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  1. Government Computing
January 26, 2023

Data sharing can help the public sector, but progress has been sluggish

The UK has one of the most advanced public sector data ecosystems, but most organisations are still fearful of sharing information.

By Ryan Morrison

Public sector organisations are not launching data-sharing initiatives despite evidence they can deliver cost savings, improve engagement with citizens and lead to better decision-making, according to a new Capgemini report. It found that just 9% of organisations around the world have a fully deployed programmes for sharing data between departments and organisations.

Overall just 9% of public sector organisations have a data sharing program in place and fully deployed (Photo: fizkes/Shutterstock)
Overall just 9% of public sector organisations have a data sharing program in place and fully deployed (Photo: fizkes/Shutterstock)

The “Connecting the Dots: Data sharing in the public sector” report included a survey of 1,000 senior public sector officials explored the impact of data on welfare, tax, customs, security, defense and administration, as well as in-depth interviews with 20 senior public sector leaders and academics.

Published by the Capgemini Research Institute, officials from North America, Europe and Asia discussed the benefits and risks related to data sharing, as well as initiatives in development or fully deployed. Data gathered by researchers revealed that data sharing across and between public sector organisations can lead to savings of up to 9.5% and lead to an 81% increase in citizen engagement.

Despite the clear benefits from data sharing initiatives just 9% of public organisations have a fully deployed initiative, although another 80% are in the pilot stage of launching a similar project, with data security, trust and working culture cited among the reasons for delays in launching.

The UK is one of the world leaders when it comes to data ecosystems with 25% of projects at the roll-out stages, 10% fully deployed and another 1% expanding on previous roll-out. In total the UK and US each have a similar picture, with 35% of public sector organisations planning for or operating a data ecosystem. Australia is the most advanced in terms of data ecosystems with 46% of public organisations operating or on the road to offering a shared data.

The study authors found that collaborative data ecosystems are helping public sector bodies regardless of functional area. In administration, at both local, state and central level, 81% of those that have deployed or are deploying a data ecosystem say it has had a significant impact on sustainability roadmaps, with 93% saying it also led to more open government.

Officials say data sharing across departments has enabled more targeted delivery of welfare programs and improved public safety. This comes through police departments improving response times and monitoring of cyber threats.

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“Whether it’s the pandemic, societal issues such as youth unemployment, or the climate and biodiversity crises: the challenges we face today require a joined-up response from our governments,” said Marc Reinhardt, global industry leader for public sector at Capgemini.  

Public sector needs a data-driven culture

Reinhardt said creating a culture where decision making can be informed by real-time data is a long journey, requiring all players in the ecosystem to have trust and confidence but the “benefits to citizens’ experience and government efficiency show that data sharing improves outcomes.”

The biggest barriers were trust, culture within the department and existing technology making data sharing difficult. Of those responding, 56% reported one of more of these challenges and some of the trust issues come from citizens resistant to sharing data.

As reported by Tech Monitor, government departments and other public sector bodies in the UK have landed themselves in hot water through their approach to data sharing. Yesterday the Ministry of Justice launched a new expert panel to look at greater sharing of court data, which has raised alarm among civil society groups who fear it be used incorrectly.

Finding the right talent was also a problem for many public sector organisations, as well as a data-driven culture within that organisation. Upskilling existing staff and equipping them with data management and AI skills can solve some of these issues, particularly around the wider data-driven culture, the report authors said. Despite this, only 55% of those responding have been trained on the ethical use of citizen data.

Despite multinational technology companies announcing wide-scale redundancies (both IBM and SAP announced layoffs today, for example) there is still a technology skills shortage with the public sector finding it harder than most to recruit.

A survey of 13,000 employers and workers in the UK by Hays found that 95% of companies looking for tech talent encountered a skills shortage in the past year. Director James Hallahan said tech skills gaps are intensifying as fewer younger people are engaging in technology careers each year.

Even when they are able to recruit specialist staff, ensuring security of the system being developed is vital to foster that wider data culture, and trust from the public. “Embedding security and privacy by design is critical to the success of collaborative data ecosystems to allow public organizations to balance the benefits of data sharing with the need to safeguard data privacy,” report authors said.

“This also requires developing strong governance structures, data mesh architectures as well as the use of Privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) such as differential privacy, federated learning, and homomorphic encryption.”

Read more: Cybersecurity threats are driving up data budgets and slowing digital transformation

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