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Data – the driving force behind citizen-centric services

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible)

With the amount of data collected continually growing, it is fast becoming the cornerstone of government and the infrastructure that propels the country forward in new innovative, digital ways.

As the evolution of technology increases, so do citizen expectations. The mass of data coupled with these new expectations puts the government in a great position to benefit from data-intelligent technologies and future-proof itself.

Citizens want to be able to interact digitally with the government, so services need to be designed with this in mind and a citizen-centric focus that aligns with ‘judicious implementation of new technologies’ as outlined in the Government Technology Innovation Strategy.

In recent years, there have been marked improvements in citizen services. Government has experienced a proliferation of digital initiatives, but they are not yet stimulating widespread change or resulting in smarter ways of working. So why is this?

Data – the challenge

Some reports state that smarter working is the ability to work from any location. Others say it’s about the set-up of unique workspaces to meet the different needs of staff. However, a smarter government goes far deeper. And it starts with technology and data.

According to the recent launch of the National Audit Office’s (NAO) paper, ‘Challenges in using data across government 2019’, greater use of technology and a rise in data has led to an extensive debate over how to manage data in the modern world. Data management is already a key focus for many private sector businesses and now the government is becoming more cognisant of data’s significance. 

Governments not only need to navigate citizen data, in all of its formats, it also needs to find ways to securely connect this data with new technologies.

Data has not always been seen as a priority in government, so the quality has often been reported as ‘neglected’ and ‘poorly planned’ causing civil servants to work with poor quality data that can’t match citizens expectations and requirements.

The release of the government’s new national data strategy in 2020 will set out plans to position “the UK as a global leader on data, working collaboratively and openly across government”. This will encourage the government to find a joined-up approach to invest in the management, governance and use of data – reinforcing the individualised programs that have demonstrated the lasting impact of the data if done correctly and collaboratively.

The doors that data can open

Despite the current state of data, simply having it presents vast opportunities, but there needs to be a commitment to identifying the most valuable mechanisms to radically change the way it is managed. If the right mechanisms are in place, data can help the government:

  • Change the way citizens interact with it through better digital services
  • Open and share better quality data in secure ways
  • Establish trust amongst citizens
  • Identify the areas of citizen services that are working (and the areas that are not)
  • Make better decisions
  • Stimulate smarter ways of working

Just to name a few, but before these opportunities can be taken advantage of, there are a few key challenges to overcome. At a basic level, relying heavily on legacy systems has created numerous problems because these systems not only lack interoperability, they consume large amounts of government resource. They also create silos, especially in such vast and varied government departments and organisations.

In addition, this data is largely unstructured, contained in different datasets, consisting of email, electric office documents, scanned documents, video, images and audio recordings. As a result, the data is hard to access, process and share. It also presents security limitations and it is often difficult to uncover hidden intelligence, to find patterns or draw meaningful conclusions from the data. The more data there is, the more challenging it becomes to manage and with GDPR heightening, citizens’ interest in how their data is being used, is a problem that needs a solution.

All of these issues should propel the government forward to ensure data is safeguarded and public trust is maintained. If the government does not have appropriate data governance systems in place; risks increase, and workflows become unnecessarily complex.

Uniting data for the greater good

Current government systems demand a new approach to data management. It must begin with the capability to achieve a single view of the data. When data can be viewed, shared and accessed from a single digital platform, the government will be able to effectively process citizen requests, in any format. Within a single digital platform, data can be orchestrated across relevant systems, routing the right data to the right team, in real-time, ensuring the data is used in citizen-centric ways.

Data management, governance and security innovations can help the government do just this with the power to access, manage and share great amounts of big data. It can also give the government powerful analytical tools to support decision-making and improve citizen services. This can usher in greater efficiencies, opportunities for collaboration, economic benefits, innovation and transparency, empowering the government to deliver more targeted and tailored citizen services.

Data dreams meeting technology

There is already this push in the public sector to become forward-thinking, service-centric through a complete paradigm shift in how data is managed. But the question is often asked, where do you start?

Implementing a single, digital platform that allows you to create, manage and maintain the high volumes of data from across all agencies and authorities is the key to a good foundation, especially due to the sensitivity of some of this data.

Once this platform is in place, you can turn your focus to enhancing the citizen experience, putting more power in the hands of users by opening up online self-service channels. This improves efficiency as fewer government staff are required to service requests, freeing them up for more valuable projects and complex citizen needs.

Bringing additional automation and intelligence into the processes will also enable smarter, more resilient ways of working.

The government has a long road ahead to reach its digital goals, but all the data is there to be utilised so once the technology is in place citizens will quickly feel the benefit.

Paul Hampton, Senior Director of Product Marketing, Alfresco