Skip to main content

Strasys’ Carl Sheldrick shares his learnings from his extensive experience of working with data across several NHS provider and commissioner organisations.

My five biggest appreciations

Last year I was invited to give a talk to the London Business Analytics Group about my work with health providers.  Here I share my five biggest leanings from working with data in the NHS.

The NHS is complex, with large rich data sets

Everyone knows the NHS is big, but unless you have been dunked into its operations in some form or another you will not appreciate the scale and intricacy. Newcomers should not expect to have a complete understanding of how everything within their domain functions for many months, maybe even years.

Underlying the day to day operations of this amazing organisation, there is a large stack of data covering activity, performance, quality and finance.  I see daily articles with new perspectives on slices of this, but there is lots more to come.  The following years will see increasingly powerful insight gained from this gargantuan honey pot of untapped information.

Always work with questions, not problems

Curiosity killed the cat! With access to such a rich and broad data set, it’s very easy to get distracted.  For an analyst to be given time, space and a free reign to investigate data is rare in a commercial environment.

Never lose your creative thinking and have a place where you can park those gems of perception that pop into your head during your data interrogation.  However, don’t lose your way. To help you keep focussed on the end goal, always clearly define the question you are trying to answer at the beginning and make your priority answering it!

Be clear on your routes to data access

All data is important, and everyone has a responsibility to respect the information they are working with.  This is even more paramount when working with the sensitive records of a person’s health.

The Information Governance framework in the NHS is well established and implemented well throughout all organisations.  This can lead to delays in retrieving data.  So make it your priority during the discovery phase of a project to understand how and when access to data will be gained.

Visualisation isn't just a deliverable for the end client

To many, visualisation is the end point of the data analysis process and used to give the decision makers a more accessible understanding of their world. This is no longer the case.  With the features and usability of visualisation tools improving at a rate, your whole team can benefit from dynamic views of the information you are working with.

Gone are the days when a project team would send away the analyst to bring back another set of reports, before moving forward.  Increase your momentum and make your team more agile by embedding the use of visualisation in your everyday tasks.

The future of data analytics is telling the story

Data systems are becoming more sophisticated and automated reporting has become a standard feature for most.  This is by no way the end for the data analyst.  Instead, it should be seen as a renascence for this discipline.

With less time required for data collection and processing, an analyst can now concentrate on providing high value insights.  Don’t just relay the latest data, support your organisation through their most important decisions by telling their story.

Whether any of this is new to you, I do hope it’s prompted some reflection.  I would love to hear from you with any comments or questions you may have.