Evidence based public sector market insight

We created an application that pulled together vast amounts of data and displayed it in a user friendly format, enabling users to perform bespoke searches.

Background

Porge Research Ltd is a leading supplier of market insight within local government, the NHS and central government.

Using an evidence-based approach, it provides its customers with early sight of business opportunities within the public sector procurement process.

The introduction of the local government transparency code provided an opportunity to build an application that could illustrate public sector spending based on real data, but several challenges had to be overcome to make it a success.

The Problem

Following the push for greater accountability and transparency within the public sector, there was suddenly a vast amount of spend data (invoices) available within the public domain. Porge knew that this data could provide the basis of a very powerful analysis tool, based on the actual published spend of the UK public sector.

However, this presented some practical issues due to the sheer volume of data, plus the lack of any standard format for the output. The data was published by over 1,000 organisations including local authorities, central government departments and NHS organisations. The frequency of publication varied from organisation to organisation and the format was different for each source.

To enable customers to easily and quickly analyse the dataset, each invoice needed categorising by the sector to which it related, and the associated supplier(s) had to be identified.

Millions of invoices required processing, however, there were fewer than ten members in the team undertaking this considerable task.

The number of invoices kept increasing as more spend information was published, so it was essential that any solution created by SAS had the capacity to grow with the data.

Customers needed a user interface that enabled them to create bespoke searches and then presented the results clearly, with informative visualisations. Performance had to be quick to ensure a seamless user experience.

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The Solution

The resulting web application allowed a small team to categorise and aggregate millions of invoices, representing billions of pounds of public sector spend.

We started by implementing an import system that was robust enough to accommodate a wide range of formats. It could be fixed for a specific organisation, to ensure that tasks such as data mapping did not have to be needlessly repeated.

We built a rules engine that enabled decisions made during the categorisation process to be retained and reapplied. This was essential for processing the huge number of invoices involved. The interface created for the back-office team allows them to work concurrently and collaboratively.

Once imported and categorised, the information needed to be available to Porge's customers in a way that would be responsive to their requests for bespoke views of the spend data.

To deliver this, Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services was used to aggregate the data into an OLAP cube, which could be queried through the user interface.

The end users got a clean and simple user interface that keeps the focus on the data itself. Users can quickly access the information they are interested in, save frequent searches and export reports for use elsewhere. Porge’s data set keeps growing as more public sector information is published and more interested parties are signing up to use that data all the time.

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