Scottish Environment Agency unlocks value of data with TIBCO software

SEPA used the Tibco tools to turn millions of scientific samples into data visualisations

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The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has added powerful data visualisations to its decision-making, helping the organisation maintain a safe and sustainable environment through enhanced regulation and public information.

SEPA had amassed a collection of millions of chemistry and ecology samples dating back to the 1960s, but struggled to bring the disparate data sources together to unleash their true value.

In 2012, the agency turned to the Tibco Spotfire platform for support. After a successful trial of the software, it was progressively rolled out across the organisation in the months that followed.

It has since become embedded in SEPA's daily operations, allowing staff to model the environment and analyse everything from bathing water quality to expenditure.

Mark Hallard, informatics unit manager at SEPA, told Computerworld that the software allowed his team to instantly deploy analytics to the web. This provided staff with easy access to data-driven insights, which led to greater collaboration and the development of new scientific applications.

"It was a 'click and go' type system, and that really helped establish the analytics and science in SEPA," said Hallard.

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It has also provided support to regulatory staff inspecting sites such as chemical plants and recycle centres, who would often struggle to get to get the information they needed when they were outside of the office.

The system allowed them to pool vast quantities of information from numerous systems to show everything about the site to staff before they began their inspections.

In one test of the system, SEPA replaced the Excel-driven processes it had used for data cleansing, validation and communication with Spotfire, saving over 60 percent of the time that it had previously taken to deliver the results. 

Deploying Tibco at SEPA

SEPA had also investigated Tableau and Qlik for its analytics platforms, but plumped for Spotfire due to its integration with the R programming language, in which SEPA had developed internal expertise.

This allowed SEPA to continue to deploy their R code alongside various databases, which could then be analysed collectively and turned into visualisations.

Spotfire also helped SEPA provide analytics to staff across the agency by saving the analysis into its own library and then making it instantly available as a web page rather than coding their own tools, as SEPA did previously, which would take months to develop, were difficult to change and produced inferior results.

Hallard said that a key to the success was focusing the technology on the business, by using real outputs for every piece of work that would solve a problem, help with a job, or meet a regulatory requirement. His team put a lot of effort into engaging with users to understand their issues and keep the technology as simple as possible for them to use.

Now SEPA builds their queries into simple, drop-down menus, which staff can use to gain insights that encompass the millions of data points that SEPA generates each year from its hydrological, compliance, business, environmental and unstructured data.

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SEPA is now considering integrating Spotfire with sensor technologies that could help predict flooding by providing real-time insights into environmental changes.

Hallard advises other organisations implementing analytics platforms to closely align their data science and IT resources.

"Keeping those aligned and in harmony has been a real challenge," he admitted. "Recognising that upfront and managing it appropriately is key.”

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