Making data serve society

Chris Nott

Join up data

A straightforward step to realise substantial benefits can be taken simply by joining up data across systems.  This approach is already being used to reduce fraud and error by exposing illegitimate claims for tax breaks and illegal access to benefits.  It works by combining data about someone’s use of various services together and looking for inconsistencies.  Such an index of citizens allows civil servants to quickly and easily access information in support of citizens, and it simplifies access to government for citizens by only requiring them to tell government once when personal circumstances change, eg moving house.

Systems providing these capabilities are relatively quick to deliver and carry relatively low risk.  This is because the existing systems can be plugged into the system that builds the index and the quality data is refined over time by matching it with data from other systems.  The resulting single view of citizens can then be used to ensure legitimate access to government services automatically by validating the citizen against all the criteria during online application processes.

The same approach is applied in law enforcement where data from multiple agencies is matched to identify and keep track of those people who are of interest.  It helps uncover evasion by criminals or simply offers mechanisms for agencies to share and access data.  Data protection and access controls are built in.  Furthermore data remains in place to enable existing line of business systems to continue to function.

Joining up citizen data in these ways is not the only approach.  The ability to join up and search content from multiple repositories containing structured data and unstructured documents is removing the manual effort that would otherwise be required to identify illicit assets by law enforcers.  Not only is the value of those assets huge, but the system helps accelerate the investigations into serious organised crime.

Success first requires organisational commitment to use the data together with senior management understanding and buy in.  It is an information management project owned by the business.  Then the cost savings and operational benefits can be substantial.

Analyse data

Many governments around the world are under pressure to do more with less.  In fields such as the provision of social care, crime prevention and tax collection, analytics is being used to pre-emptively target resources.  This reduces the considerable demand on resources dealing with consequences after the event.

By analyzing data about those receiving social care, factors which contributed to their current need can be identified.  Those factors can then be applied to others to test their susceptibility to requiring similar social care in the future.  Then the social care expertise can be applied earlier to avert the need.

Success depends on recognizing that technology is insufficient: more important is the organisational change, both culture and process.  Indeed the results of this type of approach bring massive business impact using modest, but targeted use of technology.

There are successful applications of using predictive analytics to prevent criminal activity and anti-social behaviour.  By recognising indicators before crime occurs creates actionable intelligence to intervene earlier in operational processes and disrupt criminal activity.  At the other end of the criminal justice system, analytics is being used to offer a measure of the likelihood that a prisoner will reoffend following release.  This presents opportunities to better target support.

Analytics is also being used to increase tax receipts.  For example, analyzing data from many data sources predicts whether a person will reliably pay taxes.  In addition, flagging and prioritising suspicious tax returns and refund claims increases tax revenue and recovers more unpaid tax.  Investigations and collections workload is also reduced.

Make data serve society

In this post, I’ve described examples of governments around the world using analytics.  Often the implementations are straightforward and targeted and so benefits are realised quickly.  Data is being harnessed and analytics applied to ensure legitimate access to services by citizens, to deliver services more efficiently to citizens,and provide more effective support to citizens.

Governments must continue to recognise that data is a first class asset and strive to make data serve society.