With the National Data Strategy, execution is everything

This is a guest blogpost by Peter Campbell, Data & AI practice director at Kainos

The latest stage in the National Data Strategy – the Government’s response to consultation – shows the UK has a tremendous opportunity to make economic and societal impact from better use of its data. This data transformation opportunity is not just across the UK public sector or private sector, but also internationally, given the link between trade and data equivalence agreements. But as a strategy, it avoids firm targets, deadlines, or a clear route to execution.

Kainos collaborated with its partner Faculty to advise Government on the strategy, and we have acknowledged that data is an asset that can be used for so much good – surfacing new insight, driving efficiency and unlocking prediction with artificial intelligence. But it will only become valuable if it is accessible, shared and the right shape. If these barriers can be overcome, we expect that increased competition from secure data sharing will follow, like we have seen with open banking.

There are many positive concepts in the Government’s 20,000-word response, but absent are any clear long-term targets or deadlines. While the Government’s response leaves readers with little doubt that the UK is setting off on an ambitious and exciting journey towards building a world-leading data economy, it’s not clear how or when we will get there.

Where is the big bang data equivalent headline to “UK to become net zero emissions by 2050”? What is our approach to execution? How should data be valued as an asset? What specific actions will be taken by who, and when? Who is accountable for success? How much do we expect to boost GDP as a result of our actions? Answering these questions will be key to long-term success.

Clearing hurdles

There are significant hurdles that will allow us to progress treating data as an asset that are yet to be addressed. One hurdle is ownership and accountability. The UK has its Minister of State for Media and Data, John Whittingdale, and has committed to hiring a Chief Data Officer. But data governance is the specific responsibility of data controller organisations and their nominated information risk officers based on data protection legislation.

Privacy is another area that requires more specific consideration. Work from the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation to remove barriers to data sharing is mentioned, but needs to further explore the middle ground between pseudo-anonymised and fully-anonymous data. Getting this right could help allay citizens’ privacy concerns while unlocking substantial value for data analytics.

The government has committed to developing data skills, for example training 500 civil servants. But the supply of specialist skills will remain a hurdle until the UK has a clear 5-10 year plan for developing new talent to address the skills gap. Over the long-term, this should include introduction of data science to the school curriculum to accompany technology and maths.

Delivery, delivery, delivery

Government recognises this is an iterative strategy and so we will receive shorter, more frequent updates on progress. This should help significantly within the context of a long-term plan and we hope to see these absent targets and deadlines agreed as part of the recently-announced National Data Strategy Forum.

The next step is execution, and we are keen to understand how the Data Strategy will implemented. How will government departments start to lead, showing the UK economy the benefits and value that can be derived from its data as an asset while protecting its citizens? It is only with early implementation and exemplar data services that the strategy will come to life for the UK economy and its citizens, as we experienced when government successfully embraced digital transformation to become a leading digital nation.

Execution is everything for the National Data Strategy. The sooner we can create exemplar data services and unlock data analytics, the sooner the UK can genuinely lead in the transformation of data as a strategic asset.

A more in-depth response to the National Data Strategy from Kainos and Faculty is available on their website.

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