Account Manager for the NHS & UK Government,
I recently joined a panel of experts at the Global Government Forum “Getting real: how real-time data can improve government services”. The roundtable was chaired by Siobhan Benita, former UK Senior Civil Servant and comprised of leading experts in the field; Fiona James, Office for National Statistics (ONS); Sue Bateman, Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO); Thalia Baldwin, Cabinet Office; and Jean-Francois Perras, Google. Together, we explored how data is already making an impact in central government, how they intend to use it going forward, and the technology that is powering this.
Government organisations generate and utilise large amounts of data each day, gathered from many sources and departments. This data contains extremely valuable information that can drive change and make a positive impact on our daily lives; improving policies, delivery of public services, crisis management and public relations.
However, there are challenges in both capability and public perception when it comes to Government organisations handling public data. While data security and user privacy is intrinsically important for all companies, Governments are perceived as having a greater responsibility around the ethical use of data.
Government organisations deal with data that, if used correctly and efficiently, can have a direct impact on people’s lives up and down the country. By collecting and analysing it in real-time to better understand the immediate needs of the public, they can make better informed decisions in a more timely and meaningful way.
Real-time data can help Government organisations keep track of changing circumstances.
There is some way to go before use of data in Government becomes the norm, however, we are seeing more strategies put in place around adopting digital transformation and data driven processes.
Organisations can see tangible cost savings and operational efficiencies gained through using data and modernising processes. Historically, the value of data has been gleaned from aggregated events over a period of time. As more events are added, patterns and trends can be gathered which can inform our longer term strategies. With this, the value of the data becomes greater and the insights more reliable, steady and consistent. Real-time, in contrast, takes its value from a single event, a critical point in time or a single individual or group of individuals – or perhaps a combination of all three. The value is in the moment and once that moment has passed, the value of it passes with it.
Governments don’t always necessarily need data to be analysed in real-time. The speed of analytics and speed of action are what is key to enhancing the value of data driven public services. Systems must be able to ingest, process and serve data in real-time, as well as being able to use Machine Learning to support the decision making process, or organisations run the risk of losing opportunities as the window of value for an event closes.
As with any organisation, when it comes to data, public perception and willingness to share information is a challenge. However, we see an uplift in trust when you’re able to explain the use of data, the purpose, and outcome. Being open and transparent about how and why you are using data, you will get a positive response from the public and see a palpable shift in opinion.
Covid was a particularly challenging time for the UK government. It took a compelling event and a compelled audience, along with the open and transparent sharing of data use cases for trust to build. The immediacy of Covid drove an urgent need for a quick response from Government and local authorities to address the needs of citizens, and data was the only way to gain a holistic view of the situation and take action. Through the coming together of NHS digital, DEFRA, DWP, local authorities, private sector providers and wholesalers through a shared sense of purpose and understanding of the urgency of the situation, they were able to support the most vulnerable populations. There was a common desire to work through issues of data sharing, building of a platform and the use of data.
Now, two years on, organisations could use this as a blueprint for continuing collaboration. Outside of special cases like Covid, there is still work to be done around public perception. By continuing an open and transparent communication strategy around anonymised and depersonalised data use, I feel optimistic that the public will remain confident in the Government using data correctly.
Technology is there when it comes to accessing and analysing real-time data but in order to make it a valuable exercise, Governments need to understand their goals around why it’s needed and the key use cases.
For example, geospatial data can link people’s geographic data points and through analysis we can infer characteristics and behaviour patterns. While at the moment the Government doesn’t use technology to collect this kind of data, we did see the use of data provided by Telcos during the Covid pandemic. They provided aggregated data across a large number of people for the Government to see how crowds coalesced in different areas at particular hours of the day – when they shouldn’t be – during lockdowns. This helped Governments tailor their communication campaigns.
In both public and private sectors, there is a skills gap when it comes to hiring and retaining digital talent to manage the technologies and applications needed for processing data. Historically, departments have been operating in silos, but with use of technology driving collaboration, we see more interdepartmental coexistence. By identifying skills gaps and working to bridge gaps, this will ultimately help drive innovation in Government departments and increase technological capabilities to scale and grow.
The scope for more data driven decision making in Government is huge and the possibilities are really exciting, however, as we’ve explored there are some obstacles along the way. If Government organisations are able to overcome these challenges; adopt new technologies and bridge the skills gap, drive collaboration between public and private sectors, and build public trust, there is a lot to be gained.
There is a strong desire to innovate with data but the heart of it is making sure we do so responsibly and ethically. Partnering with experts in cloud technology and data, and embracing data driven decision making will be key to understanding how such information can help make important decisions.
Here at CTS, we have worked with various Government Departments and know the importance of the customer, vendor and partner collaboration. The technology is available today to meet the desired outcomes but Government Departments are constrained by skills, budget, processes and policies which slow down the adoption of innovative solutions. CTS, Google and our customers collaborate effectively to innovate, prove the value in design and execute at pace to meet the desired outcome deadlines. Through agile methodologies and knowledge transfer, we are able to bring acceleration and confidence into the project teams whilst enabling organisations to meet their compliance obligations.
Interested by what you’ve read? Get in touch with CTS today.