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Data Futures Alpha progress report: September

In this edition

Online validation toolkit

Our Data Quality Product Owner hosted two sessions with Alpha participants to present the online validation toolkit (OVT) and confirm any assumptions made during the build of the toolkit.

Overview of OVT

The current validation toolkit is downloadable, whereas this new validation toolkit will be online only.

The OVT is a separate submission lifecycle for providers to test their data ahead of a collection. Providers will be able to test their files ahead of making a full submission in a live collection – the OVT does not allow users to progress through the submission lifecycle   and will not connect to the issue management system (IMS).  

The presentation included an overview of the advantages and improved useability of hosting the toolkit in the HESA Data Platform  (HDP):

  • OVT is more secure because it’s held with the other data:
    • A provider fed back that an online tool was preferable: in their organisation the previous tool was downloaded onto a hard drive, which had the potential to be not as secure.
  • Using OVT, HESA can increase the number of validations available, i.e. access to historic data, which the current downloadable toolkit cannot access.
  • The OVT will not have any limitation on cohort sizes, so a small cohort (even a single student) will still run through validation.
  • HESA will be configuring the OVT separately to the live collection so the OVT will be available sooner. We will have more information on collection cycles closer to go-live.
  • There will be a feature to download all issues from the OVT.

Doing historic checks as part of validation simplifies the process



Provider queries and responses

  • Query: What is the relative speed for OVT (compared to a download toolkit) at peak times in a collection? 
  • Response: The current collection system has a queue in place, whereas the HDP can process up to 400 submissions at once, and this will be tested during the Beta phase. 
  • Feedback: Doing historic checks as part of validation in the OVT simplifies the process, as currently providers need to use the offline tool, then load the submission and do historic checks at that point. 
  • Query: Therefore, how can we compare quality rules against submissions?
  • Response: OVT will only retain the latest file submitted by a provider. This will ensure HESA isn’t hosting significant amounts of data, as part of GDPR compliance. 
  • In the live collection (distinct from the OVT) providers will still have a comparison feature.


Overall, the session didn’t raise any major challenges or issues ahead of OVT implementation. 

The OVT will be live and made available during the Beta phase as part of the schedule of testing and feedback.

Alpha phase 1 wash-up session

We hosted a Teams session to review Alpha with participants, asking what they had gained from participating in Alpha phase 1, and any further comments or feedback.

The mood was generally positive, and participants agreed they had a much better grasp of the technical requirements ahead of go-live in 2022/23.

Participants mentioned the benefit of increased visibility. The group sessions and use of Microsoft Teams chat and channels gave all participants insight into how organisations across the UK were working through Data Futures. This was flagged as especially helpful during the pandemic, with reduced opportunities for face-to-face meetings and networking.

Participants agreed they had a much better grasp of the technical requirements ahead of go-live in 2022/23

One participant noted that this specification has greater commonality than the previous version and this had given them reassurance. 

Our Collections manager commented this was very good to hear, as one of our goals for Alpha had been to validate the model.

Online sessions feedback

Participants valued the data migration intro sessions but noted there was still a lot to digest and understand; we will schedule further individual sessions and opportunities for information, advice, and guidance.

The practical sessions were valued as a complement to the written documentation, and the UX sessions provided insight into the ‘developer’ perspective. 

Further queries and feedback

Participants asked to know more about any bugs or changes that have arisen from their sessions: we have provided the write-up reports, so participants have a view on what has been taken forward in our development schedule.

Looking towards Beta phase

We asked what advice participants would give ahead of the Beta phase and some of their suggestions and feedback are below: 

  • Participants need clear expectations about what HESA wants to achieve with Beta.
  • Themed drop-ins, for example, focus on ‘credibility reports’, would help participants pick and choose what was relevant – and write-ups from the sessions would also help.
  • Joint session with software suppliers would be helpful.

We received valuable feedback during the session – as we have come to expect throughout Alpha – which we will input into our planning for the next phase in Data Futures. We are very grateful to all Alpha phase 1 participants for their unstinting commitment and professionalism throughout this phase.

Alpha phase 2

While we have finished Alpha phase 1, some participants will be working with us on Alpha phase 2, which is running from November to mid-January. We have added this phase to be more fully prepared for the launch of the Beta phase, and we have not given set time limits given to Alpha participants: any time they can spare is gratefully received

Planned activity:

  • Functionality available to upload real data files (small or large files) into the HDP (further exploratory testing).
  • Using migrated data in quality assurance (QA) process.
  • Delivering data to Statutory Customers.