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How open data helps put out digital fires

(Image credit: Image Credit: StartupStockPhotos / Pixabay)

It’s a hard job working in the public sector.

You often have half the budget of everyone else, but twice as many eyes on you at all times. That’s not even taking into account the shifting political sands that can see a project championed one year and then pushed aside the next. There’s also the question of talent, with many deep-pocketed private companies competing with the public sector for the best workers available. You have millions of citizens whose health and safety depend on the technology and processes in place, meaning that just one mistake can write a hundred headlines.

From a technology perspective, digitisation in the public sector has not always been successful, with many high profile initiatives coming in over budget and over-promised. With the increasingly crucial role that data plays in every part of life, the need for an open, scalable, and robust public services platform has never been greater.

So how does this all happen? Here’s one shining example.

West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS), the second largest fire and rescue brigade in England, has suggested taking a “massive sledgehammer” to digital services in government, showcasing its own original approach to what a successful public service should look like from a technology perspective.

Services are doing it for themselves

As one of the few government departments in the country with its own in-house software development team, WMFS has been creating and deploying award-winning digital applications for years. This has helped save time and money, alongside offering an attractive home for talent. One of its most recent projects offers an exciting vision of what the future can hold for government services and data.

Tymly (pronounced, “timely”) is an open source software platform that allows businesses to create and use flexible applications to gather, process, and distribute data. The software is “low-code,” meaning organisations can use it to create applications with limited traditional computer programming knowledge. Understanding that each public service is different, Tymly enables organisations to describe their digital services using an open vocabulary. Each definition is called a “blueprint,” and they’re made available and accessible online to promote a culture of interoperability, collaboration, and transparency. Data on the Tymly platform includes Safe and Well checks, fire reports, a property gazetteer with 3 million addresses, and more.

The importance of security and finding the right technology

There is a lot of potential for an open framework that allows data to be shared across government departments, but it counts for nothing if it’s not secure. This creates a need to bring in accredited vendors capable of deploying cloud-based authentication. In order to find these, the public sector looks to the G-Cloud 10 Framework, part of the United Kingdom’s Digital Marketplace. This database of trusted IT vendors makes it easy for public sector agencies to procure the technology they need.

The importance of getting security right can’t be understated. Public sector data is often linked to health records and other highly personal sources, as well as government data that needs to be kept out of the wrong hands. Unfortunately, research has highlighted only 57 per cent of UK citizens trust the government to handle their data. This means that every project has to start with a strong authentication system underpinning it, one that allows for only the right people to access data at the right time.

When it comes to authentication, building a system from scratch can take months of developer time, often diverting resources from other more important aspects that have a bigger impact on the service. In order to guarantee a robust service, alongside freeing up valuable time for its team, WMFS turned to an Identity-as-a-Service (IDaaS) provider, Auth0, to quickly deploy GDPR-compliant, cloud-based authentication for its Tymly platform. Using Auth0, WMFS could implement multi-factor authentication (MFA), biometrics, single sign-on (SSO), and social login. All of these not only provide a higher level of security, but also makes it easier for users to access the platform. Ensuring ease-of-use is essential if greater co-operation and take-up is going to be achieved across departments.

What a successful data service looks like on a national scale

When it comes to the use of technology by public services, the most important proof points are that it works and makes a real difference. Using Tymly as an example, fire services can blend open data to get better insights into vulnerable communities. Accessing data using mobile technology can be the difference between life and death.

Greater sharing of data between one public service and its constituents can make a real difference, but the next stage must be replicating this on a national level between a range of services including health and police. Greater co-operation and knowledge-sharing will only improve the efficiency of every department. For those with limited budgets, IDaaS is an ideal solution. It’s cost effective and can be deployed across a range of cloud and on-premise environments – useful for many public services still burdened by legacy infrastructure.

Government should be an open book

Transparency and collaboration should be the backbone of any efficient government. In offering an open and secure digital platform for public services, a culture of information sharing between departments and citizens can be created. The proliferation of technology that allows for data to be not only captured, but analysed and acted on puts modern public services in a unique position to improve efficiencies. If public services can ensure that this is all being done safely, then the potential for safer, smarter cities has never been greater.

Steven Rees-Pullman, General Manager, EMEA, Auth0 (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: StartupStockPhotos / Pixabay

Steven Rees-Pullman is General Manager, EMEA, at Auth0, a leading Identity-as-a-Service platform that secures more than 1.5 billion logins per month.