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Companies House eyes open data switch

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3rd Jun 2015
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Companies House is on track to make access to all of its digital information free of charge to customers by the end of this month.

AccountingWEB caught up with Companies House chief executive Tim Moss to find out how the move to open data was progressing and to discover more about the registry’s wider digital strategy.

In July last year Companies House made a public commitment that all of its digital data would be free of charge by the end of the second calendar quarter of this year.

“We’re on track to deliver that and we think it’s a game changer for the UK business information market,” Moss said. “It’s a really important thing for Companies House and a big shift for us as an organisation.”

Moss explained that when the government agency reviewed its strategy a couple of years back, they asked themselves some difficult questions, like ‘why are we here?’ and ‘what’s our purpose?’

“Ultimately the purpose of the registry is to provide information. The registration piece is just the input bit, but actually how do we support the economy? We support the economy by providing data and allowing people to make decisions, compare companies they’re going to do business with or not,” he said.

For Moss it’s all about that data provision, which led to Companies House seeking out a mechanism to be able to make all of that data available for free.

“We’ve got evidence to say that some of the information we gave away for free in the past, unsurprisingly we’ve seen huge increases in its use and ultimately that’s got to benefit the economy because people are accessing data and hopefully using it to make better decisions,” Moss added.

The move to open data comes on the back of the agency developing a new offering called Companies House Service, which is changing the way they run the business.

Launched in beta last October, it will replace all their filing and search services based on a new REST-based application programme interface (API), allowing both third parties and Companies House to build services on top of that API for both filing and search. It’s replacing its relational Oracle database with NoSQL MongoDB infrastructure to support this.

On its success so far, Moss commented: “It has been very well received, we’re now in the process of moving to full public access. And then also making sure all the information is released free through that service.”

For Moss, the digital agenda is at the heart of what Companies House is doing and its overall strategy is to become a fully digital register.

Currently more than 80% of what they get in is filed digitally and on the output side it’s 99.9%, according to Moss.

“We’re well on our way. Our aim is to push on the input side to get up to the 90s and beyond,” he added.

Its current focus is enabling and encouraging take-up of those digital services.

Moss said there was still a question around mandation and that they may come back to it in the future, but for now it was about enablement and getting people to do business this way because it makes sense.

On pushing the online message, Moss said Companies House had run many seminars and worked extensively with the accounting profession: “We’re doing lots of work around accounts, work with accounting software providers, and with the profession to get people filing their accounts online,” he said. “Filing online has lower rejection rates, you get immediate receipts and confirmation of delivery.”

The digital shift is a big task, and like other large-scale IT programmes, the Companies House transformation has had the occasional blip.

In just the last few months Companies House has had to deal with a number of data gaffes.

In January a High Court ruling found that Companies House was to blame after Cardiff-based engineering firm Taylor & Sons collapsed into administration.

Around the same AccountingWEB members were complaining about the migration of Companies House content to GOV.UK, in particular around the recent changes to technical guidance.

This was followed in February when it was revealed via a Freedom of Information request that staff at Companies House had sent confidential and personal details to the wrong people.

Companies House started work two years ago to bring its systems in line with the Cabinet Office's ‘Digital by Default’ standards. What’s been your experience of dealing with Companies House and what are your expectations for the future?

A full transcription of the Q&A with Companies House chief executive Tim Moss will be published on AccountingWEB soon.

Replies (4)

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James Reeves
By James Reeves
04th Jun 2015 11:24

The link

Unless I missed it, you didn't post the link to the beta site.

https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/

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By eca04arp
04th Jun 2015 15:03

due dil

this will kill 'em!

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By taxrebel
04th Jun 2015 17:34

WTF

Information has value. 

They are proposing to give it away for free, meanwhile no doubt continuing to charge the providers for the dubious pleasure of supplying it. Bonkers.

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By Charlie Carne
04th Jun 2015 21:49

Wow!

I wish I'd known about the beta last October. I've just looked at it and it's amazingly fast and efficient. Well done, Companies House!

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