Data is gold; it is one of the most valuable assets an organisation has.
Governments hold significant amounts of data and the opportunities it presents are equally as large. Even though the UK public sector are adopting data maturity models (for example the Environment Agency with their alignment to five maturity levels), the sector is falling behind the private sector and the opportunity for improvement is vast.
Take online retail giants, for example. These digital-first businesses place enormous value on harvesting data to understand their customers’ interactions, needs and desires, and use these insights to constantly improve the user experience.
Moving towards a connected and interoperable model for digital infrastructure and applications will unlock the potential of data - streamlining and transforming public sector services.
Over recent years this has become a key priority for the UK Government, 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. As maturity models become more common, there is also a risk that these models are applied inconsistently across government. The Government Data Quality Hub is therefore leading a piece of work to develop a single data maturity model for use across government.
But to what extent is the government truly ‘connected’ to drive data consistency and interoperability? And what are the next steps to achieve full data maturity?
Data siloes and streamlining the ‘back end’
The UK Government is not alone in under-utilising the data it holds. Many other governments around the world face the same challenges.
The first challenge is related to data siloes where accessibility to data is restricted, due to the number of separate entities collecting and storing the data (with no interoperability). This siloed landscape is largely linked to technical debt and legacy systems (which is a discussion in itself).
Then, there is the challenge of paper-based data storage which is still surprisingly common in the public sector.
The above challenges, when combined with pervasive skills shortages, security concerns, and tightening public purse strings, underline the hurdles to streamline the ‘back end’ and achieve full digital transformation.
The Covid-19 pandemic also shone a light on the challenges in achieving digital maturity across UK Central Government. 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.
The National Data Guardian, Dame Fiona Caldicott, recognised this, acknowledging information had to be shared faster and wider across organisational boundaries. The flexing of information governance was enacted in this public emergency to support the rapid sharing of data, whilst maintaining proportionate protection and security.
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. This is based on the asphalt lifetime and means repairs can be carried out in advance of damage and disruption.
Denmark’s National Citizen Portal, Borger.dk, provides a single point of access for residents to view information about public authorities and take action 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 core pillars of data maturity
For an organisation to be considered ‘data mature’, its data strategy should follow these four pillars (as set out in the National Data Strategy):
1. Data foundations: The true value 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.
2. Data skills: 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
3. Data availability: 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
4. Responsible data: 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 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, including:
Efficiencies: By collecting and analysing data from various sources, ways to improve efficiency and reduce costs can be identified.
Data security and governance: As organisations collect and use more data, it is important to ensure that this data is secure and managed in a way that is legally and ethically compliant.
Greater reliability: Data-mature organisations are better able to ensure the reliability and integrity of their data. This is important for building trust with stakeholders and making informed and accurate decisions.
Improved outcomes: Data-first organisations can better understand the impact of their policies and programs and identify ways to improve outcomes for citizens.
Better service provision: By using data to understand the needs and preferences of citizens, organizations can develop and deliver services that are better aligned with personalised needs.
Overall, data maturity can support central government by helping organisations to make informed decisions, optimise resource allocation and improve service delivery.
The data maturity scale
With the government committing to raising investment in research and development by 2.4% of GDP by 2027 there is a fantastic opportunity to review your data maturity journey and gain support from a technology partner like Softcat.
Measuring your organisation’s data maturity and understanding the opportunities to improve will allow you to successfully develop or refresh your strategy to implement data-driven projects.
When it comes to data maturity, there is a graded scale:
1. Data Conscious – Data reporting from multiple systems
2. Data Competent – Data reporting integrated into a single platform
3. Data Confident – Data used for business decision support
4. Data Driven – Data is embedded into all business processes
For an organisation to be at the top of the maturity scale, all data must be firmly embedded throughout, and integrated into all decision-making and business objectives.
Your journey to data maturity
Along the journey to data maturity, there are risks and obstacles organisations must navigate.
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.
You will need buy-in from everyone in the organisation to promote data ownership and quality, together with specialist data-skilled workforce to drive your strategy forward.
But investing in new technology solutions and working in collaboration with managed service providers can help to mitigate these risks and allow you to reach data maturity sooner.
Softcat is a supplier on the Crown Commercial Service’s Big Data and Analytics RM6195 framework aimed at providing all public sector organisations with access to both bespoke professional services and commercial ‘off the shelf’ software specific to data and analytics.
As a trusted supplier, Softcat can provide a range of products and services to support your organisation's big data and analytics needs, including:
Specialised hardware and software for big data and analytics platforms, such as data storage and processing systems, analytics tools, and visualisation software
Consultancy and professional services for planning and implementing big data and analytics projects, including strategy development, project management, and technical support
Training and support services to help your organisation get the most out of your big data and analytics tools and platforms.
Softcat also has the benefit of being able to utilise a significant number of big data and analytics partners, to augment capabilities and experience where required. This provides a unique proposition of third-party management, skillset augmentation and a holistic approach to your big data/analytics needs.
Find out more about Softcat’s IT solutions and services for public sector organisations here.