Why connecting big data is now a bigger priority for the UK Government

by David Geere Director, PwC United Kingdom

by Friederike Murach-Ward Senior Associate, PwC United Kingdom

Collecting, analysing and reporting on public sector data has become front page news in the wake of the pandemic. And while we’ve seen rapid increases in effective data usage across Government, there remain cultural and technical barriers to overcome. When time and accuracy are of the essence, what is needed to tackle these challenges?

Why use Big Data?

At a strategic level, the Government recognises the importance of data sharing to drive change and find budget efficiencies. Yet Government departments and the wider public sector continue to spend time sharing data manually in non-standard, non-repeatable ways or disagreeing about what can be shared at all. We’re seeing signs that the Government recognises these issues. The Government Data Standards Authority has been established and improvements to data standards in Finance, Commercial and HR are in flight. Most recently, the Government published its National Data Strategy.

Sharing data is critical in areas such as national security, fraud and track and trace. It is also highly beneficial in supporting citizens through difficult life events such as moving home or dealing with the bereavement of a loved one. The National Data Strategy proposes digital identities as a way to address this. Citizen IDs and the integration of citizen health, benefit, pension, education and tax data is highly politically sensitive. However, done properly, with robust data protection controls, IDs could help to provide the required insight for interventions to close the inequality gap individual by individual.

Data also has intrinsic value. The private sector is a core consumer of the data that the public sector generates, be it demographic, geographic or fiscal. The National Data Strategy seeks to “unlock the value of data across the economy”. In difficult economic times should the Government expect a greater financial return than companies simply paying their taxes? We have already seen a number of Government bodies charge fees for the provision of data to customers or receive an income through various licensing products. Should more Government datasets be monetised to help cut deficits and drive effective commercial thinking? Whether money changes hands or not, the targeted, secure and balanced sharing of data between the private and public sector, particularly around areas such as personal finance, is crucial in the fight against fraud and economic crime. As such, data sharing should be an integral part of future international trade agreements.

Improving data sharing in Government

In this digital age where big data isn’t thought of as big anymore, the ability to put data anywhere in the cloud and innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning have become the norm. Robust, integrated, secure and real-time data sharing through mechanisms such as Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are usual. Not sharing data is unusual.

It will take political will to continue to drive effective data sharing across Government and the National Data Strategy is an important foundation. Technology is not a limiting factor. Data standards, architectures and principles will need to improve. Politicians and Senior Civil Servants owe it to the country to answer the three difficult questions 1) Is it now time to accelerate the use of insight to help drive fairness and reduce inequality across the UK? 2) Why isn’t data sharing between government departments, agencies and the wider public sector fast, efficient and streamlined? 3) Is it now time for greater commercialisation of government data, where appropriate?

As a firm we can see the positive impact that effective data sharing and a real commitment to realising the value of data will have. To succeed, Government needs deep sector experience alongside consumer and regulatory insights, as well as multidisciplinary expertise that combines Technology, Data & Analytics, Commercial and Legal practices that accelerate capabilities and develop innovative ideas. With the right guidance and strategic analysis in place, as well as public-private collaboration, Government leaders can inspire, deliver and create a sustainable legacy for the transformational journey that the National Data Strategy has started.

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by David Geere Director, PwC United Kingdom

by Friederike Murach-Ward Senior Associate, PwC United Kingdom

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