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Top 5 tips for establishing a location data management policy

Posted: 17 July 2020

By Simon Barlow,

In this time where the right response is critical to the health of everyone, being able to rely on the underlying data needed to make decisions is so important. We shouldn’t have to worry that when we need to mobilise a response, identify vulnerable people or calculate travel times between where people live and their nearest hospital, supermarket or pharmacy that the location, people and business data needed to make these decisions isn’t accurate. Similarly, if we want to model different scenarios and their potential outcomes we should always be using the best and most accurate data.

Government and business maintain a huge amount of data about its citizens and customers as well as organisations that are part of the supply chain or service provision. The most common link between all this data is place, or the location(s) at or between where something needs to happen.

If we can’t link people and organisations (as service providers) to places we will ultimately have worse outcomes. As many of us who have been involved in supporting some of the COVID-19 response we are still seeing a wide range of attitudes towards location data and its role in providing solutions and services to our nation.

Most organisations create data about their customers, citizens in relation to the services and products they supply. This is often supplemented by third party data in order to enrich its content and add further context or insight for analysis. For example, location data may be used to add latitude and longitude information in order to analyse travel times for shipments or perhaps place customers and citizens within catchment areas. Usually this data will be provided outside the organisation but can often be left as a snapshot of data rather than regularly maintained.

Commonly this third party location data is not refreshed as it becomes so integrated into the organisation’s own data that it becomes almost impossible to refresh it without overwriting the organisations own edits and additions.

Key to any organisation’s productivity and success should be a simple yet robust data management policy supported by information security and enterprise level buy-in.

Our top 5 tips for establishing a location data management policy are:

1 – Identify the best reference data for information that you don’t need to maintain yourself

Data should be captured or obtained from a trusted source with a mandate to refresh it regularly. Use the unique identifiers from it to link to your own data rather than append it into your own data content.

In the UK the whole of the public sector has access to a highly accurate and well-maintained address and street network dataset. This data is updated daily to reflect real world changes and provides the basis from which to link your own operational data to or use to extract a filtered set of locations from.

2 – take responsibility for the quality and content of the data that your organisation maintains about the products and services being delivered

Data governance is key to ensure your own data is well maintained, accurate and provides the organisation with the basis for doing what it needs to do. Nominate data owners or stewards that represent a gateway within the organisation for ensuring the data is right for your current and future needs.

Any identified errors need to be reported back and fed back into a monitored workflow that ensures corrections are made by a nominated data steward rather than a free for all scenario whereby all users have editing rights on the data.

3 - Use data models and standards to make your data more interoperable.

Use of open, ISO or OGC standards for data management allow you to develop services more easily to integrate into web platforms or system solutions. Again use of unique identifiers in the data as well as common standards can help with use of machine:machine services such as address verification or the passing of location IDs between systems

4 – Know the data protection law and how it applies to your organisation

Any data that can be used to identify people is protected by the legislation. In the UK this is the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA 2018), and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Every organisation is different, so it is important to understand the principles of the legislation and how they apply to your data. Failure to comply could lead to fines of £17.5m or 4% of your total annual worldwide turnover, whichever is higher.

5 – Protect data with resilient systems

IT systems are not 100% reliable, despite what the vendors might tell you, so store your data in systems that are designed to be resilient. Ensure they have redundant components that can automatically take over in the event of failure. Depending on your risk appetite and budget, this can range from redundant disks, power supplies and network connections, to hot-standby disaster recovery systems in a different location. Test this resiliency regularly to ensure it meets business needs.

6 – Establish a data retention and archiving policy

If you need to keep historical data for contractual or legislative purposes, agree and document a data and file archiving policy. System backups are often not the best way to archive data for long periods, either because they require the whole system to be restored to retrieve the data, which is sometimes not possible, or because the storage technologies they use become obsolete over time. If you are using backups to protect your data, ensure they are tested regularly. Archiving solutions, whether using file copies or a specific software, provide a more flexible and practical method for long-term data retention.

GeoPlace operates the country’s national address and street data infrastructure and is working hard to get more and more organisations to utilise the power of location data as part of its core business.

GeoPlace focuses on delivering flexible, innovative and reliable answers to business problems involving spatial data and can help you embed best practice within your organisation.

Contact us at [email protected]

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