From data to insight: Suffolk triumphs with pioneering health dashboard

A Suffolk Covid-19 project described as an ‘agent for change’ has won one of the UK’s most prestigious IT awards.

The collaboration between Ipswich software company IJYI and Suffolk County Council triumphed at the 2022 UK IT Industry Awards, winning Data Science Project of the Year against tough competition including Thames Water and Openreach.

The CoronaWatch Dashboard is a critical data gathering and reporting tool developed during the pandemic. The award judges chose it as the most outstanding IT project to deliver real value from data in terms of organisational performance.

Local authorities across the UK played a pivotal role in managing the public sector response to the pandemic, and among the many challenges they faced was the urgent need to collect and interpret public health data, so that local and national decisions could be made quickly and with evidence-based confidence.

It’s important, however, to draw a firm distinction between the collection of headline data, such as infection rates, hospitalisations, etc and the insight that can be revealed by analysing that data quickly and accurately.

For Suffolk County Council, moving from data to insight for a population of around 750,000 people required a rapid and innovative change in approach. As Rebecca Allen Head of C-19 Analytics, Knowledge & Intelligence, at Suffolk County Council, explained, at the time, the information and communication capabilities of many local authority public health teams were not suited to the volume and complexity of data which now needed to be processed.

“In common with colleagues across the country, as the pandemic took hold, we were reliant on Excel-based data sets as the basis for data collection and analysis,” she said. “Given the crisis situation, this presented us with a range of challenges, not least because it seriously impacted our ability to turn data into decisions.”

Using this data to create a high-level dashboard, the Suffolk team were faced with the need to carry out ongoing and intensive manual upkeep to ensure datasets and the dashboard outputs remained accurate. They also had to download daily updates from Public Health England (PHE) and other NHS sites, before manually converting them into a format that could be merged into their data layer.

“Initially, the situation was manageable but time-consuming,” Rebecca adds. “The problem was that as the pandemic developed, we were soon working with more than 30 data sources and the concern was that we’d reach a critical mass where the existing processes and technology wouldn’t be able to keep up.”

Digital strategy

In response, the Council moved to develop what became known as their ‘Coronawatch’ dashboard, designed to provide not only public access to critical COVID-19 information but also available in greater depth privately for key stakeholders, partners and decision-makers.

Visualised as a series of dashboards using Microsoft PowerBI, the solution – developed in close cooperation with Ipswich-based software development and data science specialist, IJYI – was designed to increase the stability and resilience of their infrastructure, reduce the need for manual data input and automate a range of key processes to deliver the agility required.

The service infrastructure was migrated to a secure cloud-based solution, and as a result, the Council now operates an agile, high-performance public and professional healthcare information and insight service offering access to vital data sources in an accessible and timely format. Not only has this experience delivered a powerful set of capabilities to help address major public health issues, but it has also helped inform the way the Council and colleagues from other local government organisations approach the collection, analysis, management and delivery of data and the vital guidance it can provide.

“Working with the IJYI team on this solution has been extremely important in developing an effective response to the COVID-19 crisis,” Rebecca said. “Our new approach delivers much quicker data and insight refresh performance, data sources are stored in a data lake for reduced human error, and our adoption of automation technologies means there is much less manual input required from staff.”

As the Coronawatch Dashboard was rolled out, Suffolk County Council was the only local authority in the UK automating the download process of large files from PHE. By May 2021, the Council team had worked with IJYI to implement full automation across the majority of its reporting processes.

IJYI CEO Kevin Linsell said: “We are absolutely delighted for the Suffolk County Council and IJYI teams who worked together so effectively to deliver this pioneering public health technology tool. It also underlines the vital role that effective data collection, management and analysis play in modern society, and this is great recognition for a project effectively delivered at an important time.”

Anna Crispe, Consultant in Public Health, Assistant Director, Knowledge, Intelligence & Evidence, Suffolk County Council, said: “Our excellent collaboration with IJYI enabled us to benefit from a state-of-the-art automated data platform, which combined with Suffolk County Council’s expertise in epidemiology and analytics, revolutionised our public health intelligence capabilities, both now and for the future.”

IJYI and SCC were also finalists in the Public Sector Project of the Year award for their work on the Analysis of Additional Needs Tool (AANT) project. The AANT process is designed to support the inclusion of children and young people across the county through cloud technology, enabling access to consultation with an Educational Psychologist (EP).

This project highlights the innovation being undertaken within local councils and SCC specifically. The AANT is being recognised as best practice with other Local Authorities who are now training their EPs to use this system too.

The UK IT Industry Awards are the largest and most well-known event in the technology industry calendar. Owned and operated by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT and Computing, the awards enjoy a level of professionalism and industry knowledge not seen at other shows. As a result, winners are celebrated for genuine success.

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