By embracing data maturity, governments can lay the groundwork for a more effective public sector, and digital society – but how do they get there?
Data is one of the most valuable assets an organisation has. Governments hold an extraordinary amount of data which is valuable to both the public and private sectors.
Yet, many governments around the world remain unable to capture the opportunities their data presents – including in the UK.
Even though the public sector is adopting data maturity models (for example the Environment Agency), it continues to fall behind the private sector.
If the UK government was to reach data maturity, the gains would be vast, including streamlining and transforming public sector services, boosting security, improving efficiency, and stretching the return on the public pound further.
What’s stopping data sharing across government?
The UK Government is not alone in under-utilising the data it holds. Many other governments around the world face the same challenges.
Over recent years data has become a key priority, with the publication of the National Digital Strategy in 2020. This built on the manifesto pledge to improve data use within government and position the UK as a data-first nation.
However, there are many barriers and challenges still to overcome along the journey to data maturity.
The first challenge is siloed data. This means there are many separate pools of data, collected by separate entities, which cannot be unified in their current format. These data siloes are largely linked to technical debt and legacy systems (which is a discussion in itself).
There is also the challenge of paper-based data storage in the public sector
The above challenges, when combined with pervasive skills shortages, security concerns, and tightening public purse strings, underline the hurdles to streamlining the ‘back end’ and achieving full digital transformation.
The Covid-19 pandemic also shone a light on the UK Government’s data immaturity. Aggregating case numbers from across the nation’s labs and hospitals proved slow and complex, often involving communication via phone, email and fax.
From tackling the spread of the virus and planning pharmaceutical stock to supplying health, social and occupational care, each stage depended on data sharing and collaboration.
Our European neighbours, the Netherlands and Denmark, are leading examples of a connected government
To witness the wider benefits a connected government presents, you don’t have to look far. Our European neighbours, the Netherlands and Denmark, are leading examples.
The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (Rijkswaterstaat) uses big data analysis to predict ‘just in time’ maintenance to the national road network, based on the known asphalt lifetime.
Another is Denmark’s National Citizen Portal, Borger.dk. This digital platform provides a single point of access for residents to view information about public authorities and act across online services. Using the platform, people can enrol their children for day-care, report a change of address, apply for child benefits, change GP, complete their tax return, and more.
The many benefits of data maturity
Data maturity refers to an organisation’s ability to effectively collect, manage and use data to support its operations and decision-making.
In central government, data maturity can support several goals. The first is driving efficiency and reducing costs. The second is boosting data security and governance, ensuring data is used in a way that is secure, ethical and compliant.
Then, there is greater reliability, enabling more accurate decision-making between stakeholders. This leads to improved outcomes and better service provision, allowing organisations to better understand the impact of their policies and programmes on citizens and adapt them accordingly.
Understanding the ‘data maturity’ scale
When it comes to data maturity, there is a graded scale.
For an organisation to be at the top of the maturity scale, data must be firmly embedded throughout, and integrated into all decision-making and business objectives. It should also follow the four pillars set out in the National Data Strategy:
The true value and foundations of data can only be fully realised when it is fit for purpose, recorded in standardised formats on modern, future-proof systems and held in a condition that means it is findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable.
To make the best use of data, we must have a wealth of data skills to draw on. This means delivering the right skills through our education system, but also ensuring that people can continue to develop the data skills they need throughout their lives
For data to have the most effective impact, it needs to be appropriately accessible, mobile and re-usable. That means encouraging better coordination, access to and sharing of data of appropriate quality between organisations in the public, private and third sectors, and ensuring appropriate protections for the flow of data internationally
As we drive increased use of data, it must be used responsibly, in a way that is lawful, secure, fair, ethical, sustainable and accountable, whilst also supporting innovation and research.
The journey to data maturity
Reaching data maturity is a journey with various obstacles to overcome along the way. It requires substantial resources and can take time.
By progressing along this path, however, governments can lay the groundwork for a fundamentally more effective and efficient public sector and digital society. A government for the future.
The infrastructure on which the data relies is an asset that must be protected, maintained and supported throughout to ensure security, compliance and business continuity.
Buy-in from everyone in the organisation is critical to promote data ownership and quality, together with specialist data-skilled workforce to drive data strategies forward.
Investing in new technology solutions must underpin progress; both bespoke professional services and commercial ‘off the shelf’ software specific to data and analytics.
The public sector should also lean on the private sector where skills or resource gaps exist
The public sector should also lean on the private sector where skills or resource gaps exist. Working in collaboration with managed service providers can help the Government and its many departments and bodies reach data maturity sooner.
The Crown Commercial Service’s Big Data and Analytics RM6195 framework provides a comprehensive list of approved suppliers and providers able to offer specialised hardware and software, consultancy for planning and implementing big data and analytics projects and training and support services to help organisations get the most out of their tools and platforms.
By Chris Reynolds, Central Government Team Leader, Softcat
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