We’re opening up data to meet customer and member needs

Opening up some of our data will help us meet our customers’ and members’ needs better and help us play a bigger part in their lives and their communities.

By ‘opening up’, we don’t mean we’re about to start selling our customer or member data, we mean we’re starting to build a platform that makes our data more accurate and makes some of it (not confidential stuff, of course) easier to access. This is really important because teams will be able to build useful things more easily.

We started building our platform by looking at our location data for our food stores and funeral homes. This is the addresses, the coordinates and associated information which includes things like opening hours, facilities and directions.

It’s important that the data for each store or funeral home is both accurate and easy to access. Here’s what we’ve been doing to make sure it is.

Making sure it’s accurate

Firstly we built an improved food store finder around user needs.

image shows the new Co-op store finder. it shows a search box for the user to write a location followed by search results. on the right it shows a map with pins to show the results.

We put a feedback form on the finder so users could tell us if the data was accurate or not.

image of the store finder feedback form. it shows a shop's details and underneath there's a box asking: 'tell us what's wrong with the details above' and a submit button.

We learnt that our latitude and longitude co-ordinates were showing many stores in the wrong place on the map. We also found out through user feedback that many stores had the wrong opening hours and some of the facilities needed updating too. Each one of these things needed to be accurate to meet the main user needs of a store finder.

To make things better, we put some tactical fixes in place to make the data more reliable. It’s actually just a temporary measure while the Food team undertakes the huge challenge of rebuilding how it manages, stores and maintains its data. So, right now the accuracy is better but there is still much more to do.

Earlier this month we released a new version of the funeral home finder. We’re hoping that the feedback form on there will help us quickly uncover any inaccuracies with our data like it did with the store finder. Of course, we might find that users are less compelled to give feedback given the journey they may be on. We’ll wait and see and make changes if we need to.

Making data easier to access with APIs

We built the store finder in such a way that it uses an Application Programme Interface (API). APIs turn webpages from static words and pictures to dynamic, contextual information sources by connecting them with databases. Mulesoft explains APIs well in an online video.

For us, creating APIs is the first step in making our data easy to access and open because it provides a widely understood way for developers to quickly start building things that use our data. We chose to build a .JSON API as it’s a machine readable format that is also quite readable for us humans too.

Now, both internal and external developers can build their own services and interfaces featuring Co-op location data. Co-op Digital teams have used the Location Services’ API to build a product finder, the Membership team have used it to create prototypes to test and of course, we have re-used it for the new Funeral Home Finder.

image show two overlapping screenshots from product finder and a prototype form the membership team. both use the location services API

It’s good for us to work with our internal teams to learn the best ways to build and support APIs.

Not just for Co-op teams

Fair Tax Mark is our first external user who has used the API for its Fair Tax Map. From this, we’re learning how to support and improve the API for third parties.

screen shot of the Fair Tax map

We’ve got plans…

We’ll continue to collect, prioritise and build requests for new features, as well as helping wherever we can to improve how the data is kept up to date within the business. We’re also working with a cross-team bunch of engineers and developers to agree a common set of principles and standards, so that our APIs are consistently easy to access. We’re experimenting with how we can make them easy to find in one place, where non-developers can see what’s available and developers can get quickly get their hands on our data.

We’ve had a play with Swagger, a popular open source framework for presenting APIs.

screen shot of what it looked like when we played with Swagger to make our API accessible

It’s basic but the intention is that we’ll style it up in the Co-op brand and add useful content. So it might look a bit like this.

Image contains same information as one above but styled in a more Co-op way.

It’s also likely that we’ll introduce access keys to help us support users better and ensure that we can manage demand.

These are all good first steps for the Location Services team. If you have thoughts on this stuff, leave a comment below. We’re particularly interested to hear ideas on how you could use Co-op Data.

Ben Rieveley
Product lead

4 thoughts on “We’re opening up data to meet customer and member needs

  1. Simon March 27, 2017 / 4:11 pm

    This is important stuff for us as the previous default position was that corporate data was not to be trusted and each department created it’s own set of data to compensate.

    No area was exempt. Even HR didn’t trust it’s own system data and administrators were employed to maintain separate data sets within HR.

    This led to lots of disconnected data sets and additional administrators scattered all over the business, often unaware of each other. It became a cost burden on the group.

    Beyond that a mentality that “you can’t trust the data” led to a preference for opinion over data and a high level of subjectivity and unsubstantiated assumptions in decision-making.

    This is a cultural thing that is taking time to shift but all the work you’re doing is helping melt the old assumptions.

    Like

  2. Leigh Dodds March 29, 2017 / 8:16 am

    Have you given any thought as to which open licence you’ll be using to make the data open? Its often a stumbling block for many organisations, so useful to address early alongside exploring how to improve access.

    Like

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