Saving money and creating better data - with USMART

Using USMART's data analytics we matched records from various open data sources to create the best possible open dataset for Non Domestic Rates whilst reducing the need for FOI responses.  

Using USMART's data analytics we matched records from various open data sources to create the best possible open dataset for Non Domestic Rates whilst reducing the need for FOI responses.  


UrbanTide alongside North Lanarkshire Council and Snook took a service design approach to Non Domestic Rates data to improve Council efficiencies, publish better data and identify ways to improve the internal data set to potentially increase revenue.  

Using UrbanTide's USMART platform we were able to match various data sources to automate publication of a zero risk high quality open dataset and an internal secure dataset that also includes personal information not for public release.   


The intersection of data and service design is a challenging and exciting area. Data is a design material that researchers can use to gain a deeper understanding of challenges and create innovative solutions that reach beyond what service design or data alone could achieve. For data practitioners, service design can help widen the perspective, embedding service design approaches to maximise the benefit of data.

The project focused on the Freedom of Information (FOI) service for the area of non-domestic rates (NDR). Also called ‘business rates’, these are the taxes that businesses pay on the property where their business operates. The project also aimed to create an approach that could be replicated in other areas and inform the overall data publication strategy for the Council.

The Results

The automated publication of open data can help address an estimated £18,000 per year on dealing with relevant Freedom of Information requests as well as the time associated with the publication of monthly updates.  

The creation of a better open dataset can also deliver improved innovation in North Lanarkshire with the quality of the available data asset better than the norm.  

How UrbanTide's Smart data platform USMART helped

We used USMART's big data and analytics capability to process large open datasets and match them with the Non Domestic Rates roll data.  This ensures that the data published about Non Domestic Rates is only on official companies, charities or others and not personal data or sole trader information.  This service is now a reusable tool within the USMART package.  

Sharing the approach

We are sharing the tools created and approaches taken during the project in a toolkit. It builds on the Scottish Government Open Data Resource Pack and is designed to be read alongside this.

Although organisations are willing and often required to open their data, it is a complex process. They must meet their legal requirements to safeguard personal or identifiable data, deal with source systems that make it difficult to extract, and prepare the data for publication. Costs can impact on the viability of the project, especially when competition for funds is high. The idea behind opening data in the context of designing services is that it will allow organisations to generate value that exceeds the costs.

Who is the toolkit for?

The toolkit focuses on people who are early on in their journey of opening data in the context of service design – the people asking themselves, “Where do I start?” Download the toolkit here.

What do you want to know?

The toolkit doesn’t aim to be an exhaustive resource on open data or on service design. Instead, we invite the reader to explore the resources mentioned in the ‘further reading’ sections. What it does aim to provide is the hands-on tools, activities and supporting materials for those who want to try the approach.

  • What do we need to know before we start?
  • How do we make a plan?
  • How do we reduce the risks for my organisation?
  • How do we assess where we are as an organisation?
  • How do we demonstrate value?
  • How do we build support?
  • How do we choose which service to start with?
  • How do we create the datasets?
  • How do we go about publishing data?
  • How do we evaluate the approach?
  • What next?

Lessons learned

Although local authorities have been making strides towards opening data and despite the wealth of resources to support them, opening data is still a significant challenge. Open data projects are still often presented as ‘cost centres’ for the ‘greater good’. We are arguing that there is an opportunity for local authorities to use data projects to generate new revenues.