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LG Inform Plus – Lancashire County Council

This case study shows how Lancashire County Council is working towards significantly streamlining its data acquisition, manipulation, and visualisation processes through the LG Inform Plus API.

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This case study discusses the use of an API. The LG Inform Plus API provides direct access to the LG Inform Plus database containing over 15,000 data items (metric types) and over 1 billion data values. Via the API, data for any combination of metric types, areas and time periods can be accessed via one easy to do query. The results can then be used to populate spreadsheets or more advanced solutions such as software dashboard applications.

The challenge

Lancashire's Business Intelligence team plays a central role in supporting council services, providing analysis to develop understanding of the people who live in Lancashire and insight into Lancashire's economic and cultural landscape. They undertake analysis to support business planning and performance management, as well as keeping stakeholders and residents informed by publishing analysis with accompanying narrative on their website.

To achieve this, the team had previously been downloading publicly available data into spreadsheets from a range of sources and conducting their own calculations. These sources included Nomis, Fingertips, and Stat-Xplore each of which has a different data structure and API.

In order to improve consistency and efficiency, the team wanted a tool which provided all the data in one place, had a single simple structure and interface, and had the ability to aggregate and disaggregate data geographically. The need for this functionality was emphasised during COVID-19 when the increased demand for data and insight, often to very tight timescales, highlighted the need to connect more effectively with national sources of data.

The team had also been looking to automate many of its data acquisition, manipulation, and visualisation processes, and make greater use of tools such as Power BI. They identified that LG Inform Plus has the functionality to support the council to meet all of these aims.

The solution

The team has started to use LG Inform Plus, particularly the API, which provides them with a single virtual connection to a huge range of data and also provides the ability to query datasets. This is replacing the need to collate data from multiple sources by downloading, copying and storing it, which is time consuming and less efficient. The data standards in LG Inform Plus also provide the original link to the data which helps if any checks are needed.

They have also used the LG Inform Plus API to automate some existing Power BI reports, and functionality within LG Inform (the LGA’s other data service) to embed elements (such as graphs and maps) within their own webpages. The council is continuing to explore all the wider functionality available, with support from the LG Inform Plus team.

Support from the LG Inform Plus team has been excellent. Requests from the council for additional data to be added to the LG Inform Plus database (for example GP registration data) frequently receive a positive response and additions are made. When it has not been possible to fulfil these requests, the rationale has been evident, and the support team make time for video call meetings to explain further.

The initial set up induction that the council received for LG Inform Plus was straightforward, they quickly had access to the tool and also received regular follow ups and check-ins. This helped them feel fully supported and enabled them to gain confidence in using a new product.

The impact

It is already evident that moving to LG Inform Plus will result in time savings and improved efficiency and consistency. Whilst there has been an upfront time commitment associated with tasks such as the development of the API and reworking visualisations, this will free up the team in future to conduct more in-depth analysis of data, rather than focussing on the downloading, formatting and repurposing of it.

Increasingly, Power BI reports are being populated with data which is simply pulled directly from the API in LG Inform Plus rather than from numerous spreadsheets. The rollout of updates is ongoing but ultimately using this one source will enable the reports to be easily refreshed and will improve the user experience as they take less time to download and work more efficiently when published.

The team can also more easily respond to ad-hoc requests using LG Inform Plus. For example, when supporting a partnership board with intelligence, LG Inform Plus provided details of the new 2021 wards – enabling previous and current data to be viewed in a consistent geography.

Sustainability

The council intends to continue using LG Inform Plus and staff are considering how they can further use the API to manage data that they have previously downloaded manually, incorporating this into the council’s existing data warehouse.

The IT team at the council is also working closely with Business Intelligence on using LG Inform Plus to improve the council’s internal data catalogue, with the aim of making this both internally and externally available using an API link. Data is a huge asset to the council and LG Inform Plus and the API is allowing them to use and access it more efficiently.

Lessons learnt

The council began using LG Inform Plus mid-financial year meaning that staff were able to trial the system prior to committing to signing up for a full year which was helpful.

There have been some challenges as the team have been acclimatising to changes in the way they work with data through the API rather than holding information in a spreadsheet. This is a cultural change and time is needed to adapt fully. The council has benefitted greatly from the support provided by the LG Inform Plus team and would advise new users to take full advantage of this and also to attend the online training sessions.

Contact

For more information about LG Inform Plus please contact [email protected].

For more information about the use of LG Inform Plus at Lancashire Council please contact: 

[email protected]  

Senior Business Intelligence Manager

Lancashire County Council