OS Select+Build – Data to order

Ordnance Survey’s new approach to distributing data showcases the scale of data use and prepares for a future of continued data hunger from users.

Data redesigns and customer needs

Historically, when accessing data from OS, customers had to select from pre-designed packages and then sift through what they did not need. “We have taken the opportunity to totally redesign our data and put that into what we know as the National Geographic Database (NGD),” said Paulley. “We have then given our customers direct access to that database.” The approach was two-fold: not only did it enhance and improve the data offering for customers, but it ensured the access was as simple and secure as possible. “With this new approach and the OS Select+Build system, we are giving customers the ability to pick and choose what they want,” said Paulley.  

New application programming interfaces (APIs) mean customers can easily access the database and search for the information they need. Prior to this, OS provided data in packages which meant customers were accessing information that was not wholly relevant to their specific use case and would therefore have to be filtered out. Now, the new system means customers can identify and access only the information they need to achieve their goals.

“All of these new services are available via the OS Data Hub,” said Gaskell. “We launched a single platform a couple of years ago, shifting from a multiple platform system. There is now one place to log in, access the data and search for different elements.”

One of the reasons for this change was that customers were asking for faster and easier access. “I think there is a lot of focus on data, because often data is the core ingredient used to answer those all important questions and support planning and decision making,” said Gaskell. “Having faster and easier access is an important step – if it’s difficult to get to the data, then actually it is going to take you longer to answer those questions, and that is where a lot of that value sits.” By having a tool that is simple, fast and allows for tailored approaches to sourcing data, customers can then spend more of their time doing the high value analysis outcome-based work, rather than spending a significant amount of time processing and preparing data for analysis. A term frequently used by Paulley when discussing these concerns with customers is “reducing the time to value” – OS has found ways to reduce the heavy lifting previously done by customers and extracting the value for each individual customer.

A significant user engagement programme has been fundamental in shaping the OS NGD which is “something we’re quite proud of,” said Paulley. The use engagement programme now stretches back four years and as it continues to grow, this is shaping the future enhancements OS is delivering. There has been a demand for a more personalised data ordering service from customers based on the way datasets used to be provided by OS. “Like any data product supplier, in the past, OS has always been quite rigid in terms of what features we deliver,” said Paulley. Previously, users had to take whole sets of data and then extract the features they needed, whereas now, with the OS Select+Build product and the new OS NGD APIs, users can tailor their ordering requests and avoid being lumped with thousands of data points that are not relevant to their projects and use cases.

“This has been a really big shift for us,” said Paulley. “When designing products in the past and having a product launch, like any company, it takes time and a lot of effort. The OS NGD takes all of OS’s large-scale data – including address, building, land data and more – and places it in a location that customers can extract from in a personalised way and at their own leisure.” This is the result of a multi-year investment programme ensuring the delivery of useability and the level of personalisation that customers were requesting.

“It would be easier for us to place a product on the shelf and say, ‘take that’, to our customers, but that’s not what they wanted,” said Paulley. “They want flexibility.” This has caused some technical challenges along the way, but the evolution of technology in recent years has allowed the customer needs to be fully addressed and catered for. The pre-designed products are still available for customers that require those exact data packs.

Success stories

Even though it has only been in the market for half a year, there has been evidence of rapid success for customers using the new tools created by OS. OS Select+Build has been described as “a huge improvement” by long-standing OS customers because of the way it enables users to access and interact with data.

“Moving to the personalised approach has been a great improvement,” said Gaskell. “The process is straightforward, and the capability is there. What we are really thinking about now is what the user experience is when they come in.” One recent success story involves a fire rescue service based in the north of England that has reduced the time of use for data from three day to three minutes. Prior to the OS Select+Build tool, the regional fire service was using pre-built data packages that would take an estimated three days to clean and sift through to extract the relevant data needed. Now, with the new tools and personalised access to data, the same data needs can be met within minutes with no wastage. This highlights the importance and depth of knowledge to be found within OS’s location-based insights which can be utilised by public sector, central government and private tech companies swiftly through the new product offering.

“This success is about saving time and cost which can also be rolled out and used by  all of our customers, and they will start to see the benefits about reducing that time to value which is what we’re driving for.”

The OS team has placed a large amount of energy and resources into creating a new documentation platform for the OS NGD. Customers utilising OS Select+Build or OS NGD APIs are now able to truly understand what the data is, and they can search for their data needs with ease.

To the future

This type of product offering would not have been possible ten years ago, so one of the other challenges is being able to ensure futureproofing for the product for the next ten years and beyond.

“We have plans to continue investing in data enhancements that our customers require and new and improved ways to access that data,” said Gaskell. “New datasets have already been added into the OS NGD including speed data for Britain’s road networks following the addition of Average Speeds and Indicative Speed limits.”

The other important element is that OS is committed to maintaining the data that they currently have and ensuring that long-standing data remains accurate, clean and accessible. “Even the data for the Outer Hebrides is maintained to the same standards of data used in London,” added Gaskell. “We make sure it is up to date to support those critical use cases for customers. It is great having all this new data, but it must be maintained and invested in to remain useful.”

“Flexibility is the key point for me,” said Paulley. “In terms of the OS NGD, the fact that we have already released new data and new access capabilities within six months of launch shows how flexible the OS NGD can be. We can now meet those changing market and customer needs as they arise.”

The team at OS agree that the current climate for location data is an exciting market to be in right now and it has rapidly expanded in recent years, driven in part by the pandemic. It seems to be that more commercial and public sector government use cases have really started to understand power of location data and what it can deliver, which will continue to improve with the new offerings from OS. There has been a growing demand for data, particularly for trends involving decarbonisation, net zero and footprints which shows no sign of slowing down.

For more information visit OS Select+Build.

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