12th January 2024
Civica’s James Holliss considers the challenges facing many civil servants and explains how a solid data foundation is paramount to digital transformation.
The Civica report Transforming for a digital future: Progress, priorities and roadblocks, published in late September – just over a year after the UK government’s 2022-25 Roadmap for Digital and Data – reveals that substantially improving data quality and maximising data usage are stand-out top priorities for public-sector organisations looking to transform.
Indeed, a significant 45% of the 600+ civil servants surveyed in the research said resolving chronic data quality issues is a current top-five priority for their department or organisation. And 46% predicted that data quality will continue to be of such high importance over the next two years. However, only 37% agreed their department currently has the correct advanced data and analytical skills fully in place to capitalise on the power of data. There is clearly much work to be done.
James Holliss, a Customer Solutions Consultant at Civica, which makes software that helps deliver critical services for citizens all around the world, stresses that inconsistent, poor-quality data makes rapid progress much harder across government. “If the raw data going into systems and processes is itself of low quality, then the output, decisions and outcomes enabled by those systems will also be fundamentally flawed, however advanced and well-integrated those systems themselves are,” he says. “Urgently improving data quality has to be a top priority.”
Moreover, with reliable, accurate data underpinning all six core missions in the government’s ambitious roadmap for cross-department digital transformation, a sustained strong focus on significantly improving data is vital for change.
Holliss continues that government organisations should urgently prioritise four critical areas as they progress their complex data journeys. They are as follows:
- Comprehensive data cataloguing will provide accurate visibility and common understanding of all data assets. Holliss explains: “Data catalogues are an essential foundation, and many departments are now implementing them. Having that single source of truth of what data, you have got, who owns it, what format it’s in, makes everything else you want to do with that data so much easier.”
- Develop comprehensive skills through broad training courses to increase team data literacy. Holliss suggests that there is a “dereliction of responsibility” regarding ownership of data sets in many cases. Therefore, the assignment of “data stewards” would go a long way to accelerating progress. However, while data owners and data stewards must be skilled, everyone has a role to play in good data management. “Data skills are probably the number one thing that needs improving across government,” he emphasises. “Lots of brilliant initiatives are happening, but it’s a real mountain to climb to train that many civil servants across that many organisations.”
- By investing in powerful enterprise platforms, widespread analytics enablement will enable deeper insights by combining multiple datasets using the latest techniques like AI. Holliss advises: “Once you have decent quality data and people who understand it, you can start unlocking value through reporting, visualisation and advanced analytics. But you need the right tools and platforms in place.”
- Relentless data quality improvement is possible through initially painstaking work to improve core data quality substantially at source right across all systems. The initial work in this area may be unglamorous, but it underpins everything. “No amount of analytics or AI can compensate for dirty data,” says Holliss. “Better data quality makes everything easier – from operational reporting to creating amazing digital services.”
Civica has extensive experience supporting large organisations at every stage of the data activation journey. The range of related data and analytics work spans from conducting in-depth maturity assessments to identify priorities objectively, rapidly upskilling staff at all levels through designing and implementing robust data governance structures for accountability, as well as deploying leading data catalogues, analytics platforms and artificial intelligence-enabled decision tools to boost quality data and expand visibility.
With data-driven decisions becoming central to enabling responsive, efficient and modern digital government, growing advanced data management capabilities at speed will surely be one key that unlocks the ability to deliver significantly better public services.
Government departments should prioritise data quality, data skills development, advanced analytics and AI priorities, and invest in modern data platforms that enable a broad spectrum of analytical use cases. Doing so will enable the data-driven government of the future. Expert partners like Civica can help at every stage of the critical data activation journey.
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White paper uncovers perceived progress against government's strategy
We surveyed nearly 600 civil servants across government to assess how acquainted respondents were with the government's strategy.
Download this white paper to learn about how much progress has been made against the roadmap's six missions and gain insight into views on data use and application.