“Data not Dates”: Rox view’s not the PM’s…

This new phrase has hit the streets. Data and all it is and can enable is clearly exceptionally valuable for insight, policy decisions, health, growth and prosperity: for all of us, and our communities. It underpins the outcomes of all letters of Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT): where the sandwich of the outer D and T are vehicles to enable effective and efficient D in the jam centre for data to flow. (No more sandwich analogies promise…)

Disclaimer: everything in these rambling is in the public domain (apols!) but this aims to add a personal spin to the work which will be more clearly articulated by our wonderful teams in future blogs etc.

The Cabinet Office, and through that the Government Digital Service (GDS) aka us, are responsible for the responsibility for government data policy and governance which is Mission 3 of the National Data Strategy.

By building a truly joined-up and interoperable data ecosystem for government, we will improve the way government collects, uses and shares data. This will benefit both users and government by:

  • Providing tailored and responsive public services for citizens;
  • Increasing efficiencies in government and saving taxpayer money; and
  • Improving policy and operational decision-making

Many new opportunities opened up by data depend on better sharing and exchange of data, but currently, many systems speak different languages. Even within one organisation, datasets may for example be stored in various formats, held in incompatible systems, maintained to variable quality standards, and compiled using different definitions. This is not just the public sector. Private sector, both green and brown field have the same challenges. We are holding data assets of increasing size and complexity; but until these datasets can be linked together, much of their potential value cannot be realised. Interoperability has been a golden thread of my interests be it “Build once, use many” across ways of working or technically or to continually look to use the best of breed of components to meet and serve the user need. This enables pace into new markets, new offerings and where needed, in crisis.

A very badly drawn picture (I’m famous for them!) to show an impenetrable grey boring box aka system to become a transparent box with lots of little boxes inside aka the right recipe for the user using lots of common components, able to talk through common standards. With the ability to swap in and out updated products, or services, or abilities to meet emergent cyber threats or to serve different users with pace, agility, flexibility, Value for Money: all able to allow growth into new markets and for new customers/users.

Is the answer in architecture and standards? Yes and no. The answer is across people, process and technology and I spend equal amount of time, as I’m sure many others do across all three. Mission 3 wraps these up in far more eloquent words.

Firstly, covering technology, as that is clearly a tad important. Many of the answers lie in implementing common data standards. This does also introduce other considerations about who and how these are decided, how they are mandated, impact and expected benefits measured and how to ensure “freedom within a framework” (autonomy locally but all on the same trajectory to a common north star.)

The Data and Innovation team in GDS brings together data policy and governance work with the Data Standards Authority (DSA), Data Science and other workstreams to help promote and drive data and innovation in support of the 2030 vision.

The strategy sets out the five areas where, in order to achieve that objective, change is needed:
1. Quality, availability and access;
2. Standards and assurance;
3. Capability, leadership and culture;
4. Accountability and productivity;
5. Ethics and public trust

Our team have been working hard, with peers across Government to set and enable the adoption of data standards which will lead to greater consistency, integrity and interoperability with enabling data to be used and shared effectively. This is a journey but the team’s published and draft work is here: in the open. There is much more to do and we cannot do it alone, but with an eye on evidence and outcomes, not what we think is best we, they, are making great strides. (Signpost: pls talk with us, work with us, co-create with us, share with us and we’ll go further together…)

Working in the open is important, and the teams have been drafting a reference architecture to lead others to that north star. They also talk and share so pls sign up for their (ahem previously sold out) next Show & Tell to listen or share with us.

What else, People and Process. Yes, huge, you can have all the standards and architectures you like and people can say “yes I need an architecture until they are blue in the face” but…. is it that? Really? Close to my heart (Ok I like a lot of things) are: skills, and understanding of value, and ability to articulate value with the confidence to have dialogue at all levels about data without making it a “thing” that sits in the corner and you either avoid (scary, hard etc) or focus on that you are blind to what it enables (growth, productivity, wisdom, social impact, wellbeing, joy… oh and optimisation of £ and cyber threats etc.)

These emotional and motivational elements influence and impact “people and process”. Perhaps ‘computer says no’ to data sharing when those who hold the keys don’t feel confident to ask questions and admit they may not understand so please help them, with evidence and the “why”. Lawyers may not naturally know about data protection regulations and what they can or can’t do in and out of GDPR etc etc. Let’s collectively support people and if its you in that hot seat, pls ask those asking you to make the benefit, and risks, clearer. If the technical people are talking in gobbledygook, ask them to explain it in business language. This is HUGE. It is the reason CIOs, CTOs etc (us lot) get a bad rep and don’t land the impact of what we know DDaT can deliver for users, for the nation, for a stronger, more capable, more sustainable, more resilient planet.

We’ve seen the impact of awesome interoperable data this weekend with the Mars landing using the same mapping software that some of us use around Government as do many users around the world. Why is this relevant: it’s using interoperable data. #geospatial going beyond earth and from several previous roles, equally valuable comparisons to deliver timely, secure, relevant, validated data on and also below the sea. For safety, for operational insight and for sustainability and prosperity opportunities.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory using Esri to visualise landing site of Perseverance Mars Rover

Science and DDaT are clearly a tad linked, but so is it’s relevance in Finance, or Farming. Some get locked into Data “over there” in DDaT or other functions. Data is everywhere. Every function and profession can use data to better outcomes: be it not wasting your time, or using less paper, reducing wasted efforts-and waste. It is not about “taking jobs” it is about doing things differently and yes we need to adapt and support this, but for the better: making jobs more enjoyable, less full of friction or repetitive and more face to face time, creating more valuable personal interactions, and doing things that matter most to users. I’ll get off my soapbox.. this is a wonderful topic to embrace and back to potential ‘fear’..for your job, or financial investment (or allocation).. it’s a journey for us all. I don’t have all the answers, nor do you, but together we will find the best way of doing things.

There is the old adage (ok recent adage) that “There is no technology company, every company is a technology company.” i.e. Data and enablers are and will be needed everywhere. The announcement of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency to enable this will work with the very best of thinkers, do-ers and scalers to create and deliver: all based on data. Learning and enabling using data will create more jobs, more innovation, more demographic, regional social and disability inclusion. This is the future. We all have a part.

I’ve notably not offered many Government examples (as yet), we will. There are exciting things coming out this week which we will share, and more in weeks and months to come. Our teams are working as you’d expect with data from informing policy decisions, to deliver you notifications, to ensuring the patterns (e.g. buttons and layouts) you see on websites are accessible, user-focussed, relatable, authentic and always optimising carbon impact.

As an aside, but linked, honest.. Ben Goldacre is a fantastic example of 1. a great human being, really interested in skills and growing talent (so clearly I immediately was a fan) 2. turbo engaging i.e. he talks about data using engaging narrative (watch his Ted Talk!) 3. his technological advances to ensure proportionate use of data is serving you, users, to advance healthcare-and working in the open and 4. aware and alert to opportunities to share learnings pan sectors i.e. with you, and me. At the end of the day, it’s just data.

I’ve not mentioned “open data”. All of this, pan sector, lots of sharing, “building once and using many” will unlock more data sources which when joined together create new ideas, and impact. Examples are dotted throughout this note but are much broader, every little aqua box (above in that amazing piccie remember) that you join up with another unlocks opportunity. The open data market is estimated to be worth up to £300Billion by 2025. Ok great, yes, there is huge potential to “create” money, this is BIG. However, there are wider rewards too, such as: the efficiency gains from open data, potential lives saved, time saved, environmental benefits, and improvement of language services. This isn’t magic though, you need to invest in skills, in people, in systems. You need to “spend to save”, not perhaps just in the “shiny toy” such as Augmented Reality as a “thing” or you will end up disappointed. Investment is in the very exciting, but often invisible, enablers (ahem all 5 themes of Mission 3 above: people, process and technology!)

So from space, to underwater, to health: Data is exciting. Work with us, and promote common data standards and technical enablers, it all supports normalising what data is, and could be. Share case studies and evidence, wider than the £ benefit. This will, together as one team, one world, unlock much more rapid progress towards truly digital, user-focused service delivery: for more and more people, with a purpose, for prosperity and for the planet.

Curious, pooch loving fan of: digital, data & technology, digital confidence & inclusion, nature, duathlon and cake (in equal measures).. sharing and teamwork

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store