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Public sector digital trends 2023 collection | Article

Data explodes silos

Data management and data analytics featured in the top digital priorities in 2022 for public services. However, 2023 will be the first year where, more than just trying to improve the management and the quality of data assets, many public bodies will become truly ‘data driven’. In a number of councils, chief data officers are being appointed to embrace data analytics and interpretation of the information it generates as a strategic, not just an operational, resource.

“Improved use of data and technology already enables us to access some services around the clock and manage our own health better in ways that were unimaginable even 10 years ago. And whilst digital continues to play an increasing role in how people live and work, for far too many, it is still a barrier. To ensure no one is left behind, it is essential we prioritise those who are digitally excluded.”

Cllr Debra Coupar, Deputy Leader & Executive Member Resources, Leeds City Council, England

Building a data framework (or ‘data fabric’ as Gartner defines it – see below) can describe the data priorities for local public organisations in connected places, linking different data sets together with consistency in data formats, data quality control, use and sharing protocols.

Gartner defines 'data fabric' as a design concept that serves as an integrated layer (fabric) of data and connecting processes. It uses continuous analytics over existing, discoverable and inferenced metadata assets. The aim of supporting the design, deployment and the use of integrated data across all environments. This includes hybrid and multi-cloud platforms. It joins both human and machine capabilities to access and consolidate data, continually seeking and connecting data from disparate applications to discover unique, business-relevant relationships between data points.

This is not focused on building ‘Big Data’ pools or centralising data. Rather, it is concerned with creating a basis for matching and sharing unstructured and structured data in a distributed model, exploding silos and unlocking data from proprietary systems and traditional departmental functional areas (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Data frameworks and standards

In 2023 ‘data’ will be seen increasingly as the key to performance optimisation, productivity, risk mitigation and customer service improvement, with much more sharing of IT functionality across service boundaries.

Public service organisations in 2023 that can easily integrate data across business users and technology platforms will have an advantage, breaking the ‘public policy impasse’ of the past and orchestrating new approaches to building thriving communities.

Data science techniques will allow greater insight into areas where performance, service standards and efficiency can be increased, without creating new and invisible risks. Figure 2 illustrates priority areas for optimising the use of data, often led by senior data professionals.

Figure 2: Data optimisation

Concepts and methods, such as Master Data Management (MDM), will become more common in 2023, including adoption of tools and services that assist with this – reducing data duplication and undertaking matching and correction to increase data quality.

“We are seeing a lot of public sector bodies benefiting from master data management as this has become increasingly cost-effective. MDM to achieve single customer view offers insights into complex problems.”

Andrew Boxhall, Technology Strategist, Microsoft.

2023 may also see the emergence of data analytics as a service (DaaS), with external suppliers offering these services to public bodies. DaaS tools are already widely used in areas such as health services, though less common in councils, due to the complexity of the required analytics and data structures. In Flanders, the regional government has established its own data utility company.


Case studies

Data research – public engagement

Organisations across the UK pledge to put public at heart of data research (Wired.gov.net)

Five public institutions have formed the Public Engagement in Data Research Initiative (PEDRI) to increase public involvement in decisions about the use of data. The founding organisations are the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS), NHS England, and Health Data Research UK.

“This new partnership will improve how everyone in the data space engages with the public. This, in turn, will increase the quality of the data available to us to address a wide range of challenges, from the rising cost of living to regional deprivation and inequality.”

– Ian Diamond, National Statistician, ONS

Data Utility Company – citizens in control of their data

The Flemish Data Utility Company (Vlaanderen.be)

Under the auspices of Digitaal Vlaanderen (Digital Flanders) in Belgium, the regional government has established a Data Utility Company that aims to:

  1. promote citizens’ trust in sharing data, by focusing on responsible and secure data sharing;
  2. stimulate the region’s economy by making data more findable and exchangeable; and
  3. build bridges between citizens, companies, and associations for better cooperation.

As the company is a neutral third partner and catalyst for innovative initiatives to support these aims, with its approach, Flanders has the potential to become a leader in the European data economy.

To carry out its mission and to ensure that data can flow safely and smoothly, the company is working on four key pillars: privacy, data vaults, data sharing and data-driven ecosystems – see Figure 3 below.

Figure 3: The purpose of the Flemish Data Utility Company

Birmingham City Council – open data platform

Birmingham City Observatory (cityobservatory.birmingham.gov.uk)

The “City Observatory” is Birmingham’s commitment to transparency and accountability. The platform provides large quantities of data and insight that supports the city’s Levelling Up Strategy and the Grand Challenges in the council’s corporate plan. Notable dashboards built include:

  1. City Outcomes – a suite of metrics and visualisations that compare outcomes in Birmingham to other parts of the country.
  2. Census 2021 – the latest demographic information and changes in the city
  3. Financial Resilience – a data model that identifies parts of the city most likely to be severely impacted by the cost of living crisis (and is being used to inform interventions and support provided by the city and its partners to residents). 
  4. Clean Air Zone – a live, daily, automated feed from number plate recognition cameras that detail air quality across the city in real-time.