Analytics: the new battleground

Written by Colin Marrs on 10 July 2015 in Opinion

While inaction is not an option, local authorities should be wary of building rigid and inflexible technology to analyse Big Data, says Nick Blake.

Analytics has the power to help the government better inform policy. It can drive better outcomes for citizens, save money and drive operational efficiency. Yet only half (54%) of public sector organisations are taking advantage of big data technology, compared with a 71% average for all types of organisations[i].

However, we’re starting to see this change with the growing maturity of big data technologies and a real shift in the emphasis on analytics over the past two years. There is now a fast-growing realisation that analytics is the new battleground in government.

Big, Fast Data – the opportunity

‘Big, Fast Data’ describes the explosion in the volume, variety and velocity of data, and there are four key areas where analytics capabilities can drive substantial benefits for the public sector:

Citizen insight and engagement - Analytics can provide public sector organisations with a better understanding of citizens’ needs and deliver vital insights at the point of interaction – enabling services to be better targeted to individual needs, driving better outcomes and reducing risk. The opportunity is massive across a wide range of public services including health, welfare, crime, justice and education.

Fraud and error - With a cross-government cap being applied to budgets, public sector organisations, especially in the tax and welfare sector, need to reduce fraud and error, and improve compliance in order to maximise revenue and minimise payment leakage.

Big data enabled analytics can help investigators to improve their ‘hit rate’ by targeting the right cases with limited resources.

Operational efficiency - Despite budgetary caps limiting resources, government organisations need to deliver better value to citizens. It is critical now, more than ever, that public services are run efficiently and scarce resources are not mis-directed.

This challenge and opportunity is central to the future of our healthcare (and many other) services – big data enabled analytics is central to unlocking this opportunity.

Evidence-based policy: modelling and assessment - Government departments need to be able to fully understand their data in order to make smarter policy decisions. Big data enabled analytics can help public sector organisations to more effectively measure and evaluate the social and financial impact of policy options. 

Designing and developing Big, Fast Data projects

‘Big, Fast Data’ projects are not suited to traditional development approaches - large-scale and long term projects that follow a sequential process through to deployment.

The pace of technology change and new business needs, means that the focus should be on adopting an agile, “fail-fast” approach where priorities and direction can be rapidly realigned as opportunities surface.

It’s good to start small, prove tangible business outcomes and then scale up and realign as businesses priorities develop.

Start with continuous delivery in short, typically two week cycles, building up incremental capability.

Running these cycles over a short period allows the new capability to be embedded into the business rapidly and evaluation to take place before the development process has gone too far.

This also means a continuous testing approach is needed so that errors and misunderstandings are identified early and aren’t discovered at the end of the development process.

The technology market for big data is developing at a rapid pace.

It is therefore important to ensure technologies (supporting data ingestion, transformation, enrichment, modeling and visualisation) are interchangeable so that you are able to take advantage of the new capabilities in a swifter manner.

Having rigid and inflexible technology can significantly inhibit flexibility as well as the ability to exploit new business opportunities.

Security is also a critical cog in the wheel.

Consideration must be placed on these measures at an early stage, as well as aspects such as privacy, protection and assurance, or big data projects can be easily stopped in their tracks if vulnerabilities are discovered.

Lastly, it’s critical that you give early consideration to how your big data and analytics capability will be deployed as an operational, business-as-usual, service.

This includes thinking about business engagement; benefits management; managing supply and demand; and funding.

The public sector has a tremendous opportunity to realise the benefits big data and analytics can bring. It just needs to ensure that as it takes its first steps, the right measures and precautions are taken to realise its full potential.

Getting organisational buy-in

More than technology, it is the people transformation challenges that tend to play a critical role in successful adoption of analytics in the public sector.

Taking advantage of big data technology requires commitment from all different parts of the organisation including business leaders, practitioners, technologists and those designing the services. It requires an entire shift in ways of working so it can feel like a daunting task.

However, this shouldn’t hold organisations back from getting started in the first place.

While it may need a strong leader in place to drive the project and galvanise the teams, engagement should develop as a natural consequence of opportunity, momentum and business buy-in.

Nick Blake is head of Big Data and analytics at supplier Capgemini


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