Public sector struggling to use data for transformation, despite Government strategy

A gap exists between the desire to leverage data for digital transformation, and the public sector’s capability and knowledge, says research

Posted 5 May 2021 by Christine Horton

The public sector overwhelmingly wants to harness data for digital transformation – but is being hampered by uncertainty and lack of confidence in key areas.

That’s according to public sector cloud specialist UKCloud’s State of Digital and Data survey. They research shows that 97 percent of UK public sector respondents are at least evaluating digital technology to improve the outcomes and services being delivered to citizens.

Last year the government announced a National Data Strategy to support the use of data in the UK. It includes plans for 500 analysts to be trained up in data and data science across the public sector by 2021. It also announced plans for a new Government Chief Data Officer to “transform government’s use of data to drive efficiency and improve public services.”

However, just over half (52 percent) of those surveyed believe they have the resources necessary to understand and drive efficiencies from the data they have, meaning they can’t determine its true value. Sixty-seven percent of public sector organisations currently allocate no more than a few days each month for employees to innovate and research ways to unlock more value from data, suggesting there just isn’t enough time for them to discover new ways of working.

Nevertheless, more than half (55 percent) of those surveyed say their organisation recognises the social value benefits of using specialist British partners to help it safely adopt digital technologies.

Uncertain where data resides

Elsewhere, the refers to Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock’s latest comments about creating a ‘consistent cloud platform’ for patient data. UKCloud’s survey reveals a knowledge gap as organisations don’t seem to know where their data is, they just think they do.

When asked where the majority of their data resides, those surveyed demonstrated genuine uncertainty by providing contrary responses, says the firm. With similar numbers believing that the majority of their data is in public cloud, on-premises and on both this suggests that the industry is actually still unsure about where data resides and that oversight in certain positions is lacking.

Another concern the results raised is that 46 percent were not sure if they had reviewed their use of public cloud based on the recent Schrems II judgement, meaning data could still be heading to the US without the subject’s knowledge. The survey also revealed a lack of knowledge and tools, which could be impacting the delivery of services and indeed this growing ambition for innovation.

Collaboration difficulties

The third pillar of the National Data Strategy states that there needs to be, “better coordination, access to and sharing of data of appropriate quality between organisations in the public, private and third sectors”. UKCloud’s survey showed broad support, with 62 percent of organisations say being able to use data to its full value, when it comes to collaborating internally, is essential to providing better services. 

However, 45 percent of organisations said they’re not confident that they can safely and easily share data to effectively collaborate with partners and other agencies, and almost two-thirds (63 percent) confirmed that their organisation still stores data in various forms (such as paper-based archives) which make it difficult to extract value. Half (50 percent) said that sharing and collaboration is made difficult by compliance and security restrictions.

Too big a leap

‘’The survey highlights the continued tension that exists between cloud adoption and the perception that such adoption leads to an increase in cyber risk,” said Mark Jackson, National Cybersecurity Advisor, Cisco UK & Ireland.

“In reality, these two factors are not inextricably linked. Cloud adoption can positively reduce risk, as many of the controls that are baked into a modern cloud platform are more comprehensive and better managed than those in on-premises equivalents. However not all data is created equal, so organisations should apply a sense of proportionality when considering where and when cloud is the right option.”

The State of Digital and Data Survey reveals 55 percent believe public sector data should be protected to a higher standard than commercial data, yet 43 percent aren’t confident that their organisation’s data is stored appropriately for its security classification.

Leighton James, CTO at UKCloud said: “This survey shows that the UK public sector is committed to the benefits of digital transformation, and it is also clear that this transformation is too big a leap for many organisations.”