Government gets big data, Civil Service boss says

Chief Executive of the Civil Service John Manzoni says that the government does get big data, and the use of analytics will transform the way certain tasks are carried out in the public sector.

Addressing the Reform think tank’s conference on big data, Manzoni said: “The impact of data analytics and big data in our lives – for example, the way online retailers tailor their recommendations for the food, books and music we buy – is quite familiar.

“Less has been said about the transformative power of this technology for the delivery of high-quality public services and it’s time that changed. With the evidence of data we can spend less time developing policy and services that don’t work, and instead focus on continuously improving those that do.”

He added: “The rapid advances in technology and the development of analytical tools and techniques mean we can now gather and share data in huge quantities. We can process and analyse it at previously unimaginable speed. We can draw conclusions and create policies and services that reflect how people live now.

“Data entrepreneurs are mining public sector data to create apps and services to make our lives more convenient. Services driven by open data are already giving people more choice in where they get their healthcare, where they live and where their children go to school. There’s even a Great British Public Toilet app – a sort of relief map of the country!

“In government, we get this. We’ve always held enormous quantities of data – now we need to make sure we use it properly. Getting this right is the next phase of public service modernisation.”

Manzoni went on to highlight both the government’s digital transformation strategy, which was published earlier this month, and the Digital Economy Bill act as drivers to achieve the vision of utilising the potential of big data.

The Digital Economy Bill, he said, is designed to “give confidence that the government is doing the right thing”.

“With the evidence of data we can spend less time developing policy and services that don’t work, and instead focus on continuously improving those that do.

“I want people to turn to digital public services as readily and confidently as they do when shopping, socialising or checking bus times.

“By doing so, we can actually change the way citizens interact with us – making the relationship we have with them more transparent, more responsive, and based on increasing levels of trust.

“For big service delivery departments like the Home Office, HMRC and DWP, data analytics means the ability to search across organisational data sets. It can provide data for operational teams to put into practical effect.”

The full transcript of John Manzoni’s speech, which featured a number of examples of how data is being used, can be found here.

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