Better use of data could save the country billions of pounds but the government needs more senior IT specialists and knowledge managers across departments to make this happen
When the Policy Exchange think-tank revealed its Big Data Opportunity report, most people’s response was: “£33bn in savings from data? Really?” Yet, this isn’t unrealistic providing the focus is on people rather than technology.
In essence, the report recognises that the availability of information to public services is a critical asset in achieving greater efficiency. The more robust the information, the better the decisions around best use of rapidly dwindling public sector resources.
That’s why IT solutions, alone, should not be viewed as the information ‘silver bullet’. Nor is the answer building costly new data centres. People are the solution to finding the value in the immense amounts of public sector data already available.
Legislators like nothing better than commissioning costly new data sets with every new initiative. Yet we have a host of organisations – from Ordnance Survey to the Department for Work & Pensions and the NHS – already awash with current and relevant data.
All that is required is expert analysis to convert this into valuable information, with the outputs providing the catalyst for the significant cost savings highlighted by Policy Exchange.
Digital is the government’s stated default for the public sector and that requires senior departmental IT specialists and knowledge managers who can advise on citizen behaviour and raise the profile of data and information management.
This is less about cost and more about persuasion, but there are three clear policy areas where an information-led approach could easily demonstrate better delivery and outcomes: benefits, health and the census.
Benefit fraud takes money out of government coffers and taxpayers’ pockets. Using existing agency data to understand the signals of behaviour and social circumstance that increase fraud would be the first effective demonstration.
An NHS re-design of care paths is also an ‘easy-win’. Neck-of-femur fractures in old people have massive implications for long-term health and care costs. The quality of information that could be retrieved from existing clinical and social services data – and even from the Met Office – is almost certain to initiate the re-design of care plans and drive down NHS costs.
Finally, do we really need a National Census? Why train thousands of people to interview, transcribe and fill in forms when all of the resulting data already exists across the public and private sectors. Heretical as this may be, given an institution dating back to the Domesday Book, but the reality is that technology has changed the way we gather, store and analyse our data.
Now all we need are experts to convince our legislators of the benefits of the resulting information.
Iain Gravestock is a partner in KPMG IT Advisory