Thursday 26 January 2012

How gazetteers help local authorities make the most of their data

How gazetteers help local authorities make the most of their data:

Mark Say investigates how how the details of land and property can be used to improve public service delivery

The local gazetteer has taken its place among the prime digital assets of public authorities. There has been a widespread recognition of how the details of land and property can be used to improve service delivery, and an increasing number of organisations have launched initiatives that are now being held up as exemplars for others to follow.

It has been an evolutionary process that has recently moved on to a new stage with the creation of the National Address Gazetteer Database. Developed and managed in England and Wales by GeoPlace, a joint venture between the Local Government Association (LGA) and national mapping agency Ordnance Survey, GeoPlace went live in April 2011 and raises the possibility of authorities extracting even more value from their geographic information.

The predecessor of the National Address Gazetteer Database, the National Land and Property Gazetteer (NLPG), has been the prime tool for existing initiatives, together with the National Street Gazetteer (NSG). They have often been used to create new products for specific local services, some of which have been highlighted in the latest round of Exemplar Awards run by GeoPlace.

West Midlands fire service (WMFS) carried off the overall winner award for the creation of a new gazetteer named Chimp, which brought together a number of datasets into a single system.

The project involved creating or modifying more than 1m pieces of data to create a holding of 2.9m basic land and property units and 86,000 streets, along with more than 20,000 land and property identifier records to help correctly identify a location in an emergency call out. Using Chimp, all of the data was integrated into the brigade's new command and control system and its corporate gazetteer was extended across all of its business support systems.

The key result has been that the brigade is now better equipped to get crews to the right location more quickly, but it also has a valuable tool to support its long term planning. Chimp has already been used to manage more than 120,000 home safety checks in the West Midlands and in an area risk modelling project to support policy making.

Chimp has now been picked up by Staffordshire fire and rescue service and two others are said to be preparing to take it on.

In another case, Northumberland county council made use of the NSG in consolidating its 1,500 paper based traffic regulation orders (TROs) into a single database.

All the orders were scanned before being referenced against the NSG, following which the council surveyed all of its roads and reviewed each of the TROs. All of the information was placed in the new database, which was then used to create a layer in the council's geographic information system, so that anyone – including the public - could easily see the full details of the TROs on Ordnance Survey MasterMap. The database can also be used to produce reports and consultation documents.

Carl Dent, Northumberland's asset database manager, says the NSG was crucial in the validation of paper records and has become so in the introduction, revoking or updating of TROs. "In three years we have moved from a paper based system with lots of missing orders that relied on officers' memories to function to a full electronic system that is up to date and available to all," he says.

The National Address Gazetteer Database is going to add a new element to the capabilities in combining the NLPG with Ordnance Survey's address layer, the national dataset with addresses and their precise locations. It is also expected to gradually replace the NLPG as a basis for local land and property gazetteers.

Gayle Gander, marketing manager for GeoPlace, says that public authorities would not make direct use of the new gazetteer, but AddressBase products from Ordnance Survey through its public sector mapping agreement. This makes them free at the point of use for eligible organisations, although they have to pay for use of Royal Mail's Postcode Address File when utilising it in conjunction with the datasets.

A key feature is the provision of a unique reference number, described by Gander as a "golden thread", which makes it possible to find matches of a property in different datasets. This makes it possible to identify significant discrepancies, such as when the bins from an address are emptied but nobody there is on the council tax register or electoral roll. This could be used to correct a shortcoming in the delivery of a service, or to detect a potential case of fraud.

Equally important is that the information is now coming from all of the public sector, not just local authorities. Fire services and councils are already providing updates to GeoPlace, many on a daily basis, and Gander says that none of the information has gone more than a month without verification.

"Once embedded in local authorities there are all sorts of opportunities to do new things," he says. "Organisations are now testing it and we believe that in future it will be a core service offering for public authorities."

Two fire and rescue services, Hampshire and North Yorkshire, have emerged as early adopters. They are using the AddressBase Premium product from Aligned Assets, which includes details of non-addressable objects such as bus stops and park benches and can alert them to potential obstacles in an emergency.

How quickly others follow, particularly from local government, remains to be seen, as it may take time for councils and others to discover the value for the new products based on the National Address Gazetteer Database. But the long term trend indicates that public authorities are extracting more value from location based information, and the more detail it includes – and the closer it gets to real time – the more it is likely to be used.

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Thursday 19 January 2012

Google Launches Internet Security Campaign

Google Launches Internet Security Campaign: From NewsOK :

The Good to Know campaign, which launched Monday, is the company's largest consumer education effort. It offers a host of security and privacy tips meant to make the World Wide Web a safer and more comfortable place.
The tips were designed for users without a lot of technological [...]

Thursday 12 January 2012

ICO issues guidance about private emails

ICO issues guidance about private emails:

Information Commissioner's Office reminds public sector that the Freedom of Information Act covers private emails if they are used for business matters

New guidance from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has made it clear that information about public sector business held in private email accounts is covered by the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.

Christopher Graham, the information commissioner, said: "It should not come as a surprise to public authorities to have the clarification that information held in private email accounts can be subject to freedom of information law if it relates to official business.

"It came to light in September that this is a somewhat misunderstood aspect of the law and that further clarification was needed. That's why we've issued new guidance today."

The guidance has two aims. Firstly, to give public authorities a steer on the factors that should be considered before deciding whether a search of private email accounts is necessary when responding to an FoI request.

Secondly, to set out the procedures that should generally be in place to respond to requests. Graham said that the need to search private email accounts should be a rare occurrence and his office does not expect this advice to increase the burden on public authorities.

The guidance emphasises that if a public authority decides that a private email account could include official information which is not held elsewhere, it will need to ask the individual concerned to search their account. There should be a record of the action taken to demonstrate that appropriate searches have taken place.

It says that public authorities should remind staff that deleting or concealing information with the intention of preventing its disclosure is a criminal offence under section 77 of the act.

In addition, the ICO says that it is accepted that, in certain circumstances, it may be necessary to use private email for public authority business. However, it calls for a policy which clearly states that in these cases an authority email address should be copied in to ensure the completeness of the authority's records.

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Credo Reference eBook Collections and Titles Offered via SwetsWise

Credo Reference eBook Collections and Titles Offered via SwetsWise: From the press release:

Under the agreement, SWETS will incorporate Credo Reference with over 1,500 reference works from more than 80 of the world’s best reference publishers into the Swets Wise eBook catalog. Collections and titles are thoughtfully selected to offer broad coverage of subjects such as psychology, history, business, education, environmental [...]

Google Launches Election Site

Google Launches Election Site: If you're having trouble keeping up with who's the "front runner" in the Republican primary, Google is here to help. In advance of the Iowa primary election, Google launched a Politics & Elections page. According to SiliconFilter :

Maybe the most interesting aspect of the site is the real-time dashboard , which [...]

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Stockton and Darlington councils launch shared cloud services for schools

Stockton and Darlington councils launch shared cloud services for schools:
North east authorities finish implementation of cloud hosted shared services for finance and accounting at a number of schools in the region

Stockton and Darlington councils have completed the installation of shared finance, HR and payroll transactional services, including technical IT and operational support, at 10 academy schools in the area.
The councils, whose joint services venture is known as Xentrall, said that the implementation was completed in six months as part of a deal with software firm UNIT4.
Ian Coxon, head of transactional services at Xentrall, told GGC that the academies will use enterprise resource planning software Agresso business world, which will be hosted in the cloud using UNIT4's shared journey solution.
"All the academies need is broadband access and internet explorer, and they will be able to access a shared version of Aggresso," said Coxon, adding that this cuts out the need for locally hosted services.
He explained that another one of the benefits of the service is that the software they access through the cloud is "tailor made" to each academy's specific need. The service is also subscription based, with the schools paying for what they use.
Coxon said that the shared service could be used by other schools or authorities further afield as the technology means that geography is no long a barrier to collaboration.
Xentrall, which was first launched by the authorities in 2008, first considered a cloud shared services initiative in April 2011. The councils said they have been pleased with the uptake so far and hope that the cloud service will be seen as a "benchmark" for other public sector organisations setting up similar services.
Coxon said: "It demonstrates that in the new economy there is appetite for innovative operating models and technologies.
"We have been told that this, along with Xentrall's shared services heritage and not-for-profit status, makes the services attractive to public sector organisations looking to adapt to funding challenges."
The councils said they would not reveal the value of the deal as it was "commercially sensitive information".
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Saturday 15 August 2009

Caffeine - New Google Search

Google's new search is now available - nicknamed Caffeine - at Looks the same but should provide more current listings.