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Will local leaders rise to the big data challenge asks latest Socitm briefing

This question is raised in Realising the potential of big data analytics, the latest briefing from Socitm Insight, which says that having big data as part of a local leader’s strategic vision could be more important for the chances of its future exploitation than business cases and other managerial routes to changing practice.

Initiatives with the scope of the City of New York Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics (MODA) – whose successes in the use of data for resource allocation and preventative interventions were covered in a previous Insight briefing – have not yet been seen in the UK.

However, the briefing suggests that creation of new regional mayoralties in England as part of devolution could be an opportunity, and that those local authorities leading the way in digital services and service redesign are the ones likely to be the vanguard when it comes to big data projects and practices.

Some major obstacles lie in the way of achieving the potential of big data including a severe shortage of digital and data skills, within which big data analytics is the tech occupation research shows to have the biggest skills gaps. This shortage is so extreme that individuals who have the dream combination of tech skills, analytical and industry knowledge, and the business sense and soft skills to turn data into value, are so rare that they are known as ‘unicorns’.

Outsourcing big data activity to the private sector as a solution will likely compound the usual fundamental issues around data/information ownership, security and governance. Retraining of existing employees as big data experts carries risks of a subsequent brain drain to better paid opportunities in the private sector and the loss of key people from roles previously occupied by those identified for upskilling.

The briefing goes on to speculate on whether take up of the big data opportunity will ever come about through the making of business cases demonstrating value for money benefits. If not, it points to a possible case for adoption to be made on high-level, strategic direction grounds via the organisation’s leadership – although it warns that relatively few leaders will be both confident and able to act first and justify second.

The remainder of Realising the potential of big data analytics documents a series of examples of early days big data initiatives across the Socitm network including:

Leeds Data Mill (leedsdatamill.org) the city-wide data platform owned and managed by Leeds City Council with the participation of 17 other organisations. It is facilitating exploration of relationships between the city’s diverse services and businesses, providing more and deeper insights into the workings of the city.

The London Borough of Camden whose data-driven transformation programme is part of the authority’s strategic response to increasing demand and reducing budgets. The ‘data journey’ has been all about unlocking data from legacy systems and making it available to the people who need it to improve public services.

Nesta whose research for its ‘Local Datavores’ programme has identified four key areas of local government data usage with examples, including: machine learning prediction tools; city optimization; open data; and local economic growth and business development

Links are provided for other data initiatives like Open Data Bristol; Cambridgeshire Insight; the Greater London Authority London DataStore; Open Data Institute Nodes network; and the Trafford Innovation and Intelligence Lab.

Realising the potential of big data analytics is available free of charge to Socitm corporate members and Socitm Insight subscribers in the Socitm Insight Group library on KHub.

Further information:

Dr Andy Hopkirk


Head of Research at Socitm    

01604 709456

Vicky Sargent                        


Socitm Press Office                         

07726 601139