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Central government data infrastructure threatens digital progress

Leaders across UK public sector see their current legacy technology as a key hurdle to modernisation, according to research

Senior government IT leaders see legacy infrastructure in central departments as a major blocker to data-driven digital transformation success, according to a report.

The survey of 101 technology heads across central government departments, carried out by supplier Pure Storage, found only 49% of IT projects by central government departments are considered to fully meet expectations and are delivered on time and on budget. Such a record, along with the struggle to eradicate legacy, makes it hard for central departments to make better use of data.

Just under half (48%) of executives polled are confident that their current data infrastructure enables their departments to meet their strategic transformational objectives, the report noted.

The research, entitled UK smart government report: data-driven transformation, added that 85% of those surveyed believe their current data infrastructure compromises operational agility and increases operational costs (83%).

Improved use of data could be used to drive cost savings and additional value to taxpayers, according to 54% of survey participants. It could also drive better real-time decision making, according to 42% of respondents.

However, senior IT leaders in government also stated their current data infrastructure creates compliance challenges (82%) and decreases departments’ ability to meet citizen expectations (80%).

On the other hand, 83% of the IT heads polled stated that data can transform citizen experiences, with the same number supporting the theory that this could make citizens increase their trust in government.

Within the topic of data as a tool to improve outcomes for citizens, 49% of the respondents said data is important to deliver a time-efficient service for citizens, while 43% stated that data is crucial to delivering a reliable, uninterrupted and mobile-focused service.

To respond to demands to improve use of data, 49% of the IT heads at UK central government departments said they plan on overhauling their data infrastructure and strategy in the next two years.

However, to achieve that goal, leaders face all manner of challenges, including investment in data infrastructure (89%), investment in applications (80%), legacy processes and lack of agility (78%), and lack of digital skills and experience (77%).

Issues around infrastructure must be tackled to enable better use of data, and investment in data literacy skills to turn data into actionable insight is also needed, UK civil society groups warned in a letter to government leadership.

The topic of elimination of legacy across departments has often been cited as a major challenge as the government advances plans around evolving use of data and creating a national strategy.

A Science and Technology Committee inquiry into digital government in March said that HM Treasury needs to offer funding in the next spending review to eliminate ageing technology in Whitehall.

A report by the committee published in July reiterated the issue of legacy, adding that despite efforts across individual departments towards the eradication of old systems, “the same problems frequently recur”, with guidance from the Government Digital Service often ignored.

Advice in the report included introducing an audit of all the systems that need to be replaced across government, along with an action plan with expected timescales and estimated costs.

Appointing leadership to steer efforts across government is another key issue. According to senior government figures, however, the conditions are “not quite there” for the long-awaited arrival of a government chief data officer.

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