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How DIT have built a service as an open data set

Data at DIT

The Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) team at DIT creates the tools and services that enable businesses in the UK and overseas to prosper in the global economy. We have created our own customer relationship management system to get a single view of all the companies we work with, applied data science techniques, and expanded our architecture to support our ambition to be the world’s leading government for trade-related data.

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Recently we worked on our first open data set service, the UK Global Tariff which displays tariffs that will apply to imported goods from 1 January 2021. This is DIT’s fifth open dataset and the first to focus on trade, so it’s a significant step in our ambition.

Why we chose to build an open data set

When DIT announced temporary tariffs in 2019, we saw a high volume of users on GOV.UK download the data which was only available in a complex HTML document. As a government department we have an obligation to make services and content accessible and easy to understand, so we knew this needed to be improved. We also thought that users would prefer to work with the data using their own tools and so we knew we could improve on this service for when the UK tariff was announced.

We hypothesised that there were two user groups who would want to find out about the new tariffs. One would be individual traders, in the UK and abroad, who would only be interested in the products that are important for their business. The other group would be trade experts such as logistics carriers and other governments who have a lot of trade knowledge and would want to see the full set of tariffs.

The DDaT team and policy decided that publishing a document didn’t meet either of these needs. For individual traders, the amount of information in the document was overbearing and it was hard to find the rates that mattered to them. For trade experts, while the document contained all the information they needed, it would be an unnecessary barrier to take it out of that format and into data that they could work with. It seemed that providing the service as an open data set, data that can be freely used, modified and shared would suit our audience’s needs.

Next steps for the UK tariff

When we launched the UK Global Tariff service in May, we were able to take all these factors into consideration and offer an improved service. The digital service helps users find and compare the tariffs and the data is available as an open dataset, in both a spreadsheet format and available for querying as an API. Alongside it is open metadata that users can use to find out when we update the data.

We’ll be spending the next few months seeing how the service is being used and listening to user feedback. Later this year we want to release a wider dataset, with features that will help users keep their own data and services updated with tariff changes. As tariff data can be complicated, we are also working with our content colleagues to help explain the concepts behind the data in detail. All of this will help us progress to become the leading government department for trade data.

Learn about the work of the Digital, Data and Technology team at DIT on their Digital Trade blog. If you want to learn more about the service or if you’re interested in using tariff data to power your services then get in touch with the team directly.

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