UK Government National Data Strategy - Fundamentals of Mastering Data

Data is becoming more and more key to society – both personally and professionally. It is a valuable asset for public and private sector organsations alike. However, the public sector is falling behind when it comes to using and sharing that data.

Private sector companies are using data to transform how they operate internally and interact with customers and investors at an external level. It is key to providing a level of service that enables them to compete.

In a recent policy paper, Paul Willmott, the Executive Chair for the Central Digital and Data Office, highlighted that ‘Digital and data are the essential building blocks of all successful organisations. It’s only possible to make effective decisions, meet customer needs and respond to new challenges and opportunities when you have modern technology, real-time access to high quality data, a cadre of skilled digital talent and the right conditions for innovation to thrive’. A sentiment that I’m sure most private sector business leaders can easily agree with.

However, while the public sector has made numerous attempts to leverage data consistently across departments, little traction has been made.

Where the challenges lie

The public sector cannot pivot easily. New ways of working and sharing are often more complex due to legacy IT systems, along with a lack of collaboration, paper trails and multiple siloes of data.

Digital and data are the essential building blocks of all successful organisations.
Paul Willmott, Executive Chair for the Central Digital and Data Office

There is also a tendency to over-complicate attempts - often because data quality is poor. It currently takes manual effort to make the data usable and to extract the relevant information, as called out in the National Audit Office ‘Challenges in using data across government’ report of 2019.

So how can the government ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated?


Growing data maturity

The National Data Strategy aims to do this by setting out four interconnected pillars to data maturity, to allow for the best use of data in the UK.

  • Data Foundations - data should be fit for purpose, recorded in standardised formats on modern, future-proof systems and held in a condition that means it is findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable.
  • Data Skills - To make the best use of data, a wealth of data skills to draw on is key. That means delivering the right skills through education, but also ensuring that people can continue to develop the data skills they need throughout their lives.
  • Data Availability - For data to have the most effective impact, it needs to be appropriately accessible, mobile and re-usable. That means encouraging better coordination, access to and sharing of data of appropriate quality between organisations in the public, private and third sectors, and ensuring appropriate protections for the flow of data internationally.
  • Responsible Data - As data use increases, it must be used responsibly, in a way that is lawful, secure, fair, ethical, sustainable and accountable, while also supporting innovation and research.

From these, the government has identified five priority areas of action – one of which is ‘transforming government’s use of data to drive efficiency and improve public services’ - driving major improvements in the way information is efficiently managed, used and shared across government.

Areas for improvement – mastering data and third-party onboarding

Before the government can transform its use of data, it must first master the data it already has. Often there are multiple and conflicting views of the data across different data siloes. This can lead to increased operational costs, low efficiency and missed opportunities.

Looking at the top 75% of use cases outlined in the National Data Strategy, at least 11 have one thing in common, the need to verify, onboard and manage business data consistently.

Of the top 75% of use cases outlined in the National Data Strategy…at least 11 have one thing in common - the need to verify, onboard and manage business data consistently.

Hopefully, alongside combating ‘the duplicative identity verification programmes, and inconsistent data quality’, programme owners will understand the data mastering process – at least reviewing the mapping of what data elements are common across the use cases.

This is key for third-party onboarding - knowing who a third-party is who they say they are, with confidence and supplier data standardised across departments will allow for efficiencies and reduced risk.


Finding a common denominator for linking data

This is where a business such as Dun & Bradstreet comes into its own. The ability to provide business data look-up, verification, onboarding, risk assessment and data enhancement via the cloud at point of need. Data is underpinned by the D-U-N-S® number – a unique nine-digit identifier for businesses. This number is assigned once the Dun & Bradstreet identity resolution process (DUNSRight) identifies a company as being unique from any other. This means that even if naming conventions for different data elements differ across the departments, it will still be clear which suppliers the variables belong to.

Having a third-parties data linked to a D-U-N-S number enables the public sector to develop a high-resolution view of third parties and the risks they pose, improve operational efficiency, and have fewer human errors. It provides the persistent key that can link business data together, irrespective of technology or use case.

A single 360 unified view of a third-party gives a better understanding of them. It also will reduce cost, time, and effort spent validating an entity and help to risk assessments. Fundamentally, it can provide a single version of the truth for the most foundational elements that are required for business data across departments.


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