335 days to GDPR: the story so far

"29-page documents" have become something of a running joke in our office as we've waded through guidance emanating from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), trying to wrap our heads around the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

We are 335 days out from its introduction and awareness is turning into a mild panic: "When the hell is something personal data, and when is it not?" "Really, I can't legally market to someone who gave me their business card at a trade event?" "What in Solomon's name is a 'double opt-in'?" 

Answers to the above and other questions will follow in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here's an update on our progress working through the 12 Steps of GDPR preparation suggested by the ICO, along with some tips that might help to save you time. 


Step 1, Awareness, is all about who needs to know and as far as we were concerned that's everyone in our team. In one way or another, everyone at Solomon is a "decision maker" and someone that needs to be "aware that the law is changing" and "to appreciate the impact this is likely to have."

Rebecca, who has been blessed(?) with the responsibility for leading us through this process prepared a summary of what the GDPR is and how it's likely to affect our people, our technology, and our customers. She presented this to the team along with a flow-chart describing the 12 steps and how we will approach them.

We used Step 1 as an opportunity to check our compliance under the current Data Protection Act arrangement. We thought it would be interesting to share one of the documents Rebecca prepared, which outlines the current responsibilities of Data Controllers (if you are a BID then you almost certainly are one) with regards to their use of cloud computing services like Solomon. I'm delighted to say that Solomon passes the test. If you are reading this and you are not a Solomon customer then I hope the document will provide some talking points you can use with your current supplier to ensure you're compliant too.


Step 2, Information you hold, is fundamental. The remaining 10 steps are pretty dependant on  getting this bit right. Here's what the ICO says:

You should document what personal data you hold, where it came from and who you share it with. You may need to organise an information audit.

We headed right over to the deep end and organised an information audit. We started this by defining some questions we wanted the audit to answer. Here's the list:

  1. Where is our electronic information stored and processed?
  2. What personally identifiable information do we hold in each of those places?
  3. What is the origin of that information?
  4. Why do we store that information - what's the business case?
  5. Is there a legal basis for storing that information?
  6. What is our responsibility for the information we hold - are we a Controller or a Processor?
  7. What are its "exit points" - when, how and why is it shared outside of our organisation?
  8. For each type of information we hold, how do we record consent from the data subject?
  9. How secure are each of the places where we store data - what are the risks of a breach?
  10. What steps are necessary to eliminate or mitigate those risks, and to identify and report breaches?

A tip from us is to start by getting your team in one room and generating a list of all the software and hardware everybody uses. Including computers, phones, external drives, cloud software tools and our own technologies, we identified 29 data stores that need auditing. 

The next time we post our progress report, we will have answered all of the questions listed above. We hope to have built a comprehensive picture of what we hold and why and will be armed with what we need to define processes and policies fit for the GDRP.

If you have any questions about what we've learned please feel free to contact me directly: simon@hebeworks.com. If you haven't done so already, please subscribe to our mailing list and we'll send future updates straight to your inbox.

Air Quality Unlocked

To celebrate National Clean Air Day, we're proud to announce a new Solomon Story that gives businesses real-time access to air quality information for each of their locations. 

The Story is powered by CleanSpace whose users help them to gather data by carrying a small sensor called a Tag. The Tag takes readings of all major pollutants and sends data to the cloud (presumably a very white one) via the user's mobile phone. The Solomon team, along with the LeedsBID street teams, are taking part and capturing data from across the BID area in central Leeds.

Like many towns and cities across the UK, Leeds has a poor history when it comes to the air we breathe.

According to our own research, there is a 4.5 year difference in life expectancy between the boroughs of Leeds that have the highest and lowest levels of Nitrogen Dioxide pollution. Unlocking air quality data for Business Improvement Districts means that business communities can better understand where the problem areas are and how they can work together to make places cleaner and greener for all.

Solomon has been designed to plug into data from any source on the web. Please take part in our poll on Twitter and let us know what other information you think BIDs want to see on their local intelligence dashboards.

The first global data protection law is coming.

In exactly a year from today, on 25th May 2018, EU regulations will bring into effect the biggest changes in Data Protection law for 20 years.

The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) will determine the use of personal data by placing rigorous obligations on organisations, like ourselves, who handle personal data. All companies worldwide, who process the data of EU citizens, will be obliged to take data privacy more seriously.

These new obligations will broaden the definition of ‘personal data’, meaning that genetic, mental, cultural, economic or social information will be considered such. There will be changes to the practices of how that data can be collected, stored and used. Additionally a new ‘right to be forgotten’ whereby individuals can request the permanent deletion of their data, which subsequently means process and technology systems may need to evolve. Finally, there will be new requirements surrounding data breaches and increased penalties for those who fail to comply.

Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham talks about how GDPR is an issue for the boardroom.

Here at Solomon, we are committed to handling data sensitively and ethically - data security is one of our key values after-all! We have already begun taking steps to ensure our compliance and over the coming months we’ll be keeping you up-to-date on this blog with a series of in-depth audits, reviews and policy changes which we have mapped out.

Please subscribe to our mailing list today and we’ll send updates to your inbox – no more than two emails each month, we promise.

A platform for collaboration - from #ACTMBIDS 2017

On 18th May 2017 the Solomon team landed in Birmingham for the inaugural #ATCMBIDS conference, held by the Association of Town Centre Management. What follows is a long-form version of the presentation we gave to delegates about our experience of collaboration between the public and private sector:

Born from collaboration

Solomon was born from collaboration between our team and a number of organisations and individuals from a variety of worlds. Our journey began in 2013 when we entered into a partnership with Leeds City Council, supported with funding from Innovate UK, DCLG, Nesta, Creative England and the Cabinet Office, with the aim of unlocking local data and promoting a deeper understanding of place. An 18-month long collaborative research project took place, that culminated in production of an open data portal for Leeds (now Data Mill North) and a civic dashboard that made open data — from the Data Mill but also many other sources from across the web — easy to digest and useful to citizens. Due to the open source nature of that project, our collaboration extended far beyond the partnership to include more than 700 web developers, worldwide, who contribute to Ember.js, the framework used to build Solomon. As an aside, Ember.js is used by the likes of Apple and LinkedIn, so we're in good company. 

Unlocking local data and promoting a deeper understanding of place.

As a technology, Solomon is made up of a number of "components" that can be composed in different ways to meet different needs: we often describe it to people as "web Lego". Two examples of projects that have benefited from this approach were delivered with teams at NHS England and Yorkshire Water. Both projects explored how Solomon could be used to share intelligence internally and externally. Unlike the civic dashboard, these projects required deep analysis and required more than just grabbing and presenting data —  they needed complex transformations to take place in between. This led to the formation of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with University of Bradford and the creation of a Data Science team and a family of applications doing seriously clever stuff in the cloud.

Unsurprisingly, the nature of the projects described above required careful attention to security and data protection; user experience, especially in the context of a civic dashboard with general users of mixed technical ability; scale, with the potential for huge volumes of traffic; and portability, with users demanding access on computers, tablets and smartphones, from anywhere. All of these things required engaging or recruiting specialist skills to join our team, with collaboration being fundamental to our success.

Growing in collaboration with BIDs

In January 2016, we held our first requirements workshop with LeedsBID. We met with Andrew Cooper towards the end of 2015 to discuss Solomon, and the potential value our "web Lego" could offer to LeedsBID. Andrew, though, saw a bigger picture, and an opportunity for us to create value for BIDs right across the UK. In Andrew's experience, BIDs struggled to manage and make sense of the data they gathered and, as a result, struggled to articulate their impact to their members. We were hot off the back of being named as one of the UK's top 50 creative companies, and Andrew challenged our team to:

  1. "Create a 'giant spreadsheet in the cloud' that BID teams can share, and that is aware of changes to the National Non-domestic Rates record, as they occur"
  2. "Use Solomon to create a portal for business users, that lets them see what the BID is doing for them as well as helping them to get more from the BID"
  3. "Create a mobile application that the BID team can use, on any device and from any location, to capture and update data about the BIDs' relationships with their members" 

After an incredibly steep learning curve for the whole team, including understanding the dynamics of NNDR data, and learning to pronounce the word "hereditament", we launched Solomon for BIDs in September 2016. Andrew and his team were, and have remained, an invaluable partner, helping us to understand the intricacies of BIDs at all stages of development and delivery, while also helping us to shape features that deliver value by improving data quality, promoting efficiency and enhancing local knowledge.

At the time of writing, LeedsBID has been joined by Bristol City Centre BID and Liverpool BID Company, along with BIDs in York, Stockton, Shrewsbury, Otley, Keighley and, most recently, Basingstoke, in using Solomon. Each BID is unique and has brought new requirements that continue to shape the software. For example, the team in Bristol asked us if we could help them to track voting intentions, so we added Ballots and Votes to our database. This means BIDs can now track voting intention for any eligible business for any given ballot, and use tools and reporting dashboards to track progress and forecast results. We will be keeping our fingers tightly crossed for Bristol City Centre BID until we hear the outcome of next month's ballot.

A platform for collaboration

While Solomon has been driven by the core team of designers and developers within the Solomon team, the technology would not exist in the way it does today without the influences and contributions of others. Collaboration is central to how we work. Here are a few examples of how it happens:

Gathering Knowledge: we are always working with BIDs to unlock data and consolidate knowledge into their clouds. Sometimes this involves liaising with local authority partners or hunting and gathering data from across the web, and other times it's interacting with third-party data providers to overcome the technical challenges of moving data back and forth securely.

Sharing Knowledge: working with BIDs has been a steep learning curve for our team, but we have risen from this baptism with an intricate understanding of BIDs of all shapes and sizes. We're proactive about sharing that knowledge with early stage BIDs, as well as connecting them with more experienced practitioners we've met along the way. We aim to be a useful resource for BIDs who want to understand and make better use of technology. We are happy to offer our time to help BIDs assess their options — "should I use MailChimp or Campaign Monitor, and why?" — and to assist them with issues related to data protection and security.

Service Design: great software services start with the user and their needs. We run workshops with BID teams and businesses, listening to their evolving requirements and using what we learn to shape the roadmap for Solomon so that it delivers maximum value today and tomorrow.

Innovation: open innovation is in our DNA. We depend on the effort of more than 700 developers around the world who help to make Ember.js better, and we say "thank you" by sharing code, approaches and best practice back to the community. We are about to come to the end of our second Innovate UK funded collaborative research programme. Working with City of Bradford MDC and a group of engineers, we have developed a family of Internet-connected, environmental sensors that feed data back to Solomon in real-time. These promise value to BIDs and their members by boosting local intelligence. 

Integration: we are working with Springboard, The Welcome People, Sentrysis, Meerkat and more, to pull data from existing services and systems together in Solomon, eliminating the need for spreadsheets and making it easier for BIDs to generate reports and share success.

Storytelling: Solomon is a part of the Hebe Works group of companies and our sister company, The City Talking (TCT), is a media company with an award-winning approach to "destination marketing" that is delivered through high-quality storytelling. Like us, the TCT team aim to promote a deeper understanding of place by uncovering fascinating stories about the people who make our towns and cities light up. Examples of their work include a BBC backed documentary, Do You Want To Win?; working in partnership with LeedsBID to deliver the first Leeds International Festival (see video); and The City Talking: Air Quality, a collaboration with the Solomon team, using 48 million rows of open data to illustrate the impact of nitrogen dioxide on all our lives.

Solomon is more than software. It's a platform for collaboration, and a partner, that wants our towns and cities to thrive. At Solomon, we believe we achieve that best by making deep relationships between people and place. That has to start at a local level. 

Solving "the NNDR problem"

Business Improvement Districts, Town Centre Management teams and other people involved in place-making spend too much of their time managing data instead of doing.

Having access to quality data is key for place management teams. Often, that data comes from a number of sources which need to be synchronised on a regular basis.

Take National Non-domestic Rates (NNDR) for example. Each local authority maintains a list of hereditaments and the parties liable for paying business rates. As businesses move and change, and as new hereditaments are created, this data changes.

Today, most place managers maintain this data by wading through spreadsheets and manually updating records to ensure everything is in sync. It’s time-consuming work and as soon as it’s finished their data is already out-of-date.

We’ve solved this problem with Solomon. Our software incorporates a central database that allows place management teams to consolidate, store, share and get value from data.
Solomon can consume data from almost any source.

For example, NNDR data can be grabbed from the web or uploaded in spreadsheets; Solomon then automatically imports and updates the records. New hereditaments are created and flagged for the place manager’s attention. Existing records, including liable party details are updated. Finally, a link is created to a business record where all the information generated by a place management team is stored.

Less work for you and your team. More time for doing.

Andrew Cooper on why LeedsBID chose to support Solomon

It's almost exactly a year since we held our first workshop with the LeedsBID team to look at how Solomon could be used to help them to overcome some of the many challenges they face. In this short interview, Chief Executive Andrew Cooper explains why LeedsBID chose Solomon and gives an insight into the value it has created for his team and customers.


Solomon has been tailored, specifically, to meet the needs of how a Business Improvement District should be run from the start.
— Andrew Cooper - LeedsBID