Government bodies need to review past failures of data initiatives, embed standards, improve data quality, address legacy issues and enable better data sharing, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
It has identified in the factors as the basis for the way forward in a new guidance document, Improving government data: a guide for senior leaders, aimed at accounting officers, chief executives, director generals, directors and chief operating officers, along with others responsible for government services.
The guide emphasises that data is government’s biggest asset and that it wants to use it more effectively, but takes the position that shortcomings in the area is a leading cause of inefficiencies and that organisations need to fix some underlying issues.
This comes with the observations that initiatives tend to peter out when they become difficult; but that by fully addressing the issues it will be possible to support transformation and obtain large benefits.
A number of problems are identified, including those in putting data sharing agreements into practice, improving data quality and implementing data standards – with the latter often being hampered by the limitations of legacy systems.
There are also problems in government bodies giving each other access to raw datasets, creating application programme interfaces, creating cross-government datasets and applying effective analytics. These are made worse by the failure of current arrangements for funding and performance monitoring to support cross-departmental working.
These prompt the suggestions on the way forward, which begin with reviewing why past initiatives have failed, then embedding data standards looking at the costs and time spent on working around discrepancies in systems to find the relevant insights. Once standards have been established, there is a need for a careful plan for their adoption.
There should also be efforts to improve data quality through a variety of frameworks and maturity models, and address legacy issues by identifying the ageing systems that cause problems and looking to modify or replace them.
Efforts to improve data sharing could use the Open Data Institute’s guide to assessing risks when data sharing, the NAO says.
It adds that a useful indicator of how seriously organisations take the issues is the proportion of their overall technology spending that is devoted to data issues.
“Government wants more effective use of data and data sharing across public services,” the NAO said in its launch statement.
“Data is government’s biggest asset and it is critically important to improve data to be able to share it better and exploit its benefits. But for established organisations, these benefits are not simple to achieve in practice.”