Supplier story: Butterfly Data, making complex data clearer

The art and science of cleaning ‘dirty data’ and creating visualisations to making it more useful

Butterfly Data has been an Accelerated Capability Environment (ACE) supplier since February 2020, providing actionable insights for decision-makers at a variety of organisations by analysing, cleansing and then visualising their data.

When Butterfly started its ACE journey, it had ten staff members. Now the Cardiff-based company has tripled in size and gained a significant track record of work for government and law enforcement. 

Butterfly Data’s Isobel Taylor, a researcher with a PhD who has worked with ACE as a tech lead, says the company often recommends “not wasting time in the middle” if an organisation needs to up its data game significantly, giving them a shortlist for the digital transformation actions which will have most impact.

The company helps customers assess the data they collect for quality and value, working out what the data is actually used for, so they can prioritise what is used most often, or is most important.  For example, focusing on user complaints can reveal underlying data collection issues. 

One of the ACE projects Butterfly has worked on is wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE). This made an enormous contribution to UK health security resilience during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic because specific variants of the virus were detectable in local wastewater before nearby residents became symptomatic and started testing positive.  

The science of cleaning ‘dirty data’ and the art of visualising it

Butterfly mapped out data collected from the UK wastewater network, checking and cleaning it before presenting to scientists. Taylor says collaborating with universities meant “we could go direct to the researchers to make sure we were clear about what sensor readings meant. We knew how to interpret that and provide visuals in the way stakeholders needed to see, so they could make decisions on local lockdowns”.  

Butterfly Data enjoys working collaboratively. One project with Bays Consulting involved exploring the art of the possible for decision support tools. The team not only pulled together a detailed market survey but – thanks to relationships with similar clients – invited the leading (and niche) software vendors for a ‘demo-day’ hosted by ACE, so the customer could see what capability existed, and ask questions relating to their specific use case.  

Successful ACE commissions have formed a key part of the company’s ongoing growth, providing a good balance with their other work.

Founder Sara Boltman said: “You actually go from problem to demonstrable solution within eight to ten weeks … a refreshing change from the kind of longer-term government project. It’s a completely different way of working.”

Going forward, Butterfly recognises a lot of data is going to be required for the transition to net zero, as industries decarbonise and change. In terms of what makes the company stand apart from peers, as well as being employee owned and female led, Boltman cites recruiting diverse thinkers from a wide range of backgrounds, including several PhDs in different fields, ex-military personnel and reservists who provide added insight for defence and national security work.

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