Making sense of huge amounts of data churned out by computer systems and captured from the internet is a challenge for businesses and public-sector organisations. Attempts to boost performance by analysing information has produced the multi-billion pound "Big Data" industry.
One way to make sense of data is through "economic geography" - using software to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a town or city based on economic and social criteria.
UK councils and outsourcing companies are using Place Analytics, software owned by Grant Thornton (GT), to compare their city against others, and help them work out how to improve their economy, society and environment.
The software was developed by Local Futures Group, which GT bought in February. It gives a city a rating of between 'A' to 'E' based on about 20 criteria including its economy, its residents skills, health, crime and deprivation.
The software collates data from about 130 sources, such as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and census and checks its accuracy before analysing it.
John Fisher, GT director, said about 100 organisations use the software - mainly councils but also large outsourcing companies that work in the public sector.
Fisher said the software can produce 35-page reports for a client in less than five minutes. The software populates data in a template and writes "intelligent text" (for example, council X has a strong economy with an above-average employment in the private sector, but a relatively low-skilled workforce), based on a comparison with other councils.
Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of a council can help partners at accounting firms prepare for a meeting with the chief executive of the council, said Fisher.
Sheena Ramsey, chief executive of Knowsley council told AccountingWEB that GT software's analysis of Liverpool city was "quite powerful" and some of its conclusions were interesting and worth reviewing.