Project Manager Helen McNally tells us about Spend Network’s aspirations for Data Pitch and beyond.


Describe your Data Pitch challenge idea


Disjointed data makes it difficult to understand connections between companies across borders and how this affects government procurement. Spend Network believes linked data is the solution. We will augment SpazioDati’s existing company information with our own data to give sales and marketing teams an edge in decision-making by showing the power and influence of government suppliers and the corporations that control them. Augmenting SpazioDati’s knowledge graph will vastly improve understanding of company structures and activities through the interlinking of contracts and companies. This is immensely valuable to marketers and anti-corruption advocates, allowing both SpazioDati and Spend Network to offer more and improved services to clients. The public sector would also benefit as better data on suppliers allows for better purchasing decisions.


What does the idea set out to achieve?


The final product will be an extended database of Italian tenders and contracts. We will be bringing together as many of the sub-OJEU ( the Official Journal of the European Union) tender sources as we can from Italy, and at our current estimate this is from over 100 sources. We will link this data to both supplier and entity records.​ This will likely require us to set up a register of Italian buyers. We will be mapping the data to the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS), and we are committed to undertaking an Italian translation of the standard for use by anyone. Once we’ve got this data linked and mapped we’ll add it to Elastic Search for access to our current version of OpenOpps. Finally, we will build dashboards that will include timelines for contracts and searchable registers based on location. We hope to also offer supplier turnover, network data and corporate groupings.


What makes your idea different or unique?


The scale of the challenge makes it stand out. We will be connecting and linking two large datasets of complementary information, our procurement data and SpazioDati’s company data. What really makes this project different is the extent to which it can enrich our understanding of government spending with suppliers. By using SpazioDati’s graph database, we anticipate being able to gain new insights into these relationships. This new link creates significant opportunities for innovation, allowing us to truly understand a number of things: the corporate groupings of suppliers to government, the financial health of suppliers in the supply chain, the individuals linked to public tenders and the fate of SME suppliers in public contracting.

The impact of these findings will be transformative. New insight and analysis will help us to address some critical issues facing the UK Government procurement profession. We spend £220bn a year on goods and services, but this market is becoming increasingly uncompetitive with more spend going to fewer suppliers. New analysis will help buyers to focus on creating competitive tenders as well as preventing overspend in contracts. This data will have powerful uses for procurement professionals, suppliers seeking to win contracts and journalists interested in the work of public contractors.


Where did the idea come from?


Our expertise in working with data means that we know where company information is limited and where open data will be useful. When we approached Data Pitch, we had insight into the best way to use the data and how to extend our solution to Italy. We saw the potential in SpazioDati’s data for innovating how we understand commercial relationships in public procurement. We know from experience the problems created by disjointed data, such as not being able to trace spend to the individuals behind public tenders and contracts.

Our work in fraud detection and analysis has highlighted the importance of understanding exactly what is being spent, with whom and how these transactions take place. We know that linking data and adding SpazioDati’s corporate data would enable a greater understanding of public spending with suppliers. Our work with government buyers, suppliers and journalists inspired us to devise a project that would allow us to illuminate public procurement through linked data.


What excites you about the challenge you applied for?


There are three things that are really exciting about this challenge. The first is that it gives us the ability to significantly enhance the UK data landscape and create new products. There are problems that we have been encountering for years that we can resolve through this project, such as understanding government spend with SMEs.

Secondly, we have the opportunity to make a contribution towards advancing open data in Italy by translating the OCDS into Italian and mapping Italian contracts to OCDS. Open contracting makes government procurement better, smarter and fairer. We’re proud of our role in advancing OCDS, is one of the biggest publishers of OCDS data in the world, and we’re excited to be able to use this experience to make an impact in Italy.

Finally, the long term impact of Data Pitch on Spend Network will be to enable us to create offerings for new markets in Europe. Data Pitch will give us access to the Italian market and the opportunity to expand to other markets using algorithms, processes and analyses we create during the project, a prospect we find truly exciting.


How did your team meet?


Our Data Pitch team all work for Spend Network. We’ve created and, two highly informative websites that make open data on procurement available and understandable to all. We have been involved in previous open data innovation projects such as Organicity and the Open Contracting Innovation Challenge, as well as our own internal research projects, so we are experts on getting the most out of open data. We’re excited to take on this new challenge,especially considering our experience in gathering data, linking data and creating visualisations. Through Data Pitch we hope to innovate new ways of analysing and visualising procurement data to create new insights for our users.


What’s the best thing about working with data?


Working with data, particularly open data, can be a struggle. It is often badly formatted, hard to find, or even missing. Connecting data is difficult when naming conventions in documents can be unpredictable or opaque. With the refinement required before it is useful, some people find working with data nothing but frustrating. However, when we get the opportunity to step back from the minutiae of day-to-day data wrangling, the rewards of working with data are enormous.

There is a great deal of satisfaction in finding useful connections and stories through analysis or in building a working product that delivers benefits to users across the world. Working with open data in particular can feel as if you are on a frontier of technology and business. Making open data accessible and available, and seeing how people use their ingenuity to use it to address real world problems in unexpected ways, is one of the best things about working with data.


Anything else you want to tell us about your startup and why you do what you do?


Spend Network provides insight and analysis for public sector spending. We specialise in combining complex and inconsistent government data sets, as well as cleansing and linking the data so that it can be used for robust analysis and incisive reporting. Our team has gathered and published hundreds of millions of data records from public data sources making them accessible to our customers in both government and business. With over 12 years experience of gathering complex, high volume procurement and tender data, combined with policy analysis, we’ve proven that we know how to collate and manage data, turning raw data into information required by our clients.