Neil Prior, Head of Local Government Futures Forum at Telefónica UK, discusses how we can help the public sector plan for the future more accurately

How can a communications and IT company help plan new roads, find out how far fans will travel to concerts, identify where tourists go, or enable local councils to join up the services they offer?

The answer is data. As we move around the globe we leave a trail of data behind us: shopping transactions, payments, web browsing, ticket purchases and mobile network data. Used responsibly, this data can improve the world around us, from making sure we get the products we want in our supermarkets, to improving public services and managing traffic congestion in major cities.

And now there’s Smart Steps. It’s a service that uses anonymous data from our mobile network to show trends of where phone users are, by time, gender, and age.

Using data created from the billions of interactions between O2 customers’ devices and the network, Smart Steps is able to show the location and density of footfall across the country in 200m² areas. No individual will ever be identified, as the data is always aggregated and anonymised to only provide insight into the behaviour of crowds. This data can be seen over an hourly time series and also offers insight into the demographic make-up of these crowds.

This sort of Big Data is incredibly valuable, particularly to organisations that are planning big investments, like infrastructure, transport and property, responding to crime, or dealing with changes such as hospital upgrades or the provision of local services.

We’ve just held an event for senior public sector leaders to discuss Smart Steps. We talked about how it could help local government organisations improve their services and offer new social benefits to the citizens they serve. You can read our report on the opportunities we identified here. It’s part of our Local Government Futures Forum, which helps councils innovate and improve services – even with reduced budgets.

Here are some of the things participants said:

“I think this can give real credence to a sales pitch of an area to any kind of potential investor in your area. It provides fuel for discussion and influence with investment decision makers. Current practice is to look at population data and model in some assumed context for the area. This kind of insight can better account for the draw of less regular events exclusive to the town, for example, which a prospective hotelier might not see from just looking at population statistics.”

“During our regeneration project it was often as much about which business proposals to say ‘no’ to as much as ‘yes’. If we’d have had a means to model a variety of scenarios to test which ones would deliver the growth we were after, this would have been invaluable.”

For more information on Smart Steps and Big Data visit or call Matt Worth on 01235 433507.




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