InstantAtlas User Conference Post Event Review

InstantAtlas User Conferences - Review

The 2012 InstantAtlas User Conferences were held in Rochdale at the Town Hall and in London at the London Council Buildings. Both conferences offered attendees a mix of presentation and open discussion as well as the opportunity to learn more about examples of leading applications of InstantAtlas (IA) products from established users.

IAUC Rochdale review by John Patterson, Research & Intelligence Officer, Blackpool Council

Extracts taken from John's review, the full post is available here

If you haven’t come across InstantAtlas(IA) before it’s currently one of two things:

  • If you are like me and you have a very small budget for research software then it’s a desktop GIS tool which creates various interactive atlases (like this one).
  • If you have a much larger budget, then it leans more toward a data storing, profile generating, atlas creating server software (like this one).


First up, Tom Hobson from Locus Insight came to talk about the potential for improving on the use and usability of InstantAtlas. Tom started by suggesting the tablet market will become a more important audience, and came armed with some interesting statistics from Gartner:

  • “33% of Business Intelligence functionality will be consumed by hand held devices by 2013″


  • “20% of the US own a tablet 9% purchasing them in the Christmas just gone”.

I’ve no doubt there’s some truth to these but I think it’s important to remember that there are a mix of audiences at play here and that “Business Intelligence” is subtly different from “Research” or “Data.” Someone did later ask the question, “Is there any evidence that communities are using hand held devices for this purpose?” Tom admittedly honestly that there wasn’t but that there was evidence it was being used in business.

He went on to demonstrate that while InstantAtlas is commonly used by local authorities and public health organisations for presenting demographic statistics, it can be used to bring business intelligence data to life too. He supplied useful examples of performance data and stock inventory and suggested that the ability for InstantAtlas to display bubble plots and points-on-polygons (example) might be underused.


Tim Healey from Coventry City Council gave a really enthusiastic discussion about their LIS, Facts about Coventry which is powered by InstantAtlas Server. He built on the initial ideas presented by Tom Hobson around usability which meant that he was showing in practice some of the clear ideas about metadata and signposting. He demonstrated a great Double Map (example) to show how relating two datasets helped support targeting of GP referral services. Sadly I can’t find a link to it but it shows one of the things that I really like about InstantAtlas – it is not just a presentation tool but it can actually be a really valuable analysis tool too. - Watch video

One of Tim’s most pertinent points was about overdosing on data – the slow loading of IA when faced with large XML files, but also how it is possible to be overwhelmed by too many indicators. Lovingly referred to as ‘over-eating at the OCSI all you can eat buffet’


Andrew Phoenix from InfoTrafford came up next and brought in wider discussion of other data approaches happening in the wider Greater Manchester area – namely the DataGM open data work. He touched lightly on future plans to bring in opendata from DataGM into InfoTrafford which seems like it could be an exciting development.

There were some relevant points about the partnership effect that the local information system has had in bring partners together on data and intelligence. Also worth noting that Trafford’s Chief Executive has been bought into the idea of an LIS from the start. Unsurprisingly, this increased buy in helped drive the project forward.


Graham Lally (@exmosis part of @OCSI_uk) jumped up next to talk about Data Engagement as a developed process rather than a phrase which has so far been quite loosely thrown around. He appeared to have spent some time at UKGovCamp pondering this with others and they had identified some principles for quality data engagement. I think the idea seems really positive and as I won’t do it true justice I’ll simply repeat the five principles and then ask you to go-and-read the corresponding OCSI blog post:

A good lead into the issues came from a story about Graham’s Dad being a librarian and the general roles of libraries – i.e. holding content, having multiple uses and users. Then the role of the librarian to guide, find, suggest, support and evaluate. So how can LIS borrow from the analogy of librarian and library in a clear structured way. What role does it play?


Rebecca Raw from Cumbria County Council talked for a while about their use of Desktop IA. Their approach was starting to strain with maintaining the data and they have begun to use linked Excel books so that they are only updating data in a central sheet. Again Rebecca identified the organisational benefits it was having – policy makers actually referencing atlas data in their discussions.


Finishing off the Customer Presentations Debbie Turner – Wolverhampton in Profile – presented IA story 14. Two things jumped out really clearly – Debbie had done user-testing every step of the way. I think this really shows on their implementation of IA server too – probably the most usable IA site I’ve seen. She also had a consistent vision that I think as the presentation went on everyone could relate to and the atmosphere in the room felt as if everyone was relating to her journey to deliver – a vision to tell ‘the Wolverhampton story’ in a consistent and clear way.


And then we came to Jon Peltenburg, Technical Director at InstantAtlas. Jon ran through a 2011 review of IA developments and the development roadmap for 2012. Of course for the technical and web geeks (like me) the highlight was a demo of their alpha-version HTML 5, tablet-focused atlas. I say tablet-focused because Jon highlighted it has no right clicks and menu based selections. It looked good but is likely to be an addition to, rather than replacement of, existing functionality and tools. Adobe announcing withdrawal of Flash development on mobile devices was also a clear driver.

Jon talked about the next version of IA – v7.0. Essentially this adds a new tool called ‘report builder’ which will be better than ‘profile builder’ – it’s more WYSIWYG.

Want to read more on John's review of the day?  - Click here

IAUC London review by Julian Tyndale Biscoe

The London conference kicked off with a welcome and introduction from Stephen Croney Corporate GIS & Information Manager, London Borough of Newham and Geowise Managing Director, Mike Forster. With the London event hot on the heels of the northern conference Mike said both events were designed to help users understand how data visualisation is helping IA customers meet their goals. He said they were a great opportunity to hear about what developments were being planned for the suite of InstantAtlas products.


The first presentation of the day was made by Gareth Piggott, Senior Research & Statistical Analyst and Richard Fairchild, Senior Strategic Crime Analyst who work in the Intelligence Unit at the Greater London Authority. Their presentation was titled: Visualising Data in a Strategic Government Environment. Gareth explained that data is made available to partner organisations, the public and fellow employees through the London Datastore (http:\\ The aim of the London Datastore is to give citizens access to data that the GLA and other public sector organisations hold so they can use that data as they want – free of charge.

Gareth said: “One of the key reasons we use IA is that it handles such a lot of data in one go.” In his presentation, which focused on crime data, Richard acknowledged one of the key challenges facing the unit. Although the Datastore allows managers to see and understand trends very easily, helping them to deliver resources more cost-effectively, budget cuts are threatening the analysts whose job it is to work with IA to produce the reports in the first place.


The second presentation was made by Ray Hooper, GIS Manager and Kevin Goggin from the London Fire Brigade. They spoke about the use of IA Desktop at the London Fire Brigade which is the busiest fire brigade in the UK. They said that analysts used to spend a lot of time producing reports for the 180 plus indicators that are monitored as well as additional service reports. Although GIS solutions were already being used they wanted something that would produce useful reports - specifically the monthly statistical bulletin. “We wanted something simple yet powerful,” said Ray. “Now we are using IA we have taken dry and static spreadsheets and turned them into something that is easy to understand and is perfect for Borough Commanders, Divisional Commanders and even Chiefs want to see,” said Ray. - Watch video


Before the break for tea and coffee Justin Gleeson, Data and Technical Manager, National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) based at the University of Maynooth, Ireland. Justin talked about a project to provide reliable information through the collection, analysis and mapping of data relevant to the cross-border region. He said the aim was to provide a spatial, social and economic databank resource for community, public and private bodies. Now they are using IA they are doing just that, he said.

After the morning refreshments, Steve Halsall, Consulting Partner, CACI UK explained how the company has in the past provided static reports for its clients through a reporting system called Insite. However CACI decided that it wanted to add a flash-based interactive element to this package so clients could play around with the data themselves. IA was the right fit and CACI is now using IA to give its clients a visual and easy-to-use interface to access data relating to catchment demographics and survey responses.

The last presentation before lunch was from Graham Lally of OCSI. OCSI develops and interpret the evidence base to help the public sector and other organisations deliver better services to the public.


After lunch Stephen Croney came back to the podium to talk about the London Borough of Newham with the support of his colleague Yousaf Hassan. Newham Info is a local information system (LIS) which initially grew out of the Focus on Newham project. The idea was to present the same information online in an easy-to access way. “Information is vitally important to us and what we do especially when it comes to informing council policy. The information we provide provides a solid evidence base and it also empowers council staff and the public because it gives them the information they need,” said Stephen. - Watch video


From Newham we were taken west to Harrow with a presentation by Solakha Lal, Development Officer, Harrow Council. Solakha explained how InstantAtlas is being used by the council to present data. Although not publicly launched yet the website looks as though it will play an important part in helping people living in Harrow understand what is happening in their community.

A presentation from media professional Robin Latchem followed. Robin is Deputy Editor, Local Government Chronicle, part of the EMAP Public Sector. Robin showed maps that had been produced and published online to give reader’s additional insight into the stories that had run in the magazine. A good example being the interactive jobs map which showed how many local government jobs were at risk across the country.

Before the afternoon tea break, Pierre Jenkins, Head of IA Support and Andrea Kirk of InstantAtlas Support stepped up with a presentation on how to make the most of IA products.


After the tea break Trish Watts, Administrative and Creative Officer, National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) presented with colleague Steve Davies. They talked about the Cancer e-Atlas and said that it was the most popular page on NCIN’s website with 1,500 unique users every month. “Everyone loves a map and what the e-Atlas helps you to do is compare cancer rates in your local area with other areas around the UK,” said Trish. The team put a lot of effort into developing the ‘help’ text so that users can find the information they are looking for. Steve showed how they had gone back to basics with some of the programming features to get exactly want they wanted from IA. Steve also showed how staff at NCIN used a dashboard created using IA to track data entries making sure that Cancer Registries across the UK are providing the data they are supposed to.

For those attendees wanting to find out what developments were being planned for the IA suite of products the wait was over as Jon Peltenburg, Technical Director, InstantAtlas presented the roadmap – IA plans for the future. He explained what was happening with IA version 7 and why it would no longer be Flash-based. - Watch video

Tom Smith, chair, OCSI took to the floor to end the day with a question and answer session looking at the current issues, future priorities and challenges facing everyone involved data presentation especially in the public sector. One of the themes he focussed on was adding value to data and why it important to spend time on presentation. He also talked about engagement of users - carrying out surveys of the people who are likely to use the intelligence and how the landscape has changed so that now we are having to engage a much wider range of users than we have before.

Photos from both events can be seen here

Customer presentations

Stephen Croney - Corporate GIS & Information Manager & Yousaf Hassan - London Borough of Newham

Video Link (Not available)

Rebecca Raw - Research, Information and Intelligence Officer - Cumbria County Council

Trish Watts, Administrative and Creative Officer & Steve Davies - National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN)

Video Link (Coming soon)

Tom Hobson - Director | Locus Insight

Gareth Piggott, Senior Research & Statistical Analyst & Richard Fairchild, Senior Strategic Crime Analyst - Greater London Authority

Tim Healey | Project Director - Coventry City Council

Steve Halsall - Consulting Partner | CACI UK

Andrew Phoenix, Senior Business Relationship Partner (Children and Young People Service) - Performance and Partnerships Team | Trafford Council

Graham Lally, OCSI Limited

Video Link (Not Available)

Debbie Turner - Policy Officer (Research & Information) | Wolverhampton City Council

Ray Hooper, GIS Manager & Kevin Goggin - London Fire Brigade

Justin Gleeson - Data and Technical Manager - AIRO

Solakha Lal, Development Officer | Harrow Council, London

Powerpoint Slides (Not Available)

Robin Latchem, Deputy Editor | Local Government Chronicle

Staff presentations

InstantAtlas Roadmap: our plans for the future
Jon Peltenburg, Technical Director and Andrea Kirk of InstantAtlas Support
Making the most of your InstantAtlas Products
Pierre Jenkins, Head of IA Support & Andrea Kirk of InstantAtlas Support

Delegate feedback results

InstantAtlas User Conference - General Feedback

InstantAtlas User Conference Develop New Contacts  

InstantAtlas User Conference - Repeat the events

InstantAtlas User Conference Customer Presentations  

InstantAtlas User Conference - Future Plans

InstantAtlas User Conference - Making the Most