Transforming strategy and mindset on data ecosystems

Without data, it’s impossible for government organisations to make evidence-based decisions. But making sure that the data available can best support such action requires a more joined up, interconnected approach. This is why data ecosystems - a systematic approach to data sharing – are "increasingly vital” for governments, says Richard Beet, Public Sector Lead, Insights & Data UK at Capgemini.

It’s clear that organisations are increasingly seeing the benefits of data ecosystems. In a recent Capgemini survey of 1,000 senior officials from public sector organisations across 12 countries, it was found that the vast majority (80%) see how data sharing can deliver important benefits, such as saving costs (by up to 9.5%), improving citizen engagement (81%), and leading to better decision-making (75%).

However, findings also revealed that most surveyed organisations (80%) are still in early stages of implementing data-sharing initiatives, while very few (9%) have fully deployed data ecosystems at scale.

So where does the UK government stand on this? According to Beet, the UK government is considered “ahead of the curve” with its deployment of data ecosystems, however "the vision is still very much in its infancy period.”Richard Beet Headshot

“The UK is a little bit further ahead in its planning and its strategy around data sharing. We're seeing a lot of stuff coming out in the market that is very much aligned to this whole idea of connected government, connected departments and cross-departmental initiatives.”

In general, Beet says there is still a “long way to go”. He speaks to Government Transformation Magazine about why this is and how to accelerate progress.

Developing a sophisticated Cloud strategy

Cloud adoption is a key pillar of being able to share data and the UK government has implemented this at a rapid rate - particularly in comparison to its European peers. However, there is still a certain level of “evolution required” to its overall strategy, Beet says.

“There is a lack of thinking around the wider strategy relating to the evolution of Cloud adoption. For example, is it Single-Cloud or Multi-Cloud that they can benefit from the most? Optimised Cloud adoption directly impacts the ability to deploy a robust data sharing ecosystem."

In certain parts of the UK’s wider digital landscape, Beet says there are still several areas that require more digitization, which is impeding the ability of government organisations to share important datasets or domains that could be involved in the overall data ecosystem.

Similarly, there is still some work to be done on the UK’s foundational data landscapes, explains Beet. “Government has still not reached a point where the pillars of its digital landscape are suitable for industrialised, scaled, interoperable data sharing, in addition to advancing its AI and analytical capability.”

Where the UK government could struggle is in implementing data ecosystems at scale, Beet says. Particularly when it comes to ensuring that advances in cloud computation (such as Quantum) can power the advancements of Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs).

Of course, some government departments are more “data mature” than others. As Beet notes: “there are still departments in the UK government that are devoid of a Chief Data Office.”

Shifting the cultural mindset

The cultural mindset of an organisation and its people is a “fundamental factor” in developing a more data-driven approach in the UK, Beet says.

“Above all else, a lack of required talent and skill sets to properly determine the requirements and the benefits of data-sharing, and the ability to be able to operate these ecosystems at a degree of scale, is a significant challenge to government organisations.”

Beet’s general recommendations to overcoming this include: fostering innovation through internal innovation labs and sandbox areas that allows people to openly experiment and see the benefit of new technologies, sharing objectives throughout the organisation and building out data capabilities and skills with people who can then champion new technology.

“Fostering innovation through sandboxes and data academies to build that data-driven cultural mindset and capability is absolutely fundamental to delivering data-driven principles,” he says.

GDPR - an obstacle or enabler?

At the centre of any conversation on data sharing is the matter of ethics - specifically privacy and security. Policies such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are important components of privacy law on data. The danger here, however, is when these policies are seen as a preventative tool rather than as enablers of data innovation.

Beet says he doesn’t believe GDPR should be an obstacle for shifting the mindset around data sharing. Particularly when there are extreme advances in the tech industry around preserving privacy, which enables datasets to be shared and processed in an entirely encrypted form - without exposing any of the physical data to its consumer.

“There are advances in Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) that totally protects GDPR being a barrier to engaging in this sort of thinking. Ethical use of personal data is absolutely paramount, there is now advancements in the industry that enables data privacy to be enforced in a sharing ecosystem.”

Advancements in PETs

As sophisticated mechanisms that enable data to be securely shared emerge on the market, Beet says there are three “leading” ones to be aware of: homomorphic encryption, federated learning and differential privacy.

These are all forms of being able to compute personal or sensitive datasets without actually enabling the consumer to unpack physical data. A good example would be a government organisation needing to check the validity of a particular claimant across several parts of the government ecosystem, Beet notes. The data that they're sharing to validate and process this claim is entirely encrypted - meaning the privacy is entirely preserved.

“PETs can require quite a heavy computational power and it's quite a complicated set of logic, algo-rhythmic genius and processes that runs over the encrypted dataset. Further advances in cloud and computing infrastructure will catapult privacy preserving and enhancing technology to the forefront of the data sharing revolution.”

Government Data Forum

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