based on estimated significance from a set of input variables.

Add your comment



public sector executive tv

more videos >

latest public sector news

Sheffield City Region announces major housing pilot

23/11/2017Sheffield City Region announces major housing pilot

Sheffield City Region (SCR) will begin to assess applications for new housing schemes as part of an £8m pilot project across the area. ... more >
London council to launch ‘ethical debt collection’ for residents

23/11/2017London council to launch ‘ethical debt collection’ for residents

Hammersmith and Fulham Council (H & F) have launched “ethical debt collections” service in a bid to reduce costs to residents. ... more >
Council told to reimburse Suffolk woman charged for care she never received

23/11/2017Council told to reimburse Suffolk woman charged for care she never received

Suffolk County Council has been hit by criticism from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO) after a woman was wrongly charged for ... more >

editor's comment

25/10/2017Take a moment to celebrate

Devolution, restructuring and widespread service reform: from a journalist’s perspective, it’s never been a more exciting time to report on the public sector. That’s why I could not be more thrilled to be taking over the reins at PSE at this key juncture. There could not be a feature that more perfectly encapsulates this... read more >

last word

The importance of openness after Grenfell

The importance of openness after Grenfell

Following the recent Grenfell Tower tragedy, Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, argues that if the public are going to have faith in the safety testing process then everything must be out in the o... more > more last word articles >

the raven's daily blog

City-centric, deeply disappointing and a nightmare – criticisms pile against the Budget

22/11/2017City-centric, deeply disappointing and a nightmare – criticisms pile against the Budget

It’s been a busy day in the PSE office. Philip Hammond’s Autumn Budget included a number of interesting announcements, ranging from new devolution deals and housing measures to changes to business rates. This year’s Statement was described well by Lord Bob Kerslake, who said it had been a “mixed bag” for hous... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >


Driving forward a healthier Scotland

10/11/2017Driving forward a healthier Scotland

Dundee City Council is leading the way in boosting electric vehicle (EV) uptake in Scotland, writes Rebecca Wallace from the local authority&rsqu... more >
A smarter approach to digital transformation

10/11/2017A smarter approach to digital transformation

Catherine Bright, Smarter Digital Services (SDS) manager, explains how a partnership of 12 councils across Kent and Surrey are jointly funding a ... more >
Delivering on estates

10/11/2017Delivering on estates

Sam Ulyatt, strategic category commercial director at the Crown Commercial Service (CCS), on how a new framework can help public sector organisat... more >
Open for business

10/11/2017Open for business

Clare Moore, senior specialist of valuation and disposals at the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), explains how public sector bodies looking to... more >


‘The HSCN is the realisation of industry best practice’

30/06/2017‘The HSCN is the realisation of industry best practice’

Keith Smith, public sector business development manager at Virgin Media Business, tells PSE’s Luana Salles that health and social care orga... more >
HSCN: The enabler for a more joined-up public sector

26/06/2017HSCN: The enabler for a more joined-up public sector

Mark Hall, Chief Assurance Officer at Redcentric, discusses NHS Digital’s project, the new Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) and what b... more >
Maintaining the momentum for further devolution

25/04/2017Maintaining the momentum for further devolution

Ahead of this year’s mayoral elections, Lord Kerslake, the former head of the Civil Service, tells PSE’s David Stevenson why the argu... more >
New social care funding misses the point

13/04/2017New social care funding misses the point

Clive Betts MP, chair of the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee, reflects on the social care funding released in this year’s ... more >

public sector focus

View all News