Information lies at the heart of every organisation and this is as true in the public sector as it is in the private. Service delivery ranging from road maintenance and waste collection through to the digital delivery of cutting edge government services such as the Cabinet Office’s digital transaction processing is powered by the information collected and applied by 24 ministerial departments and over 300 agencies and other public bodies. But driving the efficiency and collaboration of these services is a complex task. While there are few private sector systems comparable in size or complexity to that of the public sector cross learning – particularly when it comes to the provision of cost effective services to citizens and protecting privacy – can be a valuable source of inspiration for the public sector.
With so much information being collected every day, the challenge becomes the effective management and safe storage of that data. While private organisations utilise technology to interconnect cross-departmental and border data easily, the public sector operates through disparate data points held within silo offices. The data held by the passport, DVLA and council tax offices for example will all be stored using different processes, suppliers and systems. Invariably, this will include replication of basic information (name, address, DOB etc.) raising the issues of cost and perceived wastefulness within the sector as it pays to manage and maintain the same data at multiple locations. This cost is compounded with the management, extraction and, crucially, application of this data.
Larger private organisations strive to make business processes more efficient in a number of ways – such as integrating customer data across platforms and processes. However, this is a complex issue that requires a balance between protecting the privacy of individuals and providing more cost-effective services. High profile data breaches in the private sector highlight the need for guidelines on the storage and sharing of both digital and physical data. Given the commonalities of this issue, a collaborative approach from both sectors to learn from each other’s best practise and mistakes is crucial.
Improving collaboration within the organisation and between an organisation and its external partners is the first step to delivering information and services in a more effective manner. Furthermore just as with any private company, it is not just data silos that stand in the way of effective information provision but internal barriers as well. Finally, what many organisations require for the management of data is an IT approach that simplifies its delivery to local authorities and individual departments. This approach is typified by the data sharing systems that exist in the private sector and result in reduced total cost of ownership (TCO) associated with hosting and accessing that data.
As with any change affecting tax payers, this approach needs to be designed to provide better, more efficient, public services. Echoing similar projects in the private sector, public data management practises need to ensure that they are serving the public in the best way possible. The Government has continued to stress that it will review large transformational projects proposed by the previous administration and that it will strive to use ICT as a driving factor to improve efficiency. But this is only achievable through a collaborative approach to working and data management. Only a strong commitment to improving the availability of existing data sets and innovation in the handling of data will ensure that the public sector facilitates greater choice in the services it provides.