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Big Data Opportunities for Government

Mary Doyle December 4th, 2012 Data Quality

A recent Policy Exchange report reckons that the UK government could save up to £33 billion of public money by making better use of its big data: all the enormous datasets held by various departments.

If they were properly shared and analysed, there would be many opportunities to discover more about individuals and organisations, be more creative and innovative in dealing with them, set more effective and appropriate public policy, and generally be more efficient. And wouldn’t we all be happy about that?

Public Benefits

So this should lead to a more positive image among the general public, as we recognise “smarter, more personal” public services and a more comfortable interactive experience.

Think of it as an extension of the current practice of taking information from passports for driving licences, so that you may no longer have to send a signed photograph with a driving licence application. When you are receiving medical treatment, or trying to find a job, if your service providers know specific and relevant facts about you personally, they are better able to tailor their service to help you.

Most people would probably be happy to hear that HMRC would be helped in closing the tax gap and collecting more of the £35 billion they believe is owed them by tax avoiders, thereby lifting the burden on the rest of us. Low income households should receive all the benefits they are entitled to, even if they have failed to claim them, but not more than they are due so they don’t face the impossible prospect of having to pay them back. And, of course, anything that helps to combat terrorism and bring serious criminals to book will be welcomed.

Recommendations and Warnings

The report recommends a Cabinet Office Advanced Analytics Team to be set up to identify the opportunities and help government departments to realise them. Initiatives can only be effective using quality clean data that has been subjected to merge purge software and up to date data cleansing solutions. Only then can intelligent interpretation and analysis be applied by well-trained experts.

It also gave another warning. We don’t want people to fear the dreaded “big brother” society. The report states that “… if a Minister would not be comfortable putting themselves or their family under the sort of scrutiny required by a departmental big data initiative, then that initiative should not make it into government policy…”.