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What inspiration will the Government’s new Central Digital and Data Office bring to the UK?

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(Image credit: Image Credit: TeroVesalainen / Pixabay)

The idea of using data to make better decisions is nothing new, and in recent years, we have been bombarded with information over its growing importance and use. The volume of data has undeniably been accelerated during the pandemic. Recent research Splunk commissioned showed that over three quarters (77 percent) of UK businesses cite Covid as the primary driver of change to the way they use data. This is also backed up by global consultancy, McKinsey who suggest that across the world, there has been seven years’ worth of digital innovation delivered in a few months.

In a climate of such rapid change, it is vital that organizations aren’t just data creators, but that they are managing it and generating insights from it. The UK government is no exception to this, as the public has been exposed to coronavirus related data updates on a near-daily basis and have become more data literate. This has raised the public’s expectations on how effective the government is at generating near real-time data insights.

But it’s about more than just the pandemic. As we anticipate and look forward to the accelerated use of digital technologies across the UK government, it is crucial that we have the right infrastructure, expertise and most importantly culture, to unleash the societal benefits of better data use.

The government has already outlined its plans to achieve this aim within its national data strategy published late last year, and Splunk took part in its consultation. The UK government also announced new DDaT (digital, data and technology) leadership and the formation of the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) for the government. The CDDO reports directly to the Secretary of the Cabinet Office and will provide professional leadership to the DDaT leads in government departments, offer expert advice to Ministers, optimize the government’s approach to funding DDaT technology and support GDS (Government Digital Service) in the development and enforcement of standards. Here are just some of the additional things we think the new CDDO function could look at.

The roadmap for data success

In 2019, Splunk released its global research on the ‘The State of Dark Data’ which examined the scale of so-called ‘Dark Data’s’ impact. The research found IT decision-makers estimated that 55 percent of their data was untapped or inaccessible.  One of the most common issues with data adoption is that organizations cannot harness a large percentage of their data. An obvious benefit of the CDDO function will be having centralized expertise on the nature of data handling. In practice, this means reducing data fragmentation and devising better processes to analyze and manipulate information.

As crucial as the usage of data, is finding the optimal way of actually displaying the insights from data to end-users, whether it be internally or to the broader public. Simple spreadsheets may have functional value but migrating to more sophisticated data platforms is a must in the current and future landscape. Millions of people depend upon the robustness of government data. Optimizing the process of data presentation in this way brings direct benefit to government stakeholders, it also brings the additional benefit of setting a blueprint for others to follow. In the present climate, there is something of a gulf between policymakers and industry innovators. The CDDO function will lead the way, demonstrating how data can deliver real outcomes. However, it isn’t all about connecting with the data experts. It is imperative for the CDDO to provide an example to business leaders who want to embrace data, but don’t know where to start. As our recent report ‘The Data Age is here – Are you Ready? revealed, a staggering 86 percent of business and IT managers do not feel ready for the coming data wave – a sea of enterprises waiting for leadership and inspiration from the government.

The importance of trust

Regrettably, a significant part of the role ‘data’ has played during the pandemic is to serve as a source of misinformation for agenda-driven groups who seek to discredit the severity of the pandemic. The implication of this for some members of the public has been an undermining of trust in official data sources and the policy these sources drive. In instances like this, the leadership of the CDDO could be pivotal in changing the narrative. Rather than allowing conflicting data sources to confuse, there is an opportunity to use it to build trust and transparency around government decision making. This is one of the most immediate opportunities the CDDO function could offer, to build up that all-important two-way trust between policymakers and those impacted by policy through the exchange of data.

Democratizing data

This brings us to the question of the democratization of data and how the government arbitrates who the information is distributed to. The potential for data to be shared in near real-time between the central government and other bodies such as local authorities, healthcare and trusted third parties could vastly improve these bodies’ decision-making both day-to-day and within a crisis. Again as we have seen during the pandemic, some local leaders have cited a lack of access to crucial information which would have informed their recommendations on lockdown measures. Our research shows that in sectors like banking, businesses do not use their so-called ‘dark data’ and 40 percent of employees felt they didn’t have access to the necessary data to make business decisions. It is vital that the right technical solutions are delivered along with a cultural shift to empower people to make data-led decisions.  The new CDDO function could strike this balance by democratizing data across government. If another pandemic of Covid proportions were to strike, quick and shared access to real-time data insights would be essential to combating it.

It is clear then that the formation of the CDDO function is good news and there is much to do, but the function should not just be inward-facing, it can set an example for industry to follow. It is also evident that data’s impact on our lives is not going to diminish, and with the new CDDO function the UK will be able to push forward into the Data Age.

James Hodge, Global CTA, Splunk