Chief Technologist Bill McCluggage Talks About a Turning Point in a Public Data Strategy


200px-Stephan_ShakespeareToday EMC was at the launch of Stephan Shakespeare’s report to Government on how the UK could harness the value of Public Sector Information (PSI).   The Government’s transparency and open data drive has got us so far, but, at the launch the Prime Minister’s technology adviser, Rohan Silva, spoke emphatically of a ‘critical turning point’ and ‘new direction’ on the future of data for the UK.

Stephan Shakespeare, founder of YouGov and a tech entrepreneur in his own right, was tasked by Business, Innovation and Skills and Cabinet Office ministers to outline how to exploit the UK’s public sector data, which he says ‘sits at the very heart of a new phase in the digital revolution’.  The UK holds the largest public data sets in the world, and is in the front rank of scientific and engineering excellence.  But it is failing to recoup the growth opportunities to the UK economy, as China, the US and smaller states like Finland start overtaking us. Stephan set out punchy ideas on how Government could reap the wider value with ‘a true National Data Strategy for economic growth’ including investment in data science, ensuring data security with safe havens and sandbox technologies and a new standard for National Core Reference Data – the most important data held by Government.

It is hard to argue with any of these recommendations, but do they go far enough? In our submission EMC called for ‘a strategic vision for a UK Big Data industry’. Deloitte quantifies the benefit of PSI as being in excess of £6bn, but Policy Exchange’s 2012 report on the Big Data Opportunity, supported by EMC, sets the size of the prize for the public sector alone at £16-33bn.  Also, the opportunities of unstructured data and the Internet of Things are overlooked in the report.   A critically important range of NHS health data could transform preventative healthcare, but benefits could be lost to emerging economies without a coherent Government strategy to exploit it and ambitious and assertive.  With Rohan Silva soon to be moving on from No 10, Ministers Francis Maude and Matthew Hancock will be left to drive that ambition and ultimately will need the cooperation of more conservative Government officials.

Finally, Shakespeare calls on Government to ‘recognise in all we do that PSI….was derived from citizens, by their own authority, was paid for by them, and is therefore owned by them.’ As such all decisions should relate to ‘getting the greatest value back to citizens.’  Whilst resistance to data sharing by public bodies might be dismissed by visionaries as frustrating, addressing citizen’s concerns with strong ethics and integrity will be more critical as will measures to secure sensitive of personal data.  This is why EMC is supporting Policy Exchange’s call for a Government Code for Responsible Analytics.


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