Is the government doing enough to support the tech sector?


The Information Economy Strategy and Shakespeare Review Response – has the government gone far enough?

Recent weeks have seen two important announcements from the UK government on how it intends to support and accelerate growth in the digital industries of the future.

The Information Economy Strategy is a plan for continued collaboration between government, industry and the academic sector to achieve this. At the heart of the initiative is a new Information Economy Council, which will be jointly chaired by the Innovation Minister David Willetts and Victor Chavez, the President of the IT trade body Intellect. The council will also include leaders from key private companies like Google, and third parties like the Open Data Institute.

This should enable the new body to generate consensus around how best to tackle the major long term barriers to growth in the digital sector – such as over investment in infrastructure, storage, analytics, and data science skills – and monitor progress. While it’s clearly in its early days, the council should be well placed to fulfill these tasks, as the government has had some success in developing similar collaborative and long-term approaches in other key industries, notably  aerospace and automotive,

The government has also published its response to Data Strategy Board chair Stephan Shakespeare’s independent review of public sector information. The response includes a number of commitments to facilitate the release of the vast quantities of data held by the public sector and enable organisations to develop innovative new products and services using this information.

Among the most promising announcements are commitments for every government department to identify and release core data sets by 2015, and provide businesses with greater clarity, consistency, and predictability around the release of this data. A new “data intelligence and innovation group” will also be formed to support, challenge and improve the collection, processing and use of public sector information.

Although these moves are welcome, they fall somewhat short of the powerful “Advanced Analytics Team” recommended by Policy Exchange, with a remit to apply big data analytics to accelerate not just the opening, but the exploitation of vast quantities of government data.

The lack of focus on data exploitation represents a missed opportunity, in our view, as making use of this data could not only deliver a whole new raft of citizen services but deliver billions in operational efficiencies – for example, in supporting predictive health services or in eliminating the manual census.

In order to deliver meaningful access to these new data sets in real time, back office transformation will become an urgent priority for government as it seeks to capitalize on the increasing volume, variety and velocity of data generated by government and citizens alike. In addition, it’s key that skills and cultural change continue in government as they come to terms with the challenges not only of manipulating and interpreting this data, but also securing it against malicious use and protecting citizen privacy along the way.

We’re still in the opening stage of this journey and the government is definitely taking steps in the right direction – but there is still a distance to go.

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