Companies House, the government’s business registry arm, has replaced its relational database software with a MongoDB NoSQL system, as it seeks to revamp its online presence and improve customer access to data.
The executive agency, which is run by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, began the project to as part of plans to provide all of its data to users for free, and digitise more of its services in line with wider government aims.
This meant overhauling its ‘old and tired’ web-based services, involving consolidating its various account based payment systems, upgrading its search capabilities and adding APIs to make it easier for external companies to develop software on top of its data.
“Rather than trying to revamp existing services we decided to take the opportunity to create a service from the ground up which has consolidated what we already do, and over time we will add new functionality,” said Mark Fairhurst, head of architecture at Companies House.
“The main benefit is an improved interface. We are improving the search for company data, we are improving the way it looks on the screen.”
He added: “The other change is the technology stack: we are developing an REST-based API upon which our own user interface is then interacting. That means that we can offer that API out to customers so that they can develop their own software, to either consume or modify company data.”
The decision was made to replace the Oracle relational database with MongoDB’s open source NoSQL technology.
“Although [the previous system] worked, it wasn’t as simple as other offerings on the table. Looking at how we utilised data through our web-based services, it doesn’t need to be stored in a relational way, it is just simply presenting a blob of data to consumers,” he said.
“We felt [MongoDB] would be simpler to interact with from a development point of view. So when developers are developing against it, rather than trying to write a piece of SQL that queries three or four tables, data can just be accessed from one location through Mongo. [This will] simplify the interface between our web-based systems, our own API, and the data sets underneath.”
Fairhurst said Companies House will continue to add more functionality to the Perl-based system in future, as well as allowing business register information to be linked to data from other Whitehall departments to help external developers create new services.
“Moving forward we are looking at things like trying to link the data and join up with other government data sets and almost let the marketplace take over at that point in time,” he said.
“So rather than provide the value add services, [we can] provide the data in ways that are modern, and the marketplace will take over.”