A year of work in progress – day 27

Day 27 – 10 February 2014

Today I was in Slough, at O2’s offices.  I’d entered a competition to win some help from The Local Government Digital Fund.  I hadn’t expected to get anywhere but got shortlisted into the last six and was asked to present my thoughts at a Dragon’s Den style event.  I got the plane down otherwise I would have needed an overnight stay.  If I could avoid flying ever again I would do so.  It is not that I’m a bad flyer, just a bad ‘airporter’.  The dehumanising security checks really get to me.

My idea was around number seven of the ten things I’m going to do this year – Do something with Big Data.  There was a panel of five and this is the gist of what I said:

Good morning.  I’m going to make a pitch for help with an exciting opportunity

A Trojan horse walks into a bar and the barman asks what will it be?   399 beers and a coke he’s driving.  An hotel chain had lots of complaints about the speed of their lifts.  Nothing they did speeded them up so they called in Edward de Bono to come up with an idea.  He installed a mirror and the complaints stopped.  Everyone likes to look at themselves.

Jack Andraka’s father dies of cancer, one that can be cured if caught early but there is no reliable and cheap test.  He decides to do something about it and uses Google and Wikipedia to develop a test that eventually costs three cents to make.

These are all examples of how the brain works through pattern recognition.  We’re trapped in our patterns of behaviour, break these patterns and we see the world very differently.  Hindsight is obvious.

David McCandless tells us that information is beautiful and there are examples of how organisations are using data to improve their operations.

Following a premature and preventable death Virginia Mason medical brought appointment data and schedule data together.  Patients are reminded of upcoming scans etc. while they are attending regular appointments and they are arranged there and then – obvious isn’t it.

Gateshead Council has real problems managing the traffic coming out of the Sage after a performance.  They can’t tell when a show is going to end but they can tell the movement of vehicles from the car park and are using this to manage the traffic lights to alleviate congestion.

During the last bad winter Durham County Council worked with organisation involved in care including the NHS and police.  Using combined data we were able to identify where vulnerable people lived and prioritised those streets for snow clearance.

This year marks 100 years since the First World War.  This was the first real war of mass destruction brought about by the coming together of new technologies.  It was the first technology war.  But technology isn’t only destructive.  The human race is going through enormous transformation driven on the back of technology.  For me we are witnessing human evolution.

We have data everywhere and technological opportunities are emerging to deal with its volume and complexity. Now is the time to look at Big Data.

Joe Stalin said, apparently, that if you want to see who has the real power see who travels to whom.  The implication is that the people will move to the powerful.  I’m not sure of it is true but today it can be turned on its head.  The real power will go to the people.  Data will allow this.

The Improvement and Development Agency (IDEA) which is now the Local Government Association (LGA)  said that we have 754 different services and each of these will have a least one data set.  Getting data is not a problem.

We know when people are born, where, to whom, what weight, what they’re called.

We know when people die, where, in what circumstances, what of and what they leave behind.

We know where they go to school, what they were good at and not so good at, their qualifications, discipline and attendance records.

We know where they live, their socio economic group, what they will buy and where they will go on holiday.  We know so much.

I’ve talked about the opportunities from the data that we already have but bringing these data sets together with those from other organisations will make a difference.  The planned combined authority, or LA7 as it is known provides us with another.  Lord Adonis came up to announce the plans to create a supra-authority with seven of us coming together to address transport, skills and inward investment.  These have data written all over them.  And by the way Simon Henig, leader off DCC has been appointed chair of the LA7.

There is an opportunity to use big data to help the people of Durham and the region through better decision making, better understanding of what is happening and better, more focussed service delivery.  There is also an opportunity to use digital to enhance the town centre experience rather than for it to be its nemesis.

I am asking for help in three areas:

  • Mining – to get out the data, to sanitise it and make it anonomised – you would think we would be good at this.
  • Analysis – to help us to understand what the data is telling us.
  • Discovery – to get the data published and out there so fresh pairs of eyes can see the patterns that we cannot.

I was then videoed and asked more or less the same questions.  I’ll let you know how I got on.

Learning points for today: Airports and customer service don’t go together; O2’s Chief Executive sits at a desk in an open plan office; They split their people into huggers (who need a permanent desk) and hoppers (who don’t) and; £50 won’t get you to and from Heathrow to Slough by taxi.

Today’s enjoyment rating 8/10 – A long way and the strip search at the airport upset me.

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