The data’s big, the data’s free

Today the Digital Services team at Companies House passes a major milestone. We officially go live with the “free data” version of our new search service. Just another project milestone? Actually, no. It’s a big deal: 170m company records are now available free of charge to the public, via both a whizzy web service and a RESTful API. (And while we’re at it, we’ve unified the search and filing services).

CHS Free DataWe had 300m data accesses last year. When other parts of our data went free, we saw a 700% increase in access. Imagine what the stats are going to look like now! Thank goodness we’ve got AWS on board to cope with peaks in demand. We’ve been tweaking the service during the private beta, and been getting some truly great user feedback.

What really interests me now is the massive opportunity for these free corporate data to improve the efficiency of the UK economy.  Why have your staff input company names, addresses, directors as free text into your sales or purchase ledger? Just pull the clean, structured data direct from our API, avoiding all those dirty, duplicated data. Link to the CH record so you instantly know about changes of name and address. Have a single verified instance of a customer/supplier rather than whatever free text happens to get entered. Why not get ahead of the game by checking daily on the trading status of companies on your debtors ledger? Just automatically pull their trading status and latest accounts from CH.  About to employ a builder or plumber? Check out their corporate credentials using our web service.  That’s all free of charge, courtesy of Companies House.

 

I’d love to take credit for the new service, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t. There’s a great in-house team at CH that have pulled together to deliver this, more than ever in recent months. Special mentions to Chris Smith, Andrew Maddaford, Ian Kent, Rachel Cooper, Nic Barnes, and of course Robbie McNeil as Product Owner.

The World Wide Web has massively enhanced the speed and frequency of communications, and the transparency of and access to data. Consumers led the charge, companies followed slowly, and governments even more slowly. But I think the UK government’s now setting the agenda – leading the charge for free, accessible data, for the benefit of citizens and companies alike. Mike Bracken‘s shouting about what we’re doing, my CEO’s happy, and I’m proud that Companies House is right at the front of the charge to government as a platform.

Stay tuned for what comes next (more exciting news soon).

Disruption of the online talent sourcing market by social networks

Here’s  a summary of the dissertation I wrote 5-6 months ago for the Strategy and Innovation Masters Level Diploma at Oxford Said.   I’m making it public for a few reasons. Firstly, I was pretty pleased to get a Distinction for it – which means it “demonstrates a total grasp of relevant concepts and frameworks.” Secondly, although events might have moved on somewhat in the past 6 months, I am not aware of anyone having dealt with the issues raised – and I think they (we?) should.

The PDF is available here: Disruption-online-talent-sourcing-market-social-networks_Public

It’s not the easiest read, nor the most polished text, and I resisted uploading the entire dissertation (this is an extract). But please do download it and take a read if you’re interested.

If you do use any ideas or quotes herein, please do credit me as the source.  Likewise, any comments or questions, feel free to contact me:

Interview with cio.co.uk

I was recently interviewed by cio.co.uk (Trinity Mirror Digital Recruitment completes transformation).  It’s always fun to see the angles that are interesting to journalists and industry commentators, and it gives me a chance to reflect on what’s important in what I am doing every day in my job.  The framework I am using to plan what we do is across 4 pillars (there are always 4):

  • Cloud – scale and speed of infrastructure
  • Social – recognising that the way communications happen is continuing to change
  • Mobile – usage of software in the post-PC (and Mac) world we are now in
  • Data/search – trying to personalise and be smarter with what we (our systems) know

This translates into roadmaps for the different web platforms and back office systems we have.  It is brilliant to have largely removed the millstone of legacy systems from our TMDR business – and now to be able to move forward so much faster.  As the article mentions, for me that is about improving the user experience in online recruitment –  using technology to replicate the personal, face to face experience – not putting technology barriers in the way of people hiring people.

My next mission is more process-based, and it centres on these 3 consecutive steps:

  1. Quality
  2. Visibility
  3. Innovation

This is a simple technique I came up with in my consulting days and it has stood me in good stead whenever I have been looking to take (technical, product and customer service) teams forward.

Firstly, Quality: invariably digital teams are trying to move at the speed of light and losing internal and external credibility by just not doing a high enough quality job.  Sure, you need to define what quality means,  and it definitely doesn’t mean bug-free software or months in QA, but on the whole – quality is king.  Too often, Quality is the accidental sacrificial lamb in projects where Iron Triangle* trade-offs have not been properly considered.  “Good enough” ends up meaning “pretty crappy really”.  Lean start-up is a trendy spin on this, which is basically saying Scope trade-offs are the right way to launch digital products – but that’s only giving part of the story of the Iron Triangle:

Secondly, when the building block of Quality delivery is in place, the focus moves to Visibility.  Visibility is pretty simple – it’s communication – ensuring everyone sees and hears about successes.  Technical teams can sometimes not be the best communicators within a business (my own excluded of course), and often the simple fact of increasing visibility and increasing communications can result in a virtuous circle of confidence, trust and delivery.

Thirdly, once we’re delivering Quality outcomes, and everyone has Visibility about those outcomes, we can move on to Innovation.  When we have the Quality and Visibility credits in the bank, and the trust and goodwill of our customers and colleagues, it is so much easier to persuade everyone that (a) it is worth investing time/money in developing something new and (b) it is worth changing to something new.  Quality and Visibility means the corporate antibodies don’t come to life, and Innovation has the opportunity to thrive and grow, or act as a learning experience.

 

* Please note the Iron Triangle is no longer a PMI approved concept.