Roundtable Discussion with Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP
On 6 November EMC held a roundtable discussion involving more than a dozen key policymakers and media commentators to discuss the progress achieved by the government to date in opening up its data sets and applying big data analytics to them to drive efficiency and power growth.
The debate was a timely response to two recent reports on these subjects:
- ‘The Big Data Opportunity – Making Government faster, smarter and more personal’, published by the leading think-tank Policy Exchange in July and sponsored by EMC, which found that the public sector could save up to £33bn per annum by applying big data to challenges as diverse as reducing fraud and error in the welfare system and delivering more personalised and preventative treatments in healthcare; and
- ‘Implementing the Transparency Agenda’, published by Parliament’s cross-party Public Accounts Committee that scrutinises all government spending, and which concluded that “data is being issued by government and other public bodies without any clear idea of the costs, benefits and risks of doing so” and without the data being “fit for purpose”.
The key theme emerging from the debate was that better collaboration, leadership, skills and experimentation will be needed to realise the opportunities promised by greater transparency and use of big data.
The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, highlighted the need for deeper collaboration: “The use of data should support better decision making – of this I have no doubt. A problem still remains as there is not enough collaboration between departments. The government remains siloed and doesn’t share intelligence across departments, leading to very poor decision making. This is deeply frustrating.”
James Petter, EMC’s Vice President and Country Manager for the UK and Ireland highlighted the need for stronger leadership: “There is a clear challenge ahead for the public sector to get to grips with big data and if they are slow to the table, there is a risk of being left behind. One of the hindrances that is preventing big data becoming a top priority is the need for clear leadership and direction from someone who is prepared to adopt a culture for change – one that can identifying the opportunity and drive it from the centre.”
Meanwhile, Chris Yiu, the Head of Policy Exchange’s Digital Government unit and author of The Big Data Opportunity report, argued that the lack of appropriate skills was holding back this powerful agenda: “what you don’t find in training is a track for data scientists, in particular with a focus on how to tell a compelling story and visualise it. The government needs to get behind an advanced analytics team that can bring in the right skills, likely to come from the private sector, and give them the remit to explore the opportunity, educate senior government leadership, and get this conversation on to board level agenda.”
Finally, Bill McCluggage, EMC’s Chief Technologist, Public Sector for the UK and Ireland, described how a willingness to experiment was key to unlocking the power of big data. “Big data is not going to solve the world’ s issues for governing and government. Big data and the activity that surrounds it is about taking a new view on how you look at data and identifying new opportunities from a scientific perspective. The recommendations from our report with the Policy Exchange were spot on in stating that the government needs to start small, exemplify what it has started, and from there generate the need and applications to support experimentation. Similar to how businesses operate; the government needs to invest a little to see the true benefits of big data.”