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G. Overview of an Aggregation System

A Data Aggregation System is essentially a database or central data repository. In its simplest sense it involves transferring information between two parties, for example a funder and their provider. This information is typically transferred in a standard electronic format (e.g. .csv, .xml) through email, CD or through a batch upload on a website. This initiative relies on the agreement of a Common Dataset across the local area.

The main benefit of a Data Aggregation System is that organisations can continue with their existing systems, assuming the data is in an appropriate format. The aggregation system itself is not costly, over and above the time it takes for individual organisations to provide .csv extracts of the required information and the development (including the licence fee) and hosting costs for the aggregation database. The aggregation database could be developed in one of the following standard formats: MS Access, MySQL or MSSQL. Due to the wide variety of potential solutions it is not feasible to make a more detailed estimate on the costs involved.            

Creating a Data Aggregation System will involve the following activities:

  • Agree the data transfer mechanism and database solution
  • Identify the frequency at which information is required
  • Detail the central reporting and analysis tasks
  • Discuss the data requirements of individual providers
  • Discuss the benefits of participation and data sharing
  • Pilot with a select number of providers and make improvements to the system
  • Rolling out to a wider group
  • Discuss methods for overcoming implementation barriers including making a periodic dataset request, a condition of funding

Although, the existence of a Common Dataset suggests that organisations will provide this information electronically, it may still require a level of provider reformatting in order for it to be ready to be transferred. In some instances, organisations may have difficulty getting data from their systems in an appropriate format. Once data is received there is a collation, data-cleansing and data migration tasks before it is fit for analysis by the central resource.

A Data Aggregation System is adequate until the cost of collection outweighs the potential cost of automating the process. At this point a Performance Management System should be considered. Depending on the time involved (and the number of area providers) a demand for information more frequently than monthly might make a Performance Management System a more cost effective option.

There is significant handling time from a local area perspective and this is the main drawback in use of an aggregation system as compared to a more automated Performance Management System. In addition, some provider barriers may emerge at this early stage, most notably around data protection and data sharing, as providers may lack sufficient motivation to share their individual client information in this way.